How women have stormed the literary world


By Joyce Jenje Makwenda

WE continue to celebrate the Women’s International Month by discussing the way women use arts.
Today we discuss literature/writing.
Literature is one form of storytelling women have used in modern times.
They have used literature in order to be well-informed, by reading, documenting and using it as a tool to communicate and express their feelings through writing.
Writing is a way of telling one’s story in print as books (nonfiction and fiction), poetry, journalism, film/television and radio.
Writing is an art discipline which is not complicated for women to use as they can write while working in their homes or have taken a break from work.
Women have used writing to express themselves whether happy or sad, celebrating or for remonstration.
Writing has also been used as a way of documenting their (women) lives mostly fictionally as they would not want to be recognised in the stories.
Different eras have influenced Zimbabwean women’s writings, issues they faced and how they resolved them.
Since the 1950s women have been writing their stories and having them published, each era being dealt with depending with the environment women were/are operating under and the issues at hand.
Because of the social stratum where black women were down the ladder and they could not access information and did not have the privileges that their white counterparts had, white women became the ‘first women to write books in Zimbabwe.
The writer who made an impact in Zimbabwe and the world over in the 1950s is Doris Lessing, with her book, The Grass is Singing (1950).
She later on went to write more books.
With more black women getting formal education and having a desire to communicate their stories in writing, they wrote stories and had them published.
The first black woman to write a book in Zimbabwe was Lassie Ndondo in 1956 and her book Qaphela Ingane (Look after the Child) was published by Shuter and Shooter in association with the Southern Rhodesia Literature Bureau.
Some of the early women writers are Doris Nomathemba Ndlovu (nee Mabhena), Barbara Nkala (Makhalisa) and Joyce Simango.
The early women writers paved the way for those who later came after them.
Prominent women writers include Collete Mutangadura, Bertha Mattaka-Msora, Chiedza Msengezi, Tawona Mtshiya, Yvonne Vera, Tsitsi Dangarembgwa, Freedom Nyamubaya,Virginia Phiri, Erica Gwetai (the mother of Yvone Vera), Elinor Sisulu, Audrey Chihota – Charamba, Bella Matambanadzo,Tendai Kateketa, Memory Dete, Lillian Masitera, Nozipho Maraire, Petina Gappah,Valeria Tagwirei, Noviolet Bulawayo (pen name of Elizabeth Zandile Tshele), Spiwe Mahachi-Harper, and Vivienne Ndlovu,Thandiwe Nyamasvisva, Rudo Mutangadura, Mya Madzudzo and Joyce Jenje Makwenda.
But how do women writers explain literature?
Here is Lillian Masitera’s explanation:
It’s storytelling, then of course it becomes an art-form because there are ways to go about it.
Not everybody can write literature novels.
There is a way to tell it, that’s your art-form and that’s why you find that some people are more comfortable with writing in Shona and others in English, if one can do either, that is a special talent.
So this literature is – it’s kind of information, entertainment, educational, that’s in my mind what literature is – basically.
When you are saying I study literature when I look at it from that point of view, if somebody is studying literature, they are studying stories told in an artful manner, or artistic manner.
Well, my part here is writing, I do the writing, I compile stories and basically the writing of stories is the art-form that I am into, other little things that then come with it are because my books are self-published then I have to look into the market and so on.
Memory Dete has this to say about what writing means to her: Writing is like putting your thoughts on paper, maybe with me what I found is, I usually write, a lot of my writings, even those that are not published, they are like personal experiences that you go through in your life.
Sometimes they are really touching that you really want to put them down on paper and share that experience, it will be so profound that experience that you would want to share it with other people and then you will end up putting it on paper or sometimes some people when they go through certain issues in life, some people cry, but for me I find that if I put it down on paper it relieves whatever pain or tensions which are related to that experience.
So I feel better when I put it on paper. But the art of writing is putting down your thoughts on paper.
Women have written stories which have to do with their situations, environment, experiences and the experiences of their families, community and country.
Their voices became more amplified with time.
Themes tackled in their writing had to do with different eras which were influenced by various dynamics depending with each period.
While writing is a way of expressing one-self this has to do with the particular era in which the women operated/operate.
Women writers were brave enough to defy a number of odds in their writing.
Some were very candid with their stories while others were not as open.
Yvonne Vera was very clear about what women should do as writers.
She encouraged women to have an imagination that is plain stubborn, that can invent new gods and banish ineffectual ones.
Several have influenced women on how they express themselves as writers.
The way the woman was raised and was allowed to dream has shaped the way she writes.
Other influences can be political, the area that someone grew up in, marriage can also be another influencing factor.
All the structures of society can greatly influence a woman writer depending on how these structures have been presented to her.
Institutions also have an impact on how the woman writer is shaped but the first institution is the family and it determines how one is going to handle all the other institutions and societal structures.
In one’s writings, a reader can sometimes tell where the woman is coming from by the way she expresses herself.
Barbara Nkala’s second book Umendo (Marriage Is A Gamble. Ndebele novel) 1977, Mambo Press is an all-time classic.
She says that her way of writing was influenced by the way she was brought up. Barbara grew up in a family were education, art was just a way of life.
She also loved books when she was young and her father’s shelf provided some of the literature she needed although she felt it was not enough.
Her family used to sing and this made her fall in love with music.
Collete Mutangadura’s upbringing also influenced her writing.
She grew up in a family of eight girls and one boy and she herded cattle, ploughed the fields and milked cows which was usually done by boys or men, so she just saw herself as a human being who could do what was required of her at the time.
The other reason that drove her to write was the way male writers negatively portrayed women.
She was worried about how women were portrayed as prostitutes, among other things.
She wanted to correct how the image of a woman was portrayed by male writers, which she did very well in her books by portraying strong characters for women.
Her first book Rinonyenga Rinohwarara was published in 1983.
Virginia Phiri took it a step further and wrote about prostitutes and how they helped her during the war.
She was not looking down on female prostitutes or judging them, but for her they were also part of the liberation struggle by the way they saved her life.
In her book Desperate, she also discusses the causes of prostitution in developing countries.
Women’s writings in Zimbabwe have managed to bring to the fore issues that could have not been known by suppressing the voice of women who are 52 percent in the country.
For views and comments, email:


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here