Wasafiri Wonders: Novuyo Rosa Tshuma
‘Don’t write what you know (boring advice). Write what you want to find out, what you want to know, what you don’t know, what you are curious about.’
Ever wondered what your favourite author’s first drafts look like? Or which book they love that nobody’s heard of? Wasafiri Wonders is a series that asks these questions for you.
Novuyo Rosa Tshuma is a Zimbabwean writer whose debut collection Shadows was published in 2013. Her most recent novel House of Stone was longlisted for the 2019 Rathbones Folio Prize and shortlisted for the 2019 International Dylan Thomas Prize.
1. Describe your first drafts in one sentence.
Messy, curious, intuitive and filled with footnotes.
2. Tell us about your writing rituals.
I may have had writing rituals when I was younger. Currently, I have none. I used to write anywhere and everywhere but I now find I need specific spaces during specific stages of writing (would this count as a writing ritual?). So, cafés during the early, tenuous stages of a work (love the background chatter); absolute silence once I get really deep into a project (libraries, reading rooms, my apartment).
3. What themes do you gravitate towards and why?
I don’t think in terms of themes when writing. It’s the last thing I look at and usually prompted by someone else. While writing, I think in terms of characters, stories and—perhaps the closest thing to ‘themes’—a character’s psychological landscape. Rarely do I conceive of characters as bodies first (fascinated by their minds first).
4. Tell us about your newest work.
House of Stone is a novel about history, family, kinship, love, devastation, dreams, hopes, determination, guts, pain, trauma, care, bonds. The novel’s narrator, Zamani, is this high-octane consciousness, at once wily, playful, serious, devious, earnest, manipulative, desperate, and loving (in his own way!).
5. What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
Don’t write what you know (boring advice). Write what you want to find out, what you want to know, what you don’t know, what you are curious about.
6. What is your favourite book published in the past year and why?
A Lucky Man by Jamel Brinkley. Gorgeous, elevating, complex, surprising, nuanced prose and stories. His writing is an experience.
7. What is a classic you recently read for the first time?
And the Rain in my Drink by Han Suyin. (Also, classic according to who? Since someone like me would not ordinarily belong to this very white, very male ‘lustrous group’, a middle finger to the canon).
8. What is a book you love that no one else has heard of?
No one in my generation seems to have heard of Gunter Grass’ The Tin Drum. And that’s a classic. Whenever I speak about it with friends, I receive blank stares. I’m an old soul.
9. If your newest work were a music album, what would it be?
Prince Kaybee’s Re Mmino (We are Music) album. He’s a South African DJ, and a music genius.
10. Which books or authors are relevant reads in our political climate —or one you’d recommend to current world leaders?
World leaders should read contemporary stuff from Africa—and stop the rote recommendation of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart as their ‘done my good deed of the day’ show of ‘solidarity’. How cliché.
House of Stone by Novuyo Rosa Tshuma is now available in paperback. Published by Atlantic Books.