Saturday, February 6, 2010

[Interview] Lawrence Hoba

Lawrence Hoba was born in 1983 in Masvingo, Zimbabwe.

His debut short story collection, The Trek and Other Stories was shortlisted in the 2010 Zimbabwean National Arts Merit Awards (NAMA).

His short stories and poems have also appeared in the Mirror; the magazine of the Budding Writers Association of Zimbabwe, and in anthologies that include Writing Now (Weaver Press, 2005) and Laughing Now (Weaver Press, 2007).

In this interview, Lawrence Hoba talks about his writing:

When did you start writing?

I started writing before I went to school. (I always enjoy this response from many artists.) I started writing fiction as a pastime around 1999.

The decision to become a published writer came much later on, around 2002, when I became a serious member of the Budding Writers Association of Zimbabwe (BWAZ), under the Chiredzi Chapter, where I attended writing skills workshops and met other aspiring and established writers who helped fuel the motivation to get published.

Getting to meet people like Charles Mungoshi in 2001 and Memory Chirere in 2002 made me begin to realise that nothing was impossible. Suddenly I wanted to get my name there among them and other writers.

How would you describe your writing?

Difficult question. I have never really understood the technical stuff critics and scholars use to describe writings so don’t expect any technical words from me.

I write short stories that I hope make people laugh, cry, smile and, at the end, learn a thing or two about other people.

Who is your target audience?

I write for the adult audience. I think it takes much more to be able to communicate effectively with children. The choice was never made deliberately but it became apparent from story to story that the way I expressed myself was more for the adult audience than for children.

Which authors influenced you most?

I have always liked Ernest Hemingway, D. H. Lawrence, Charles Mungoshi, Shimmer Chinodya, Gabriel Marquez, Ines Arredondo, Maxim Gorky, Carribean, Russian and African literature. The list is almost endless starting and includes the Bigglesworth Series which I read when I was nine.

I read almost everything that came my way but I liked those stories in which the basics of humanity were the core detail of the story. And my stories try to do that. Explore all aspects of human life.

Do you write everyday?

I don't write everyday. I do read everyday.

When I am writing, I always start with about a paragraph or so to get the ideas on paper. But then sometimes I hit blanks and I just leave it all. I get back to the story when it wants to write itself. Then, I usually finish the story in one sitting.

I can write at any time of the day, but I prefer to write when I am alone because this enables me to listen to each character speak and argue their case.

How many books have you written so far?

The Trek and other Stories (Weaver Press, 2009) is my first complete work. These are ten short stories which focus on the experiences of the ordinary people who went onto the farms hoping to make their lives better, only sometimes to find that things were not as rosy as they thought they would be. They are stories about the people’s successes and failures as new farmers.

I have also appeared in two Weaver Press short story anthologies edited by Irene Staunton: Writing Now (2005) and Laughing Now (2007).

Another of my stories was published in Exploding the Myths about Zimbabwe’s Land Reform, a journal by the Budding Writers Association of Zimbabwe in 2004. In addition to that, a number of my stories have also been published in the now defunct Mirror newspaper.

How long did it take you to write the stories that appear in The Trek?

The Trek and Other Stories is about the experiences of the people on the farms during the early days of land invasions. The stories in the book span from around 2003 to 2009. That makes it about six years. The short story collection was published in Harare, Zimbabwe in 2009.

Having been in a largely farming community in Chiredzi, Zimbabwe during the time of the early land invasions around 2001 meant that I got to experience things first hand. I was also lucky to have been assigned as a relief teacher in 2003 to a farm school where the new Black farmers were living side by side with a white farmer. I witnessed the despair, anger, humanity, stupidity and so on that came as a result of the tensions brought about by their co-existence, which, at the time, was a most awkward arrangement. It was these experiences that influenced the short story collection.

It almost became natural that I would choose Weaver Press for the project since they had had confidence in my work before. Besides, I admire their work ethics and thoroughness. The relationship with my publisher is superb. I am happy. They have excellent marketing outside the country and you are guaranteed that your book will at least be heard about outside the country. So far, The Trek has been submitted for consideration in the Zimbabwean National Arts Merit Awards (NAMA) and, as I write this, I am listening to the news and hear that it has made it onto the NAMA shortlist. The short story collection has also had a lot of international exposure.

Which were the most difficult aspects of the work you put into the book?

Trying to get the stories which were written separately and at different times to link with each other and read like one complete story was very difficult. I almost gave up. But I soldiered on.

This may sound crazy, but then I haven't claimed to be sane ... but the things that gave me the most problems were the same things that gave me the most joy. I enjoyed the way the stories could all read like one whole story and yet have each story stand on its own feet.

What sets The Trek apart from other things you've written?

The book is not different from the other things I have written. It contains most of the things I have written.

The next project, which I am currently working on, contains snippets of a child’s recollections of their childhood growing up in a new democracy just coming out of a war. It will all be short stories again, and hopefully with a bit of poetry.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

Getting published while still a young author, age-wise, and then within two months have the book generate so much interest in the country and beyond.

Possibly related books:

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Related Interview:

[Interview] Christopher Mlalazi, Conversations with Writers, January 13, 2010

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