Tsitsi Dangarembga: The Record-Setting Zimbabwean Novelist & Filmmaker

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She is a phenomenal woman; a woman who will be remembered, long after this generation has done its bit and moved on. Tsitsi will never be forgotten in the annals of Zimbabwean history because of the records she has set; like Graca Machel, she is a woman of many firsts.

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Novelist, filmmaker and playwright, Tsitsi Dangarembga is the author of the critically acclaimed novel ‘Nervous Conditions’ published in England in 1988, when she was only twenty-five years old. It won the Commonwealth Writers Prize in 1989, as the first novel to be published in English by a black Zimbabwean woman and is considered one of the twelve best African novels ever written. The sequel, The Book of Not, was published in 2006.

Tsitisi wrote the story for the highest-grossing film in the history of Zimbabwe, the 1993 film, ‘Neria’ with the title song by Oliver Mtukudzi, who also appeared in the film. In 1996, she directed the film ‘Everyone’s Child’. It was the first feature film directed by a black Zimbabwean woman. The soundtrack featured songs by Zimbabwe’s most popular musicians, including Thomas Mapfumo, Leonard Zhakata and the late Andy Brown.

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This is obviously a woman who paces herself, determined to serve up nothing but the best.  Born in Mutoko, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), in 1959 Tsitsi’s childhood would begin in England, and continue in her home country as she concluded her A-levels at Hartzell High school, a missionary school in the Rhodesian town of Umtali (now Mutare). She commenced her undergraduate studies in Medicine at the Cambridge University but once again returned home soon after Zimbabwe was internationally recognised in 1980.

Psychology beckoned at the University of Zimbabwe, and while she studied, she worked for two years as a copywriter at a marketing agency. As the story goes, her early writing experience fuelled her literary dexterity: she wrote numerous plays, including ‘The Lost of the Soil’ and contributed to the production of two plays, Katshaa and Mavambo, after she joined Zambuko, a theatre group.

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In 1985, Tsitsi published a short story in Sweden called ‘The Letter’ and in 1987 she published the play ‘She Does Not Weep in Harare’. Finally, in 1988 success came swiftly and enormously with the publication of her first novel ‘Nervous Conditions’. The rest they say is history.

Tsitsi continued her education in Berlin at the Deutsche Film und Fernseh Akademie, where she studied film directing. She put her knowledge to good use and produced several films, including a documentary for German television.

Tsitsi has continued to innovate and give a voice to Zimbabweans through her founding of the International Images Film Festival for women, and her continued work with the Women Filmmakers of Zimbabwe and Zimbabwe Women Writers.

What shall we say to these things? It is never too early or too late; you are never too young or too old; there is never too much time or too little time; take your eyes off the variables; focus on the invariable.

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