(Photo: Hannah Mentz)
Tsitsi Dangarembga is an award-winning Zimbabwean novelist, playwright, and filmmaker. She completed her residency at The Bellagio Center in 2016. Her debut novel, Nervous Conditions (1988), won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, and her most recent novel, This Mournable Body (2021), partly written at the Center, was nominated for the Booker Prize.
A few words with Tsitsi
“I was at The Bellagio Center for a month. We had scientists, medics, artists—it was fascinating to be among people from such different professional backgrounds. The whole intellectual climate was so stimulating. I was energized, and did get a lot of work done. It was so important to get away, and breathe. I wouldn’t have been able to relax sufficiently to finish my novel, This Mournable Body without that time at Bellagio—and of course, it’s now gone on to be quite a success.”
Anxious about her prospects after leaving a stagnant job, Tambudzai finds herself living in a run-down youth hostel in downtown Harare. For reasons that include her grim financial prospects and her age, she moves to a widow’s boarding house and eventually finds work as a biology teacher. But at every turn in her attempt to make a life for herself, she is faced with a fresh humiliation, until the painful contrast between the future she imagined and her daily reality ultimately drives her to a breaking point.
In This Mournable Body, Tsitsi Dangarembga returns to the protagonist of her acclaimed first novel, Nervous Conditions, to examine how the hope and potential of a young girl and a fledgling nation can sour over time and become a bitter and floundering struggle for survival. As a last resort, Tambudzai takes an ecotourism job that forces her to return to her parents’ impoverished homestead. It is this homecoming, in Dangarembga’s tense and psychologically charged novel, that culminates in an act of betrayal, revealing just how toxic the combination of colonialism and capitalism can be.
You can watch Thandi Newton read an excerpt from This Mournable Body, and hear novelist Sara Collines talk about why she enjoyed the book so much.
Find out more about the Institute of Creative Arts for Progress in Africa, which was founded by Tsitsi.
You may also want to connect with Tsitsi on Twitter.