The Harare Open Book Festival (HOBF) held its maiden edition in the Zimbabwean capital on October 29. The newest literary festival in Zimbabwe, complementing Zimbabwe International Book Fair (ZIBF, est. 1983) Harare Literature Festival (Litfest, est. 2015) is organised by Book Fantastics, a Harare-based distributor of African books.
HOBF activities included panel discussions, readings and book exhibitions. Book Fantastics co-founder Brain Garusa said expectations for the inaugural confab delivered. “In our first edition of the new festival, we had successful conversations around the inaugural theme, ‘United through Our Stories’ as well as panels on publishing and reviewing,” said Garusa.
The opening panel featured industry veterans and new stars, including Dr Ignatius Mabasa, Tariro Ndoro, Tinashe Muchuri and Nyasha Melisa Chiyanike. It was moderated by author and book reviewer, Rutendo Chichaya, who began by unpacking the year’s theme. Chichaya’s deconstructive questions prompted conversations on what terms such as “united” and “our stories” mean from both the creative and collective point of view.
Mapenzi author, Dr. Mabasa, spoke of how he is allowing our tales to gel with the changing circumstances of our time so that they remain relevant to the audiences. He lamented how we wait for foreign entities such as Disney to appropriate for instance our folktales.
Speaking of unity and multiplicity of voices, Muchuri acknowledged that one author cannot be everything. He called for the respect of particularity in the production of stories.
This idea was corroborated by Chichaya who said respecting each other should be accompanied with understanding of where an author is coming from. For Ndoro, the fabric of a society is found in its stories and their strength in uniting people cannot be quantified.
The panel on publishing comprising of Tariro Ndoro, Rumbidzai Vazhure and Batsirai Chigama with Brain Garusa as moderator offered insights on traditional, digital and self-publishing among other issues.
“Listening to Rumbidzai who is a Zimbabwean publisher based in the UK and Batsirai Chigama who successfully self-published award winning poetry anthologies, one could see there are inescapable fundamentals involved in the making of the book,” said Garusa. “These include editing, proofreading, producing quality starting from the cover, and having links with fellow creatives.”
Ndoro offered insights on publishing through digital journals like Ipikai which she co-founded with Chigama and Fungai Tichawangana. “One of the issues that came out of the conversation is the need for corroborative efforts with others in the community. One uniting thread throughout the conversation is the limited players in our local publishing space and the need to have a vibrant ecosystem that encourages our growth,” Garusa added.
The panel on book reviewing spoke on the importance of spreading the gospel of our books on different platforms. Apart from reflections on the theme of the event, as well as on publishing and reviewing, there were able readings from authors such as Panashe Nyagwambo, Tsitsi Nomsa Ngwenya, Memory Chirere and Robert Mukondiwa.
“People from all walks of life who came to enjoy the moments. When the day ended there were people whose reading and writing desires rekindled. Books by Zimbabwean and African writers were there for sale from Book Fantastics and individual authors,” said Garusa.
Zimbabwe International Book Fair (ZIBF) Association chairperson Memory Chirere threw his weight behind the new festival. “You see, the festival brought us here! Let that show you didn’t offend anyone,” he told HOBF convener Garusa.
Chirere also spoke on the need to have more decentralised and complementary literary festivals and activities, as they speak to the ideas of the ZIBF.
The Harare Open Book Festival said it will guarantee an annual meeting place for creatives going forward. “We want to leave a celebratory imprint of the Zimbabwean literary story,” Garusa said.