Interview with Brian Chikwava on his novel ‘Harare North’

Brian Chikwava

For those who have not heard the name- Brian Chikwava – is the author of Harare North. His début novel Harare North, published in 2010, recounts the experience of Zimbabwean migrants squatting in the decrepit quarters of Brixton. Brian has developed a narrative style uniquely his own, his use of language is elegantly provincial, reflective of the sub cultural disposition of his characters. His short story “Seventh Street Alchemy” was awarded the 2004 Caine Prize for African Writing. Afrikult. caught up with Brian  in 2015 to chat about his work…

A. What made you decide to become a writer?

B.C I never decided. It just seemed to happen.

A. What was your motivation for writing Harare North?

B.C My literary agent. He was clearly not going to hang around for short stories.

A. In Harare North what made you decide to leave the protagonist unnamed?

B.C It’s never a nice experience to read a piece of fiction where the author is spoon feeding you and you are just a passive recipient of narrative. Omitting a name immediately raises a question that must be answered by the reader, and the act of reading yields a richer experience when the reader is actively engaged with interpretational possibilities, I think.

A. Why did you choose to capture the Zimbabwean experience in ‘vernacular’ (for authenticity or aesthetics or style)?

B.C Each story has its own style and language. Sometimes it’s a matter of trial and error, finding out what suits. In this case there was no other language that seemed to suit the narrator better.

A. Would you agree with me in saying that the language to some extent had a bearing on character development, that there is a strong correlation between language and character development?

B.C Yes, to an extent. But I would like to think it’s mostly an attitudinal thing; without his particular world outlook, the dynamics of the narrator’s relationship with everyone else change, and of course the entire story. He could, for instance, have been using the same lingo but had he even been slightly pliable or capable of being reformed then that would have had a knock on effect on the dramas around him.

A. Are you in the process of writing something or thinking of writing something if so can you please share a bit of it with us?

B.C Yes, I am working on something. I will not talk about it a lot in case I jinx it! 🙂

A. Do you have a favourite spot or place to go to when you write?

B.C Mostly at home, if filling up a blank screen, rewriting seems nicer elsewhere, at the library or some quiet cafe?

Harare North is a quintessential subaltern tale of frustrated hopes and broken dreams- a revolving fate. ‘Dark, witty and unsentimental in its depiction of the African immigrant experience in London’s Brixton’.

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