One of Zimbabwe’s most renowned poets, with work published in different countries and translated into several languages, Chirikure Chirikure has been residing in Germany for the past four years. Now he has returned home. He’s won accolades both locally and internationally and recently had his work hung in the new wing of Austria’s Vienna Airport. Harare News tracked him down at Book Café to find out more about the man.
Who is Chirikure Chirikure?
I was born in Gutu in 1962. I am the eldest in a family of seven. I’m married with three children, two sons and a daughter. Academically I am a graduate of the University of Zimbabwe with a BA and Bachelor of Arts Special Honours Degree. I have been privileged with fellowships at various universities including the Iowa University, USA.
How did you get into poetry?
I really can’t put my finger on what started what, but I have been doing poetry since school. It only got more organised when I was in ‘A’ level. My mother, who was my grade one teacher, says seeing me perform now reminds her of what I used to do back then. I guess we could just call it a natural calling.
Describe your journey?
I was a member of the UZ theatre group back when I was studying for my degree. This experience nurtured my performance art. During that time I wrote many pieces which dominated my first book Rukuvhute, published in 1989. After university, I trained as a publisher with College Press and worked as an editor for 17 years.
For more than 30 years I have been in the arts industry working with likeminded people from different areas including publishers and producers from different genres. It was actually Stephen Chifunyise who encouraged me to put together my first book for publication, a book which won me a first prize in the annual Zimbabwe Writer of the Year Awards and an Honorable Mention in the Noma Awards for Publishing in Africa in 1990.
I have worked with different celebrated names including the legendary Dumi Maraire and his daughter the late mbira icon Chiwoniso Maraire. My first recorded work was when Oliver Mtukudzi invited me to work at his studio at Pakarepaye Arts Centre. I have had several fellowships in different countries, the last one being in Germany. I have performed in more than 29 countries across the globe.
What inspires you?
It’s a combination of several things that happened during my life but firstly it is my family background. My grandparents were teachers, the same as my parents, so I grew up around books. I also happen to be related to one great writer Modekai Hamutyinei. When I was in high school living with my uncle in Kambuzuma, another great writer Aaron Chiunduramoyo was our next door neighbour so I had plenty to draw inspiration from in my early years.
Some inspiration also came from the armed struggle and independence from colonialism. I’m basically a child of the struggle having worked with the guerrillas as a mujibha (war collaborator). Back then I learnt a lot about the power of art including music and poetry during the pungwes where people could sing and chant to keep their spirits alive. I remember the passion of many fallen comrades, not politicians, those who had so much zeal for freedom not ruling and their names and visions are still vivid.
My exposure to art, teaching children and writing educational material can never be ruled out of my collection on inspiration.
What advice can you give young poets and aspiring writers?
I urge them to be patient, persistent, be original, and to always research through reading a lot of literature and observing what’s going on around them. They should also note that art is not always about money, it’s important to work hard and if money comes, well, let it be a bonus. They should always remember that they are part of society and do what they do best to serve our role as its mirror.