Zimbabwean author Petina Gappah will publish two nonfiction books shortly! Her essay collection This Dream Called Zimbabwe will be out later this year or early next year and her scintillating memoir Heaven is a Library will be released in 2024, both through House of Books in Harare.
Gappah shared the news about her two books on social media, celebrating the writing of her memoir, which she describes as “an essentially happy African memoir that looks at my life through the prism of the ten libraries that formed me, refracted through my father’s hunger for education.”
Gappah adds writing this memoir has been a happy time for her as it is filled with memories of her family, more than 300 descendants of her grandfather and his two wives. It is bursting with “the argot of Chitsa and Magombedze, of Bhasera and Chinyika, of Munyikwa and Machingambi, of every Gutu village in fact, from Alheit Chin’ombe to Zvavahera.”
Check out a brief glimpse of some of the main events from Gappah’s life in her memoir below:
I tell the story of how I lived and burnt my feet in one of these villages, played chikweshe in Glen Norah, learned to write at Chembira, and became the person I am today through ten libraries. These are:
Queen Victoria Memorial, now Harare City Library
St Dominic’s Library, Chishawasha
St Ignatius Library, Chishaswasha
National Free Library of Zimbabwe, Bulawayo
Law School Library, University of Zimbabwe
Georgetown Law School Library, Washington DC
Squire Law library, Cambridge
Bibliothek Anglistiks und Amerikanistiks, University of Graz
WTO Library, Geneva
Biliotheque Schoelcher, Martinique
They are places in which I retreated to read, to study, to which I retreated to escape bullying, places in which I lost my Catholic faith and became first a Buddhist then a humanist, places in which I found solace from loneliness, depression and heartbreak, and above all, places that powered my ambition to be an international lawyer, and to be a writer, places in which I drowned in words.
Key decisions in my life were made in these libraries. To leave govt, to study international trade law, to return to finish the PhD I wanted to abandon without completing, to study law instead of Economic History, to rebuild a beloved library and give to other children the same love for reading, to sate what Doris Lessing in her beautiful Nobel lecture so movingly called “the hunger for the written word in Zimbabwe”.
As academics ourselves with a fondness for libraries, we love the fact that Gappah decided to dedicate her entire memoir to the libraries and spaces that have shaped her life and career so deeply.
In fact, there was so much to say in her memoir that it led to the birth of a second book – a collection of essays published in a range of platforms such as the Guardian, New York Times, New Yorker, Financial Times, Zimbabwe Times, and South African Sunday Times from 2006 to 2023.
This Dream Called Zimbabwe is Gappah’s extension of her memoir that focuses strictly on the evolution of her ideas throughout her literary career:
These essays show better than my memoir can ever do the evolution of my ideas on everything from politics and governance, to art, reading and writing. They also reveal my unyielding stand, there from the beginning of my writing, that solutions to Zimbabwe’s problems can never be outsourced to outsiders. And they show my abiding interests, again there since the beginning, in the multiplicity of our stories, in decolonisation,: not only decolonising our literatures, histories and education, but also decolonising international law, international trade and intellectual property rights.
Zimbabwean author Petina Gappah has written the short story collections An Elegy for Easterly (2009) which was shortlisted for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Prize and the Orwell Prize, and Rotten Row (2016), as well as the novels The Book of Memory (2015), which was longlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction and won the McKitterick Prize, and Out of Darkness, Shining Light (2019) which won the National Arts Merit Award.
Congrats to Gappah on the two forthcoming books!