Brother Shingi Mavima Releases his Latest Book
One of our social media interns, Jesús Briceño, interviewed Brother Shingi Mavima (Alpha Gamma) about his new novel Pashena – The Dirt Field.
Congratulations on your new book, Pashena – the Dirt Field, can you share what your book is about?
The book is a semi-autobiographical tale that focuses on three to four years of my childhood between the ages of nine and twelve in Mutare, Zimbabwe. Initially, my friends and I got together on a dirt field converted it into a soccer field. However, it is less about children playing on a soccer field but more about coming of age tale in a country that was going through its own growing pains, if you will. Through the eyes of those kids playing soccer, we can see the economy of the country starts to decline. We see the HIV/AIDS pandemic and its toll on the country at the time. For instance, the kid’s parents will pass away or lose their jobs. People would have to move away or move back to their neighborhoods after they made it to the suburbs. That is the dynamic of what the book is about.
Who might enjoy this book?
I think a lot of people will enjoy. There are a few demographics that I think will enjoy this book. People in the developing nations, low-income communities, generally the majority of African countries with a soccer following. However, the book is not limited to those communities, the United States for instance where basketball is the sport of choice. The idea where you and your friends banding together to play as an escape from your reality also applies. I believe folks like that would also enjoy it. Anyone who is interested in learning about the modern history of Zimbabwe because the book is a historical fiction story where I am telling the story of Zimbabwe at that point in time through the characters.
How is this book similar or different than your previous work Homeward Bound?
Well, my more recent work was actually Mirage of Days Old which, like Homeward Bound, was a poetry anthology. One major difference is that Homeward Bound is a collection of poems as opposed to Pashena/ The Dirt Field, which is a novel. However, a lot of the pieces of poetry from Homeward Bound are in Pashena.
What were some challenges in coming up with the idea or executing your vision for your new book?
That is an interesting question. I set out to write a story. With that said, I do not care of the challenges or deadlines, I just wrote and told them over time. However, one challenge I did have was looking for publishers. I got a few rejections, no responses you know and in the end you just have to persevere. I contacted Zimbabwean publishers, South African publishers, British publishers, American publishers, Australian publishers and it was about a year ago that I found a publisher.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Man, the first story I ever wrote… I have been writing ever since I was a nine or ten years old. The funny part is that when I would play soccer with the kids, I would always go home and write what happened that day journalistic style. What I also did was read books like Goosebumps and The Hardy Boys and then step away and try to write my best imitation of those stories. I would try to make those books more relevant to my society for instance, since The Hardy Boys is more of a detective theme, I wrote about the missing rabbits because in my community, someone was stealing rabbits. Essentially I ripped off those stories and “Africanized” them (laughs) for the community to enjoy.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
I just have a story to tell. I don’t have material motivation, “like if it pays well, I will do it”, so to speak. Actually, the money I raised with Homeward Bound, went to my non-profit which sends kids from communities, like mine growing up, to school campuses. The first copy of Pashena was actually auctioned off and that money contributed to the non-profit. Back to your question, I wanted to show that there is a community of African storytellers. I read a list titled “100 Books That Shaped the World” posted by BBC and I only recognized that only two of those storytellers are African. How is it possible that such a colossal continent where a fifth of the world currently live and historically the central of different things produce two of the hundred books that shape the world? I simply wanted to claim my space in that conversation and tell not only my story but the story of my people. Everyone wants to talk about how we [Africans] all starve and I am the one who “made it”. On the contrary, I wanted to tell the stories of my childhood that were unique but not different from other communities. I wanted to tell stories that do not fetishize our poverty, our pain but rather a childhood that was fun and different things happened as well.
I understand what drives you when you mentioned about only two of the one hundred books that shaped the world were produced by African descent, despite how large the continent. Considering that I am a Latino video/photography producer and I do see the lack of representation from the Latinx community in influential platforms, particularly in film. For instance, there have been ninety Academy awards and we still hear about the “First Latino and Hispanic Winner of…” and it is 2018. We do have stories to share and we can reach those goals and it should not be that disproportionate.
Absolutely Brother. To talk about the Latinx community, there are typical storylines about immigration or being the first/second generation in a country or parents do not speak the language. Those stories have been told time and time again. But what about just tell a story about Peruvian kids starting a rock band or a story about a Mexican in a lacrosse team, write about a real different experience, you know. Not every story I tell has to be tainted with disease, famine, death. Why can I not just tell a story about me in Zimbabwe and getting into a fistfight over a girl or tricking my grandma for an extra dollar for candy. Let us tell those stories, we lived those lives. We are not as different as others.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
Wow, good question. There are many to mention, but I will say Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o who is a Kenyan writer that has written several books I enjoy. I also enjoy the works of Tsitsi Dangarembga, who has a story listed in the 100 Stories that helped shape the world. Paulo Corello, the author of The Alchemist, I enjoy that book. Petina Gappah, Charles Mungoshi, and many more. I have a whole list I can give you.
Growing up in Zimbabwe has influenced your writing, can you talk about the culture shock it was for you to arrive in Michigan for college?
Good question. Let start with this. In the book Pashena, I was living in a low income community in Zimbabwe, essentially the “ghetto”. When I was twelve, I moved into the suburbs of Zimbabwe. When I was eighteen, I came to the Michigan for college. So I will tell you this much, my transition from the ghetto to the suburbs was bigger of a culture shock from Zimbabwe to the United States; if you can believe that. The disparity from rich to poor, anywhere in the world, you can see a huge difference. The wealthy have more in common with other wealthy people around the world than they do with the poor in their own country. I firmly believe that. People from the ghettos in Zimbabwe might look at the ghettos in the States and they can find similarities in both. In terms of my transition from Zimbabwe to the States, I noticed things were bigger. The roads, the cars, the people. Man the people are so big! I remember a Zimbabwean person was the biggest person I seen before I came to the U.S. And within our chapter of forty or so at the time, there were around seven to ten Brothers that I can name that were bigger than that big Zimbabwean person (laughs). I also noticed public displays of affection are different here in the U.S. Typically other countries are more conservative when it comes to that. People are “lovey lovey” here and I see it everywhere (laughs). I also noticed smaller things like riding the bus. People deliberately make themselves unavailable for social contact. People throw on their headphones, they get lost in their books or phone. I am not saying it is bad, I am saying it is different. I remember one time I was moving into an apartment complex here in the U.S and I was transporting this box spring by myself and no one said hello or helped me. In Zimbabwe however, there is no way one would struggle with something on their own because typically others do lend a hand. Once again, I am not saying it is good or bad, just different. I would say Zimbabwe is a more community centric environment. When somebody dies in Zimbabwe, somebody walks door to door for miles to let others know who passed and with a bucket to ask for donations for the family. The residences that you visit will typically pour a share their flour or corn into the bucket and that will be used for food at the funeral. Some people need it, some do not, however it is a way of giving condolences. There are little things like that I miss.
What drew you to Sigma Lambda Beta?
I joined my freshman year. Honestly what drew me was seeing the Brothers around campus, at community service events. I took a liking to them and they took a liking to me. More important question about my relation with Sigma Lambda Beta is what has kept me in as opposed as to what drew me in. I have been a Brother since Spring 2007 and I think I have grown up with the organization. I am a very proud African-American, Zimbabwean, Black Brother who is earning a Ph.D in Africana Studies continues to have pride for this organization. I spent three or four years as a Brother writing and The Fraternity game me opportunities to perfect my writing like reading to audiences and reviewing their responses. The Fraternity and my nonprofit partnered together to do fundraisers for the kids in Zimbabwe for the past four years. Just this past fundraiser, we raised $1,200 for the Zimbabwean children to school. Despite the Latinx interest in the States with DACA, the Donald Trump era, immigration and so on, they still find the time and provide the effort to help the kids goes a long way for me. The non-profit organization itself reflects on the ideals of The Fraternity, considering that a chapter brother and I did establish the non-profit. The Fraternity is still growing, it helped me develop my identity, helped me become a better person, a better Brother, better professor, better artist. What drew in was one thing, what kept me in is another. Here I am at thirty years old about to get my Ph.D eleven years after I crossed and yet still here involved the way I am.
Any advice for aspiring Brothers who are writers?
One, write now then get it right later. People worry about unnecessary things. Just write and let it soak, do not be afraid to write. Secondly, I will say let the story lead you. The story exists, you are just transferring it from your thoughts to the pages. Finally, you have to read a lot. I am a writing instructor in college and I can tell just by looking at their papers as to who reads and who does not. I can tell by the style and how they make sense of things. You have to read to know what you like and do not like, what works what does not work.
Solid advice. Thank you for your time Brother!