Zimbabwean screenwriter and author, Julius Masimba Musodza was born in 1976 and attended Avondale Primary School in Harare, and St Mary Magdalene’s High School in Nyanga.
Some of his early work appeared in school magazines as well as in the young people's newspaper, The New Generation.
After high school, Musodza majored in Screenwriting and Directing at the Vision Valley Film Video & Television Institute. He also studied with Edgar Langeveldt’s Nexus Talent Agency; the African Script Development Fund; the Zimbabwe International Film Festival and the Raindance Institute.
He sold his first screenplay in 2002 and is now working to put some of his own writing to screen as a producer/director.
In this interview, Masimba Musodza talks about his writing.
When did you start writing?
I seem to have taught myself to read and write before I started school and that scared the hell out of my folks!
I tried to get a novel published in the Pacesetters series, but that was when they stopped publishing.
I started my professional writing career around 2000 when I sold my first screenplay. I did the occasional short-story or essay in noe magazine or the other and had novel-length manuscripts piling up. But it wasn't until I came to England, and having to do the rese-rese career that I realised I had to put my name out there now or be another miserable, overworked, overqualified Zimba in London for many years to come. So, I put together some of the stories I had written over the years about the experiences of Rastafarian people in Zimbabwe and published them as an anthology.
How would you describe your writing?
I would describe it as doing the one thing that I am actually good at.
I am a Rastafarian so it is natural that I will come up with main characters who are Rastafarians or see the world with Rastafarian eyes. There is a tendancy to keep us on the periphery, except as amusing eccentrics. I am saying a Rastafarian is a person as good as the next. But I don't want to be remembered as just a Rastafarian writer. I am very mainstream.
Who is your target audience?
Anyone who takes the time to read. I see myself at this stage as writing in the dark - so I cannot define my audience, just yet. I am trying to reach as much of the world as possible, which is why I am working towards getting some of my work translated into other languages.
Of course, I do have the distinguished honour of being a pioneer in Rastafarian Literature. But I reach out to a wider readership.
Which writers influenced you most?
I have been described in one review as "the Rastafarian Hemmingway". But I cite many influences on my website... from our own [Tsitsi] Dangarembga, [M. A.] Hamutyinei... even Wilbur Smith, (though it is not very politically-correct to say that)... to the English and American writers, and the African masters, and most recently Chimamanda Adichie. The list is very long.
What are your main concerns as a writer?
Right now, I have a book being sold illegally on the internet by my former publisher.
How are you dealing with this?
What can I do? It is a small publishing house, but I am even smaller and they know that if I am to try and force them to honour their obligations, whatever it is they cough up will be swallowed by the legal costs I might have to pay. All I can do is appeal to people not to purchase any book from a company calling itself Meadow Books, Exposure Publishing or Diggory Press with my name on it as I am getting nothing for them.
How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?
I think it shows in the writing. It is fiction, but it is based on reality. Take my new detective novel, for instance. I am talking about the greed and materialism of Zimbabwean society, about the Rastafarian people's struggle for recognition as a bona fide religious and cultural community in a multi-cultural Zimbabwe, and about how Zimbabweans living abroad will have a brighter future if they return home.
What are the biggest challenges that you face?
Zimbabwe is in a straight-jacket. I am pushing boundaries on many fields, and that scares the hell out of a lot of people. Then, when you go out there, you find that the world also has deep-seated prejudices about what a Zimbabwean writer ought to be.
Despite institutional censorship in Zimbabwe, I have at my disposal the Internet. I don't have to go mainstream to be a success. Most Zimbabweans have never heard of me, but I have been well-received in Italy and Australia, among other places.
Do you write everyday?
I spend the whole day outlining a chapter or a story. Then, after midnight when all is calm, I am at my computer and just sort of put down what I have already written in my head.
Often, I will do a chapter of each of the novels I am working on at the moment. There are always other things to write as well. Then, at around dawn, I will crawl back into bed and wake up in the morning like a normal person. (Should go down well on the first morning of matrimony...)
How many books have you written so far?
The Man who turned in to a Rastafarian, an anthology. First published in 2007 by Exposure Publishing. Republished by Lion Press. A pioneering work of Rastafari-oriented fiction.
Uriah's Vengeance, 2009, Lion Press. The first in a series about Chenai "Ce-Ce" Chisango and her brother Farai of the Dread Eye Detective Agency. They are are assigned by the wife of a wealthy businessman to protect him from a possible attempt on his life by an extortionist. Despite their efforts, the businessman is brutally murdered in one of his homes and they have to find his killer. Clues point to a quest for revenge for a terrible wrong dating back to Zimbabwe's war for independence. However, as the brother and sister duo uncover the past, shocking discoveries suggest a motive much closer to the ethos of contemporary society - sheer avarice.
I wrote the screenplay about a decade ago. At that time, I had just finished film school and it looked like we were going to have a film and TV industry in Zimbabwe. Now, we don't even have an industry of any sort..
Mhuka Huru. Lion Press, Publishing date held back for a few months. A Shona language sci-fi/horror, weaving topical issues such as the environment and sustainable development, the spectre of global famine, the role of global food cartels and their GM crops and the mythology of the Zimbabwean people.
In the novel, villagers living around the River Hacha begin to shun it as word spreads that a mermaid now occupies one of its deep pools. So, there is no one to witness the abnormal growth of the flora and fauna in the vicinity. No one to note that even the animals are scared to go near the river, scared of the dark hulks lurking beneath the surface of the pool…
Which were the most difficult aspects of the work you put into Uriah's Vengeance?
Trying to keep in mind that most Zimbabweans haven't the foggiest about Rastafarian culture. I had to offer explanations without allowing a work of fiction to become a dictionary.
I suppose if you are trying to push down barriers of ignorance and misconception, you have to climb down from yours as well.
What will your next book be about?
Another Shona language horror, this time revolving around the subject of sexual abuse and how our justice system seems to have difficulty in dealing with abuse of this kind.
What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?
My folks finally admitting that writing is as respectable a profession as the ones they had in mind for me!
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[Interview] Petina Gappah, author of 'An Elegy for Easterly', Conversations with Writers, April 10, 2009.