Meet ... Tendai Huchu

by - 14:01

The 'Meet' Series will be a chance for me to interview anyone I would love to meet that is involved with African literature. 

If I haven't said this already I absolutely love Zimbabwean literature. So I am extremely happy to announce the next person in the series is Tendai Huchu whose novel, The Hairdresser of Harare, I absolutely loved. Enjoy!!!

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself (where you’re from, what you do, interests and hobbies, any fun details)

Christ, that sounds like a bad chat up line. Here goes: I’m from a small mining town called Bindura in Zimbabwe. My interests are reading – a lot, playing chess, and walking. 

What was the first piece you ever wrote?

There is an awful abandoned novel I attempted aged 16 called The Enigma of Alfred. (Cringes)

What draws you to writing?

The freedom to express myself and explore ideas. Life is complex and we are fortunate to have fiction as a sort of Petri dish in which we can dissect life and study it over and over.  

What do you do when you are not writing?

I read.  

On The Hairdresser of Harare

I loved the setting of the salon, was there any particular reason why you chose to base the novel there? Also, why did you choose to have a male hairdresser as one of the central characters?

The salon acts as a microcosm of Zimbabwean society. In a society stratified by class, this is one of the few spaces people from all walks of life can interact organically. The male hairdresser Dumi acts as an intrinsic counterbalance to Vimbai, the narrator of the novel. This adds a layer of tension to the narrative.

I initially didn’t like Vimbai, although I began to warm up to her as the novel went on, but I really loved Dumi. Do you know what reader’s reactions to both characters have been? And I should ask, who was your favourite of the two (or is that like asking a parent to choose their favourite child)?

Reader’s usually fall for Dumi because Vimbai is rather rough around the edges. However as you go through the book and begin to understand more about Vimbai’s history, you begin to understand why she is the way she is. I don’t have a favourite between the two because they are a ying-yang, it is essential to have both of them in play for the novel to function.

The topic of homosexuality in Africa often leads to extreme reactions, and in Zimbabwe I know Robert Mugabe has been pretty vocal about his views on it. What drew you to tackle the subject in Hairdresser of Harare, and leading on from that, how has the book been received?

Kurt Vonnegurt, referring to his novel "Slaughterhouse 5", once remarked he was the only person who benefited from the Allied bombing of Dresden to the tune of $1 (one dollar) for every dead person in the city. I’m probably the only person who benefits from the stigmatization of gay Zimbabweans to the tune of about 1p (one penny) for every one of them.The book has been received as all books are in Zimbabwe – no one gives a damn, and so it should be. The novel is an alien art form, no different to yodelling or the opera there.

What was your favourite chapter (or part) to write and why?

Chapter 22 is a particularly explosive chapter that brings all the characters together in the same place, a trick Dostoevsky used to pull in work.

On Publishing, Being an Author, and African Literature

Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?

The biggest challenge for any new author is finding your own voice and, of course, getting your work up to scratch. You simply have to keep plodding along, never really knowing if you’re good enough. In fact, right until you drop dead, you’ll have to keep trying to be a better craftsman.

As an author, what’s the toughest criticism and best compliment you have received?

One reader said they loved the cover on my novel but the story was essentially crap (ouch). Best compliment – you tend not to remember these as well as the criticisms but your review here on bookshy was wicked.

In addition to "Hairdresser of Harare", you also have a romance-thriller, "An Untimely Love", as well as a short story in AfroSF called "The Safe". They all seem so different and I was intrigued to know why you’ve written such diverse genres?

When a story comes to you, you have to let it unravel, and not try to force it into whatever genre you think it should fall in. I’ve read literary novels that I thought would work best as romances, equally I have come across Sci Fi novels I think might have worked best stripped of the gimmicks and been purely literary novels. I think a lot of contemporary authors work across multiple genres these days, sometimes you read a book and go ‘wow’, simply because you can’t put it in a box, it’s just a great story – period.

I am a great lover of African literature, could you suggest a book, new or old, that people should read?

"The Memory of Love" by Aminatta Forna (It’ll blow your mind).

On Being a Booklover (Questions I’ve always wanted to ask authors)

What are you reading right now?

"Running with Mother" – Chris Mlalazi

Is there any particular author (living or dead) or book that influenced you in any way either growing up or as an adult - and why?

I was crazy for Dostoevsky when I was in my early 20s, as I’m sure a lot of young men are. In fact my first grown up attempt at a novel was probably a plagiarism of his book "The Devils". (Tendai cringes again).

Which, novel or character in a novel do you wish you had written?

I get envious about a lot of really fantastic novels but I’d have died happy if I’d pulled off David Mitchell’s "Cloud Atlas".

Have you ever judged a book by its cover (i.e. bought a book based on its looks)? Which?

Check out "Zoo City" by Lauren Buekes – super cool cover by Joey HiFi and I’m glad to say the novel is utterly brilliant too.

Hard copy or e-book? Bookstore or Amazon?

Hard copy  – Amazon: Before you say it, yes, I’ve crossed over to the dark side.

Final Question – I promise

What’s next – can we expect a new book soon?

"The Maestro, The Magistrate & The Mathematician" is currently bouncing back and forth between me and Irene Staunton, my editor at Weaver Press. Stay tuned to this channel.

Really enjoyed this interview, so thank you very much for taking the time to answer these questions.

*Side note: Freight Books will be publishing the UK version of The Hairdresser of Harare in March - love the cover!! There's also a German version. Pretty cool!!!


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