Name: Tendai Huchu
Books: The Hairdresser of Harare & The Maestro, The Magistrate and The Mathematician
Reading books written by men is a completely different experience from reading a book written by a women. Not to say that one is greater than the other but reading books by the opposite sex is an experience in its own.
I love when I have the opportunity to interview male authors. So I welcome all my readers to this wonderful interview with Tendai Huchu; an author who writes easily through his heart.
What inspired your first novel “The Hairdresser of Harare”?
I can probably better describe the process of writing the book than pinpoint the “inspiration”. It was Christmas day 2009 and I was at a friend’s place, sponging a free meal, when I heard Vimbai’s voice in my head. I borrowed her laptop and began banging away – fourteen days later, red-eyed, weary and under threat of eviction from her couch, I emerged with the first draft. It was a spontaneous event.
Why did you feel you needed to write this book? Was it because the story was missing in the world of literature or because you had a need to let it out?
I am sure some would argue that writers all circle the same few universal themes so there is nothing really missing in the WoL. Part of me thinks the reason I do this is the same reason dogs pee on lampposts, I just can’t help it.
Do you feel that it is more pressure on you as a writer for accuracy to write about a female main character? If so, why? If not, why not?
I had a crutch when I wrote the story. I used Sarah Ladipo-Manyika’s wonderful book In Dependence as my metronome, so I would write a chapter of my book, read a chapter of her’s and alternate all the way through, that way she tempered my voice. Luckily, we have become friends and Sarah has not sued me, yet. I am very aware that I don’t do female characters well (like most male writers) but the solution isn’t to write navel gazing Bro Lit. Instead one should read more female authors, try to figure out what they are doing, and you really are spoilt for choice there, then maybe compare that to some of the crap male authors are writing and figure out what the potential pitfalls are. I can’t say I felt pressure, but I am very aware that if your characters are not believable, if they lack a soul, then the whole project collapses, so it was essential to get Vimbai right. Luckily, I also had a female editor, so that second pair of eyes caught some of my errors and helped me iron them out.
As an author of color do you feel it is your duty to write diverse books? Specifically to have main characters who are non-white?
I’m Zimbabwean, and within that literary tradition, this question doesn’t even factor. Small as it may be, our canon is mostly of books by black writers writing about black experiences and characters. However I live in Scotland now and am aware that there is a lack of representation in this society (across many different media) of non-white characters, which is not healthy for art and society at large. This opens up a very interesting and rewarding space for writers to mine and I think, to an extent, this is happening today. I don’t think one can approach this ideologically as a “duty”, rather it is an organic and necessary exploration of our common humanity, which literature as an art form does so well.
Finally, how would you describe your success? What makes you feel that your books are a success?
I wouldn’t describe myself as particularly successful. What drives me on is the hope that if I work just a little bit harder, study the craft with a little more diligence, then maybe one day I will become a better writer. Perhaps this is beyond me, I don’t know, but it is that hope that keeps me going. I’m not sure what matrix one can use to gauge success in literature – sales, critical acclaim, longevity? – but my job is to wake up each morning, stare at the white blank page and shed blood on it. Outside of that, nothing else really matters.