Zimbabwean writer Andrew Chatora was silver recipient at the Anthem Award for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion held in New York on January 30. A noted crusader of African immigrant literature based in the UK, Chatora was recognized for his 2023 novel, “Harare Voices and Beyond”.
Chatora’s novel interrogates land reform discourse and race relations in Zimbabwe. Hollywood notables such as actors Matt Damon and Kevin Bacon were among this year’s Anthem recipients. Anthem laureates are recognized for their contribution in the arts, popular culture and community work. Now in their third edition, the awards honour “purpose and mission-driven work.”
In his acceptance speech, Chatora called on artists to keep on the prophetic watchpost: ‘‘Fellow creatives, together we can keep the momentum, relentlessly reflect the iniquities of our societies! Yes we can!’’
“In a year where so much is at stake, it is incredibly important to recognise impactful work and celebrate the progress happening globally,” Patricia McLoughlin, Anthem Awards General Manager remarked.
Chatora is the second Zimbabwean writer to receive the prize following US-based novelist and Mukana Press head honcho Munashe Kaseke’s 2023 award for her debut short story collection, Send Her Back and Other Short Stories.
“Zimbabwe’s history, long-run and more recent, has left behind a brutal legacy of racism, inequality and corruption. In Harare Voices and Beyond, I took on the ambitious challenge of telling a complex story about a complicated city, a devastated country and the multiple cultures that co-exist within,” Chatora said.
Steeped in Harare’s underbelly, Harare Voices and Beyond is not a narrative for the fainthearted. “Equally, the book also offers a minutiae examination on the place and scope of citizenship and nationhood in post-colonial Africa,” he added.
The novel deconstructs the simplistic dichotomy with which official discourse has sought to answer the question, “Who is a ‘real’ Zimbabwean?” “Do white people count? What about immigrants from other African countries?”
Appropriately enough, Harare Voices and Beyond earned its first gong from a prize that recognizes artworks championing diversity and inclusion
Segregated strands of Zimbabwean history meet where angels seldom tread, a quality associated with Chatora since his first novel, “Diaspora Dreams” took up the counterintuitive case of an African man teaching English in England.
Described by literary critic Tariro Ndoro as a “why-dunnit,” being a detective story that offers up a confession before it unravels, “Harare Voices and Beyond” also walks the reader through the contemporaneous problems of crime, corruption, drug abuse and mental health
“Many Zimbabwean writers before me have looked at the land question in their literary works. Harare Voices and Beyond afforded me the chance to contribute to a longstanding ongoing discourse,” Chatora reflected in the aftermath of his win.
“With my novel, Harare Voices and Beyond, I was attempting to fill in the missing link, the constant question on how it could have felt on the other side, the landed white community during the land reform.
The Where the Heart Is novelist takes exception to criticism from some decolonial aficionados who conclude that he has taken the side of the whites. “Nothing could be further from the truth. For me, it’s not so much about taking sides bringing nuance and unexpected twists to a polarized conversation,” explained Chatora.
It is a curious case of turning the tables on oneself for a novelist equally targeted for his pro-black crusades on the diaspora turf. Or, perhaps, a simple taste for complexity?
“So much had happened to white people during the land reform. Now, this should not be conflated with ‘I am anti-land reform’ as charged by some of my detractors.
“But, to reiterate, that is the essence of the writer. I will always defend my right to write without fear or favour on any contentious issues affecting our society,’’ he said.
Appropriately enough, Harare Voices and Beyond earned its first gong from a prize that recognizes artworks championing diversity and inclusion.
Andrew Chatora is a noted exponent of the African diaspora novel. Candid, relentlessly engaging and vulnerable, his novels are a polarising affair among social critics and literary aficionados. Chatora’s forthcoming novel, Born Here But Not in My Name, is a long-run treatment of race relations in Britain, featuring the English classroom as a microcosm of wider society post-Brexit. His debut novella, Diaspora Dreams (2021), was the well-received nominee of the National Arts Merit Awards in Zimbabwe, while his subsequent works, Where the Heart Is, Harare Voices and Beyond and Inside Harare Alcatraz and Other Stories, has cemented his contribution as a voice of the excluded. Harare Voices and Beyond was awarded the 2024 Anthem Silver Award.