Chenjerai fell ill only a few weeks ago, and with his wife Thecla and his sister Monica by his side, he passed away at Stavanger University Hospital Sunday 12 July at 13:40.
“Bright, clear and with his unprecedented warmth and humour intact until the last hours", says ICORN director Helge Lunde, “many of us, writers, friends, colleagues, were able to visit and talk with him during his last days. A unique person, a strong writer and a passionate freedom fighte r has left us, but his work, his example and his spirit will live on in his home country Zimbabwe and throughout the world in weeks, months and years to come.”
Chenjerai Hove was born in Zimbabwe (Rhodesia at the time) in 1956. Son of a local chief, he was educated in Zimbabwe and South Africa, and had his literary debut with the poetry collection “Up in Arms” in 1982. His international breakthrough came with the award winning novel Bones in 1988. The novel Shadows was published in 1991, and when Ancestors came in 1997, he had gained the position as one of Africa’s most prolific and celebrated writers. From the very beginning, for Chenjerai, writing poetry and fiction went hand in hand with social and political engagement. He was the inaugural president of Zimbabwe’s Writers Union in 1984, and became the founding board member of Zimbabwe Human Rights Association in 1990. Hence, in 2001 he received the Germany-Africa Prize for literary contribution to freedom of expression.
But unfortunately, championing democracy and freedom of expression came with a high cost under Robert Mugabe’s regime in Zimbabwe. Threats, harassment and intimidation increased in frequncy and severeness, and Chenjerai was forced to leave his home country in 2001. He first gained refuge under the International Parilament of Writers’ protection scheme in Paris, and then arrived as guest writer in Stavanger City of Refuge in 2005. Chenjerai was instrumental as advisor and guest writer contact when ICORN, the International Cities of Refuge Network was established in Stavanger in 2006. He was an International Writers Fellow at Browns University in 2008, and ICORN guest writer in Miami from 2009-2011. Returning to Stavanger, he continued work extensively on his writing career, and fight without compromise against whom he called «my dictator », Robert Mugabe and his regime in Zimbabwe.
Homeless – Sweet Home : The title of Chenerai’s book from his Miami residency is quite telling for the ambivalent role exile and being exiled played in his life. Enabling him to cross countries and continents, translate Shakespear’s King Lear to his native Shona in the Swiss Alps, write the famous « Letter to my Mother » (who had never seen snow) from wintery Norway, dwelling and writing in the distinguised writer’s lounge in a Miami Beach Hotel; nothing could take away the main focus in Chenjerai’s life : The fight for human rights, freedom of expression and democracy in his beloved Zimbabwe. « My Dictator and I » is the title of one of many book projects he has been working continously on during the latest months and years, that hopefully will be published posthumously.
Furhtermore, just before he fell ill, Chenjerai finished a major thesis on literature and exile. Working with texts by and life stories of among others Czeslav Milosz, Norman Manea, Edward W Said, Chinua Achebe and Helon Habila, he is « trying to understand the matrix of the meaning of exile (...) to delve into the complexity of exile in its many forms, but with particular emphasis on the views of writers in their reflections on the theme of exile (...)» Below, we let our dear Chen speak for himself, via one of the numerous until yet unpublished poems he has written outside his beloved Zimbabwe:
By Chenjerai Hove (2006)
Far away from home,
and joys of the land of my birth,
the songs of the birds whose names I know,
the sounds of the rivers whose names I grew up naming
with rhythm and dance,
the shapes of the hills and mountains,
how they told us they looked like a man dancing,
a woman smoking a pipe,
a crazy woman dancing to several lovers,
the colours of the sky
as it changed its many tempers
to invoke the voice of thunder and lightning,
all those colours of butterflies and nameless things,
all these will always remind me
that I am part of that geographical
space where I grew up.
It is my traveller’s luggage,
in my soul and heart,
while I travel and reach out to other lands
which might welcome me
with their voices.
Among his publications are:
• And Now the Poets Speak (co-editor; poetry), 1981
• Up In Arms (poetry), Harare: Zimbabwe Publishing House, 1982
• Red Hills of Home (poetry), 1984; Gweru: Mambo Press, 1985.
• Bones (novel), Harare: Baobab Books, 1988; Heineman International AWS, 1989.
• Shadows (novel), Harare: Baobab Books, 1991; Heinemann International Literature and Textbooks, 1992.
• Shebeen Tales: Messages from Harare (journalistic essays), Harare: Baobab Books/London: Serif, 1994
• Rainbows in the Dust (poetry), 1997
• Guardians of the Soil (cultural reflections by Zimbabwe’s elders), 1997.
• Ancestors (novel), 1997. ISBN 0-330-34490-0
• Desperately Seeking Europe (co-author; essays on European identity), 2003
• Palaver Finish, essays on politics and life in Zimbabwe, 2003
• Blind Moon (poetry), 2004.
• The Keys of Ramb (children’s story), 2004
Honours and awards
• 1983 Special Commendations for the Noma Award for Publishing in Africa, for Up in Arms
• 1984 Inaugural President, Zimbabwe Writers Union
• 1988 Winner, Zimbabwe Literary Award, for Bones
• 1989 Winner, Noma Award for Publishing In Africa, for Bones
• 1990 Founding Board Member, Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (Zimrights)
• 1991-94 Writer-in-Residence, University of Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe
• 1994 Visiting Professor, Lewis and Clark College, Portland, Oregon, USA
• 1995 Guest Writer, Yorkshire and Humberside Arts and Leeds University, UK
• 1996 Guest Writer, Heinrich Böll Foundation, Germany
• 1998 Second Prize, Zimbabwe Literary Award, for Ancestors
• 2001 German-Africa Prize for literary contribution to freedom of expression
• 2007-08 International Writers Project Fellow, Brown University
Not yet time to return home: An article about Chenjerai just before the 2013 Zimbabwe election.