Noviolet Bulawayo. Author of We Need New Names. Zimbabwe
Noviolet Bulawayo. Author of We Need New Names. Zimbabwe

NoViolet Bulawayo is a Zimbabwean author and Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. Her debut novel We Need New Names was released in 2013 and was included in the 2013 Man Booker Prize shortlist.  This made her the first black African woman and the first Zimbabwean to be shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. It also won the Etisalat Prize for Literature and the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award among other accolades. She has begun work on a memoir project. She talked to Writivism’s Rebecca Rwakabukoza about her involvement with the continental project and her debut novel.

RR: What is your inspiration for being on the Board Of Trustees for Writivism?

NB: It seems a fitting time to quote Dr. Maya Angelou who said, “When you get, give. When you learn, teach.” This is an opportunity that allows me to share and collaborate and inspire along with like-minded people who are working hard to take writing and reading on the continent to the next level.

RR: What are your hopes for organisations like Writivism and its annual Festival?

NB: Writivism is already doing exciting things: workshops, mentorships, a festival, an anthology, a couple of writers shortlisted for the Caine Prize, fellowships, alternative publishing spaces for writers and, most importantly, writers and readers from different spaces being in conversation with each other. This is very encouraging and I hope to see the young organisation grow. All these efforts foster a fresh reading and writing culture that helps to inspire and shape the future of African literature.

RR: You published We Need New Names with an American-based publishing house. What are your thoughts on accessibility to publishing for Africa-based authors and how that affects their being read?

NB: We’re all aware that publishing opportunities are slim, though of course dynamics vary from country to country. This simply means we do not realise our full potential, whether we are talking about who is published, what readers read, if they read and the type of stories being told. However way we look at it, it is our loss, especially considering that we have so many stories to tell.

RR: What has the fame/success of We Need New Names felt like for you? Did you expect it to be that successful or do you still feel like you’re in some kind of dream?

NB: Ha, I think you need at least a few strong novels under your belt to be called a successful writer, but I’ll say that We Need New Names is a lucky book and has taken me by surprise, perhaps because I had no expectations. All I wanted was to write a book and I didn’t worry much about what would happen to it, where it would go. And I will always want this, really, to just write.


This interview is the first in a series showcasing new African writers, names you’ve probably never heard of.  Noviolet Bulawayo is certainly not a new writer, but she is kicking off the series because of her outstanding work with the Writivism project. Check back every Friday for a new interview. Thanks to the folks at Writivism for conducting the interviews and choosing to share it on our platform. 

Image: The Telegraph