Ivor W. Hartmann is a Zimbabwean writer, editor, publisher, and visual artist. Awarded The Golden Baobab Prize (2009), finalist for the Yvonne Vera Award (2011), selected for The 20 in Twenty: The Best Short Stories of South Africa’s Democracy (2014), awarded third in the Jalada Prize for Literature (2015), and Nommo Awards nomination (2017). His works have appeared in many publications. He runs the StoryTime micro-press, publisher of the African Roar and AfroSF series of anthologies. He is a founding member of the African Speculative Fiction Society, and on the advisory board of Writers International Network Zimbabwe.

26 November 2010

Collected quotes, poems, thoughts, excerpts, and insights.

In August last year I decided to start posting some of my own one-liner’s (well, mostly one-liner's) at my facebook writer's page. They are quite varied in source, some come from my side of conversations (real and digital), some are from my novels in progress, some are thoughts I had about issues or current events, some are personal insights, and some as you will see are even poems. Now over a year later they have accumulated and I thought it might be good to share them in a collection, here, with you, starting at the beginning - I have dated them because sometimes it’s pertinent - to now.

There is a reason not everyone is a good writer; it takes a willingness to eviscerate yourself and use those bloody organs as ink and pen. (27/8/09)

Despair and hope, without either we could know neither. (1/9/09)

I have faith in a natural cycle that occurs with or without belief. (21/12/09)

Sometimes one's heart is the best tool a writer can have. (3/1/10)

Reject mediocrity, embrace discernment. (8/1/10)

Life is about choices, if you don't make them they will be made for you. (17/1/10)

Parents are gods when you're young, devils when you're a teen, and human when you leave their home, but become gods again when you have your own children and experience what they put up with. (20/1/10)

It's a big bad world, online and offline, and understanding it is the passport to true freedom. (23/1/10)

If you are a writer, you are a writer. Anyone can tag on anything to it for all manner of reasons, but the word itself remains inviolable. (25/1/10)

That which we quote is more often than not that which we most need to do. (28/1/10)

Whilst writing is mostly solitary, publishing is a team effort. (4/2/10)

Money can buy many things, but not honour. (9/2/10)

Time is always of the essence, the more you've had the less you have. (18/2/10)

There is no separation of humans from nature, we are a product of nature and still entirely reliant upon the Earth's well-being for our survival. (25/2/10)

Life is truly an absurd comedy of errors and laughter is its best soundtrack. (24/3/10 )

Failure forms the backbone of success. (14/3/10)

If you put everyone else first you'll always be last, but if you always put yourself first you will never last. (31/3/10)

Doubt can be very useful tool, fear the person who has no doubts for either they are a sociopath or lying to themselves. (11/8/10)

Sometimes you: /Have to do the wrong thing for the right reason,/The right thing for the wrong reason./Everything you can even though it makes no difference./Nothing at all and let it be.//One thing only that changes the world.//Laugh when you want to cry,/Cry when you want to laugh.//Forgive but do not forget,/Forget in-order to forgive.//Make no sense to make sense,/Make sense to not make sense./Indulge to not indulge,/Not indulge as an indulgence.//Have friends that are your enemies,/And enemies that are your friends./Trust no-one,/Not even yourself.//Hear only the moans./See only the shadows./Smell only the earth./Feel only the kiss./Taste only the sea.//Love and are still lonely,/Are alone and yet not lonely. (20/8/10)

All writers need editors. There are no exceptions to this simple fact not even to prove the rule. (29/8/10)

Why is there nothing so dangerous as a martyr? Because they are no longer around to make sure what they actually stood for is not corrupted and perverted into something else entirely. (3/9/10)

There is a place for all African writers to write whatever they want; publishers need to take note of this too. It's far past time that we started filling all the wide open gaps currently dominated by first world writers on our local bookstore shelves. (5/9/10)

Burning any books, be they religious or not, is a true sign of insanity and repression. (8/9/10)

If you're holding a pen everything is a story. (11/9/10)

Poem to an Idealistic Vegetarian: While they may not have a head,/Plants also experience dread./They will fear your tread,/When you come to rip them from their bed./So acknowledge without seeing red,/The living eat the dead./The living eat the dead./That much can always be said. (13/9/10)

I wouldn't recommend creative writing or any other art to anyone, unless their passion for it runs very deep; deep enough to sustain them through the agony of it all. (22/9/10)

Never underestimate the importance of building deep and well-rounded lead characters first, that way no-matter what situation you drop them into they will remain true to themselves and thus naturally enrich the story. (16/10/10)

Money is ultimately an archaic system of control and inequitable resource rationing. (24/9/10)

Creative writing regardless of format will always endure, because the mind's eye is more vivid and powerful than any movie can ever be. (24/10/10)

If you want to think outside the box you have to realise there is no box. (3/11/10)

Everyone lies, just some more than others./Everyone cries, alone or together./Everyone complies, in one way or another./Everyone defies, if just to feel alive./Everyone relies, on something or someone./Everyone sighs, in sadness or ecstasy./Everyone buy’s, it’s a trap of our own making./So no need to decry or further imply, as,/Everyone dies./And we all have far more, similarities than disparities. (14/11/10)

Life is what happens in-between writing; almost always a necessary inconvenience. (26/11/10)

23 November 2010

Interview with Chika Onyenezi at Grey Scale

"Ivor W. Hartmann is the editor/publisher of StoryTime and the author of Mr. Goop, he one of the few who is gearing African Literature towards new heights. In this exclusive interview with Chika Onyenezi, he goes a long way discussing African Literature: its hopes and survivals. He has this stunning advice for new writer “Thus, like any art or life itself, your passion for writing must run deep, deep enough to sustain your writing”, maybe is time for a literary revolution as he has discussed in the future of writing. Enjoy this interview..." Read the full interview with Chika Onyenezi at Grey Scale.

12 November 2010

'African Roar 2011' Selections

It gives us (Emmanuel Siguake and Ivor W. Hartmann) great pleasure to announce the selections for the next annual StoryTime anthology African Roar 2011. Congratulations to all who made it through the selection process, and thank you to everyone who entered!

Chanting Shadows by Mbonisi P. Ncube

The Times by Dango Mkandawire

Out of Memory by Emmanuel Iduma

Diner Ten by Ivor W. Hartmann

Water Wahala by Isaac Neequaye

Longing for Home by Hajira Amla

Snakes Will Follow You by Emmanuel Sigauke

Snake of the Niger Delta by Chimdindu Mazi-Njoku

Main by NoViolet Mkha Bulawayo

A Writer's Lot by Zukiswa Wanner

Witch's Brew by Stanely Ruzvidzo Mupfudza

Silent Night, Bloody Night by Ayodele Morocco-Clarke

Lose Myself by Uche Peter Umez

Uncle Jeffrey by Murenga Joseph Chikowero

02 November 2010

And the winners are... Results of the SLQ Short Story Competition (October 2010)

Sentinel Literary Quarterly: The online magazine of world literature publishes Poetry, Fiction, Drama, Interviews, Essays & Reviews. And the winners are... Results of the SLQ Short Story Competition that I judged. Well done to the winners, highly commended, and all who entered!

First Prize - Scream by Samantha Symonds

Second Prize - Mayday by Andrew Campbell-Kearsey

Third Prize - A Way with the Kids by Sharon Birch

Highly Commended (In no particular order)

Crown of Burrs by G. H. Zitzelsberger

Love at First Site by Andrew Campbell-Kearsey

The Green Gators by Joey C. Aglasi

(From: SLQ Poetry and Short Story Competitions (October 2010) Results)

Judge's Report:

This was my first time judging a writing competition and I found it a highly engaging and demanding experience. Not that I am a stranger to judging fiction works, but having to choose three winners and three highly commended works from a pool of so many stories was a certainly a new experience for me.

In first place was ‘The Scream’, which gained my attention because of its distinctive style, dark humour, and mostly its one way ticket into the depth of madness very artfully portrayed. It had great lines like “Freedom tastes like burnt coffee and soggy toast”, and “The signs are clearer than a pool of melted diamonds.” Each one cataloguing the protagonist spiralling ever downwards, or upwards depending on how skewed your point of view may be. As certainly by the end of the story, you are left somewhat infected and wondering about your own sanity and what exactly is sanity anyway?

In second place was ‘Mayday’ that took anthropomorphic fiction to a new level for me. Solidly based in a good construction that predicated the story, it then went on to offer new insights into a realm of being what very few writers venture into with such a great level of detail and careful thought. The story left me recalling a saying; 'the chance of being born human is that of a turtle popping its head through a yoke floating in the middle of an ocean’.

In third place was ‘A Way with the Kids’ a cracking suspense/horror story with a good plot line, good characterisations and a very nice twist three quarters in that led to a great conclusion. This story certainly could be the seed of a fantastic novel if pursued further in greater depth.

Next up were the three highly commended stories. ‘A Crown of Burrs’, which nicely delved into the world of being a child, where days seem like years and the imagination knows no bounds and seeps readily into reality. ‘Love at First Site’ took a great look at social networking as it relates to real-world dating and romance, with a superb twist at the end. ‘The Green Gators’ peered over the rich golfing green divide into the desperate lives of the caddies and golf ball stealer's behind the scenes.

Being an editor/publisher for three years solid now means I have seen an ocean of submissions flow under my bridge and catching my interest is no easy task. Therefore, interesting ideas, themes and writing styles were the aspects that wooed me to make a final choice. To all those who did I congratulate you, and definitely think you have a future in creative writing.

Not that I’d recommend creative writing or any other art to anyone, unless their passion for it runs very deep; deep enough to sustain them through the agony of it all. For career, creative writing is not for the faint-hearted, and it does seem that it’s not the most talented who are published, but the most determined to be published. Therefore, I hope that this confirmation of your talent leads you on to a great resolve to continue writing and never give up. Take heart in the fact that while the initial writing is a solitary pursuit, publishing is most certainly a team effort. (From: SLQ Short Story Competition (October 2010) Judge's Report)

18 October 2010

Mr. Goop Cover, Vivlia (SA) 2010.

The cover for Mr. Goop, published by Vivlia (SA) in 2010, my first published book :).

23 September 2010

Mr. Goop selected for The Apex Book of World SF V2

Happy to announce that Mr. Goop has been selected for inclusion in The Apex Book of World SF V2, coming out in 2011. Will be alongside some great writers that altogether will make this anthology something quite special.

Rochita Loenen-Ruiz (Philippines)–Alternate Girl’s Expatriate Life

Ivor W. Hartmann (Zimbabwe)–Mr. Goop

Daliso Chaponda (Malawi)–Trees of Bone

Daniel Salvo (Peru)–The First Peruvian in Space

Gustavo Bondoni (Argentina)–Eyes in the Vastness of Forever

Chen Qiufan (China)–The Tomb

Joyce Chng (Singapore)–The Sound of Breaking Glass

Csilla Kleinheincz (Hungary)–A Single Year

Andrew Drilon (Philippines)–The Secret Origin of Spin-man

Anabel Enriquez Piñeiro (Cuba)–Borrowed Time (trans. Daniel W. Koon)

Lauren Beukes (South Africa)–Branded

Raúl Flores Iriarte (Cuba)–December 8

Will Elliott (Australia)–Hungry Man

Shweta Narayan (India)–Nira and I

Fábio Fernandes (Brazil)–Nothing Happened in 1999

Tade Thompson (Nigeria)–Shadow

Hannu Rajaniemi (Finland)–Shibuya no Love

Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Mexico)–Maquech

Sergey Gerasimov (Ukraine)–The Glory of the World

Tim Jones (New Zealand)–The New Neighbours

Nnedi Okorafor (Nigeria/US)–From the Lost Diary of TreeFrog7

Gail Har’even (Israel)–The Slows

Ekaterina Sedia (Russia)–Zombie Lenin

Samit Basu (India)–Electric Sonalika

Andrzej Sapkowski (Poland)–The Malady (trans. Wiesiek Powaga)

Jacques Barcia (Brazil)–A Life Made Possible Behind The Barricades

13 September 2010

Damian Kelleher Reviews African Roar in-depth: Part Six: Ivor W. Hartmann's 'Lost Love'

Life leaves us. There's no other way around it, and the worst part is that its leaving happens quicker the older we are. Days, long as children, are fleeing as adults, and too often filled with work, obligations, demands, requirements. There comes a time, for some of us early, for others late, when we take a step back from ourselves and say – is this it? Is this what its really all about? Surely not, we think, but then the answer comes, at first a whisper and then a roar: Yes, this is it. Make of it what you can, because even this is vanishing.

Ivor W. Hartmann's short story, Lost Love, is a story of parallels. The surface parallel is the plot, which concerns a young man's infatuation with a beautiful girl he never quite manages to possess.

Life conspired to keep them apart; even the close friendship they once had faded away, driven into nothing by time, distance, and her other men's arms. She was a glorious butterfly whose wings unfolded too soon for him to behold and protect.

As the story continues, we learn of the narrator's attempts to be with her, at first with the engorged tumescence only a teenager is capable of expressing, and later with the more mundane “catch-ups”, where older people talk around the ordeals of their children. They never quite manage to come together, and then in the end, silence:

Over the decades the phone calls dwindled to emails, emails to sms's, to sms's only on special occasions, and then one year to nothing at all. Yet hope, faintest hope, hope which considers a possibility of lifetimes of which this one is but a part, remained with him.

The parallel to that story is one told in italics. It is the story of an old man, more than likely senile, and perhaps suffering from Alzheimer's, along with other unspecified illnesses of old age. These sections bookend the story, but they are also interspersed throughout. At first they are mysterious, ill-formed and vague, but we slowly realise that the young man chasing the girl is the old man missing the woman from his life. He is confined within a ward, and is unaware of the exact extent of his infirmity.

A loud weeping interrupts his reverie. Damn it all, did everyone wear their hearts on their sleeve now, what happened to public emotional control, he blustered silently. Peering around the ward to spot the bastard, he saw no offenders. One of the nurses stared at him from her station obviously annoyed as he was at the blubberer, yet she continued the stare only at him. It was then he felt the tears on his face and the shuddering gasps of breath between loud sobs.

Thus, the parallel. At the end of the story, these lifetimes converge, and perhaps in the end he dies. At least, he wishes to. But this is a story of parallels, and we have only discussed the first.

The second becomes clearer with a deeper reading. On the surface, the story concerns the never-attained embrace of a beautiful woman. Deeper, it is an old man's lament at life, clutching at the memories of the times when he was young, strong, fit, when the days ahead of him were greater than those behind. The 'Lost Love' of the title is not just a woman but also life - our narrator has lost his primary paramour, which is to say, he has lost his own life. There's nothing left of him but a shell, one that requires a nurse to wipe him, a watchful eye to ensure he eats, and stern gazes to stop him from dissolving into tears.

But the moment, their moment, their time to be together never arrived, always a potential, never an expression. First, she was partnered, and then he when she became free. So the die was set, a lifetime of inopportune moments.

Our lifetimes are, when we look back at them, a cacophony of mistakes and missed chances. Even the most successful of us will see this, and the older we are the more we realise that the mistakes we thought we could correct will never actually be fixed – they are ours and we must live with them. Each day brings its own happiness and sadness, but as the bottle of wine reaches its dregs, it is the bitter sadness which overwhelms the palate.

Hartmann's Lost Love is a complex story, and can be appreciated equally on either level. It works best when one is able to keep simultaneously within one's mind the concept of the girl as the Unattainable Woman, and also the Life Once Lived. She is both, and Hartmann's language at every stage serves to reinforce this. Sections that may seem overwritten if this is 'just a love story' becomes clearer when we realise it isn't.

What, then, does Hartmann have to say about the bitterness of life? A lot. The last two paragraphs, which will remain unquoted, are perfect in their summation and oh so bitter, and oh so sweet. He captures the melancholy of life, it's missed opportunities and small successes, and he farewells his characters with dignity and tact. There can't be a happy ending, because life ends, but there can be the closure of acceptance. Not, you'll recognise, of a happy ending and a marriage that lasts forever and is always happy. No. At some stage we must come to terms with the fact that the life we've had is the life we had, and that we must take responsibility for what we did wrong and what we did right. Hartmann shows us the sadness and the joy of this acceptance.

From Damian Kelleher's review (Part Six) at Damian Kelleher - Literary reviews and essays.

14 August 2010

Sentinel Literary Quarterly Short Story Competition (October, 2010).

Sentinel Literary Quarterly: The online magazine of world literature publishes Poetry, Fiction, Drama, Interviews, Essays & Reviews. I will be judging the next Sentinel Literary Quarterly Short Story Competition. I'm looking forward to reading all the entries and deciding the winners, will also writing a judge's report at the end, shall post it here too.

The top three short stories will receive first publication in Sentinel Champions - Selected Poems & Short Stories from the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Writing Competition Series. (This is a print magazine) A total of 6 stories from this competition will be published in Sentinel Champions Magazine in May 2011. Entries Deadline: 30th September, 2010.

See the website for more details.

22 June 2010

Kola Tubosun and Ivor W. Hartmann in conversation about African Roar and writing at Sentinel Nigeria


"KT: Tell me about your own writing history. How did you get into writing?

IWH: When I was fourteen, and heavily under the influence of Stephen King at the time, I wrote a short story for a class creative writing assignment. At the time I had been relegated against my will to a boarding school – as about as far from home as I could get and still be in the same country. So I took this opportunity to vent my anger and frustration in a creative and cathartic way, and ended up with a blood soaked story about werewolves that totally scared the crap out of my demure English Lit teacher. It was then I realised I was onto something as I had never attained that level of attention before in anything I had ever done at school. Thus started my love of writing and I continued to write for the next five years until I finished school. It was then I decided that a serious writer needed to experience life in all its messy glory before he could really begin to write about it (whatever the genre). So that's what I did for the next twenty one years. Then in 2007 I woke up one day and realised that I had indeed done what I set out to do all those years ago, and it was time to get back to what has always been my first and true love, writing.

KT: How much of life’s mess did you actually experience for the twenty-one years, and do you still recommend same for anyone hoping to seriously go into writing?

IWH: A lot more than I wished for that's for sure, ha ha, someday I'll write an autobiography when I know it will sell.

Hmm, that's how it was for me and it worked, but I could not go so far as to recommend it to anyone. Everyone is different.

KT: How did the StoryTime website idea begin?

IWH: As a new 'serious' writer, I was banging out loads of work but when it came time to get it published and I started looking around I was taken aback at the dearth of outlets for African writers. As of course, I wanted to rather get it published by an African outlet than anywhere else. So rather than just fruitlessly moaning about it I decided to take the plunge and start an African Lit magazine. Having now been reduced to the clichéd starving writer, I looked for ways I could do that as cheaply as possible and yet still be effective. Thus the StoryTime ezine was born in June 2007.

KT: How has it been since the site started, and how did you get the now many authors that have been published on it.

IWH: Like most endeavours of this nature it was slow going at first, but I was relentless in searching for and asking writers to join and publish their work in StoryTime. So slowly word got around and by the middle of the second year I was no longer praying to have something (anything) to publish, and was receiving a fair amount un-requested submissions. Though I do still harass the odd writer I really want to publish because I very much like their work. StoryTime was and still is a work in progress, with me learning as I go along how to best get it out and about and thus give maximum exposure to the writers I publish, which is the main aim of StoryTime. In the beginning and up to Jan this year I was only really proofing and doing basic editing of the work that was sent to me, but decided from Jan 2010 to fully edit every submission with the author (as I had now I believed, gained enough experience in editing to do this properly). So the fruits of that decision are now becoming evident with each new issue published and has raised the standard significantly.

KT: I remembered how you came to pick my story to be published on the website. I just don't remember if I'd sent it to you first, or you contacted me to send it to you. Did you have to do that for the many authors that you published initially? Were there those who turned you down? Were there false starts? What other things were memorable about that beginning of StoryTime.

IWH: You sent it to me to me in May 2009, after coming across StoryTime online, but yes, I still did a fair bit of chasing even then.

Sure, many have turned me down – and still do – but as optimistic as I am, I certainly don't expect everyone to be into publishing in StoryTime. So I don't take it badly at all, wouldn't be much of a writer if I did, there's always going to be writers who for whatever their reasons don't want to, and I respect that.

There have been false starts, for sometime I had this idea StoryTime should be a worldwide writers' ezine though with a focus on African writers. But I eventually realised that this was silly (there were plenty of those, though not many with that focus), and so I chose to only showcase African writers, and re-did the ezine's look, logo, the core goals, and submission guidelines to reflect this and have never looked back.

There have been many memorable moments, both good and bad, much like having a child. One in particular was when Emmanuel Sigauke responded positively to an email I sent him in October 2008 about possibly publishing in StoryTime (I had read an excerpt of a short story of his 'Mukoma's Marriage' at his blog Wealth of Ideas and really liked it). He was consequently (besides myself) the first already published writer to be in a StoryTime issue. And we have since then enjoyed a great friendship, and he has taught me so many things for which I will always be eternally grateful.

KT: How many authors have been published on StoryTime so far?

IWH: To date we have published fifty three authors, though there are many more scheduled, StoryTime is in fact booked solid, publishing wise, until next year January, and there are more new authors submitting every day.

KT: The big news is African Roar, an anthology of best short stories from 2007-2009 in StoryTime. Tell us what we don't already know about it.

IWH: What a lot people have missed in our descriptions of the project is that after we (Emmanuel Sigauke and I) chose the final stories for African Roar. We then spent a good eight months carefully and stringently editing each story with the authors to bring it to it full promise (with one exception being the established author Chuma Nwokolo whose story was masterfully written, edited and ready to go). Also, that all the stories are now only available in the book, (apart from one exception published elsewhere online, but not in its current form in the book). I have great hopes for the future of African Roar. As you know this book is just the first in what will be an annual anthology, so hoping big (and why not I ask) that it may become in its own way a benchmark of current African Literature much like the famed Heinemann's African Writers Series was from 1963 to 2003. Though of course, limited to a short story anthology drawn solely from StoryTime.

KT: Beside the process of voting on the StoryTime website for stories to be included, was there anything else you were looking for when choosing the eleven stories in African Roar? Was there a theme at the outset that the stories had to conform to? Was there any particular directions you (the editors) agreed on before coming up with the final selection?

IWH: The voting process (which will happen every year) is more to engage the readers and get a larger picture of what they have liked, and not liked, a rough guide so to speak from a readers point of view.

For me choosing the stories was a very subconscious thing, like music, I knew what I liked instantly regardless of its genre and condition of writing at the time. So I looked for works that really stood out and spoke to me (as an avid long time reader). From this I compiled a list and Emmanuel did the same (using his own process). We put our lists together taking what coincided, and then defended and argued our other choices with each other until we agreed on a final list. So no, there was no theme and there never will be, African Roar is about selecting the very best of StoryTime and then taking those stories to an even higher level with the authors, in the editing process.

KT: But with benefit of knowledge of the wide range and genres now already published on the site, are there particular genres you’re still looking out for?

IWH: Nothing specific, I would like to eventually see every single genre that exists covered and perhaps create a few new ones too.

As one of the StoryTime authors, is there any genre you think StoryTime might have tempted you to try?

KT: I’m for sci-fi, not because I’ve read much of it as a kid, or watched much of it in the movies, but precisely because I haven’t, and because people like Nnedi Okorafor and yourself are venturing into such fields (as well as fantasy genre that has Okri and Rushdie) with so much vigour, I’m beginning to develop some interest in it.

IWH: That's good to hear Kola.

KT: Who were the authors that influenced you when you were growing up? Have you ever been influenced by writers writing in indigenous African languages, and what is the future of fiction-in-translation in future publications that you might want to edit.

IWH: Like most children growing up in Zimbabwe in the 70's as there was not a lot of local African publishing going on (under the racist Smith Regime), and even less that was put into libraries and schools, so I dined on a stock of imported authors, mostly British. I ploughed (I was an avid reader from the age of six) my way through Roald Dahl, Edith Nesbit, etc. However, in 1980 all that changed with independence, and suddenly there was an influx of African writers into the libraries. So I leapt eagerly into the likes of Dambudzo Marechera, Charles Mungoshi, Chenjerai Hove, Ben Okri, Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, etc. to name a few. As here were, finally, African writers that wrote about the real Africa I was living in and very much a part of, and could relate too in a very personal way. This is not to say I didn't read other authors, I was and still am a real book slut – I read anything I could get my hands on. So too pinpoint any one or even group of, authors that influenced me is a truly impossible task.

I am all for writers writing in their first language, but do feel that to achieve the world wide exposure, these works need to be translated for the world at large into the mainly read languages i.e. English, Spanish, Chinese, etc. At StoryTime I am all for publishing the original work accompanied by a translation, though so far none of the authors have taken me up on this endeavour.

KT: As a linguist, I’m also for literature in translation. Original stories written in African languages translated and published. Or maybe you can even publish special edition African Roar issues with stories written only in African languages. Imagine a collection of eleven stories in eleven different African languages. A special edition publication, I said, and even I realise how ambitious and risky that could be for publishing which is first of all a business. But I like to think that it is possible, and could be exciting.

IWH: That would be a truly amazing project to do. In terms of cost maybe the original language used could be accompanied with an English (or other depending on the country it's being sold in) translation accompanying each story? Or, the other way around with African Roar being translated into the countries local language but also with the original language. Either way whilst it would make a far bigger book, it could well be worth it, and something I will look into for the next one.

KT: Considering now that there are very many more stories in the StoryTime ezine now, will the next African Roar have more than eleven stories? Will the selection process be the same? And will there be much more African Roars in the next year, or will it just be another one.

IWH: Yes, there will be more stories in the next one, as there are more that will be eligible this time around, and in my opinion there are and will be, some extremely good works in the set time period (Aug 2009-Aug 2010), from which to choose. Yes, we will do a readers vote and repeat the aforementioned process, As far as I can see there will only be one African Roar published every year, I am not looking for it to become a quarterly (or otherwise) print magazine, which publishing it more than once a year would probably mean.

KT: I know that editing and publishing short stories is enough task in itself. But do you have any interest in poetry, as a person. Do you write/read them? Any thoughts?

IWH: I do love poetry, though I prefer spoken to reading, and do very occasionally actually write one myself. Poetry to me is the highest art-form of writing, like absolute rose essence that takes 10 tons of petals to make a single ounce, so it should be with poetry. When I do write a poem it's normally because there's an idea or thought or collection thereof, which has been banging around my head for years. Slowly developing until one day out it comes, and then the real work starts, agonising over every word for months on end. So needless to say I have an incredible respect for poets who achieve great works, as it is truly the most demanding form of writing.

KT: What is the response so far to the publication of African Roar?

IWH: So far, three weeks in now, the reception has been fantastic with a far greater reach and interest than I had hoped possible. Especially as we have been dealing with a zero budget for promotion and marketing, which has certainly been interesting, along with the fact that it is at present only being sold online. Like StoryTime itself African Roar has been entirely dependant on word of mouth, word on the net, etc. through the authors' enthusiastic participation. As, whilst writing may be solitary, publishing is most definitely a team effort, and though this holds true for all publishing it takes on even more significance when applied to African Roar. It truly has been a team effort from the beginning and continues to be. And we, the authors, are starting to see the benefits of our hard labours as our African Roar is slowly but surely being heard world-wide.

As one of the authors in African Roar, how do you feel about it? Do you think is has put you forward as a writer?

KT: Yes it has. Like I wrote in one of my old, and another recent, blog-posts about the evolution of writing and my connection with the online medium, it has been a love-hate relationship. I grew up sneaking up to my father’s old typewriter at night to learn how to type from when I was eight. He would inevitably wake up from the noise and send me to sleep. But he always encouraged my interest because he knew that I always wanted to write, even if what I was writing then didn’t make much sense. He eventually handed me over to a professional typist who taught me how to type. Coming from such a background, I had a special relationship with the paper as a bearer of my thoughts. The sight of a pristine white page filled me always with such delight that always made me write. Or draw. Or simply scrawl things on it, just to fulfil what seemed like the ultimate mandate of its pureness: to be defiled. Then I met the computer and everything changed. I fell in love with it in a different way. The ease with which a blank document page of Microsoft Word inspired writing became impossible to surpass by the hard sheet of paper.

So I started a blog and started leaving my ideas there. Then I wrote poems, many of them inspired by the blank post page on the blog. My story in African Roar was inspired in some sort of way as well, and if not for your immediate acceptance of its prospects, it might just have ended up as just another Facebook note. Being published in this maiden anthology has thus given me more confidence in the power of the book to charm, just as much as the internet does, but with more permanence. And of course, it has added to my resume, for no matter how many words a blog contains, it can never be called a book, and the author – though still a writer – will not be called an author, at least by today’s indices.

IWH: Yes, I had a dalliance with publishing stuff on Facebook, until I realised how precious all my stories really were (in terms of one day paying me). So now I hoard them for a collection, and occasionally publish in magazines to keep my resume turning over while I finish the collection and work on the novels.

KT: I'm for localisation. Is there a chance of seeing a Nigerian/West African edition of African Roar anytime soon, published by a local publisher to make it easily physically available?

IWH: Yes, I would like that very much too, and I am (as the creator and anthologist, sole holder of the African Roar rights and copyrights) in the process of approaching local publishing companies. As it stands the deal with The Lion Press only included UK printing and distribution online at Amazon.com/co.uk and B&N. So while we are working towards this it will take time, but through the connections we are making now, we will certainly see the next anthology being far more widely physically distributed as soon as it is published, rather than after the fact.

KT: Since you got into serious writing, have you ever been under pressure to let the politics of Zimbabwe reflect in or condition your creative process in any way?

IWH: Yes the current condition of Zimbabwe has influenced my writing. I am living in economic exile away from my home and this has many effects on me personally, which of course influences my writing. But to answer you question, no, I have not felt directly pressured to write about it, and even if I was I would probably buck it, like Marechera said, "If you're a writer for a specific nation or a specific race, then f*** you". A writer must be, and feel, free to write whatever they want to.

Though I could ask the same of you, do you feel that current Nigerian politics has influenced your writing? And if so to what extent?

KT: No, but that is as far as my deliberate rebellion will allow, and I have tried as much as possible to fuse much of my own outlook in the speech of the characters I create. I cannot control the unconscious however. If I’m a writer at all, I’m one because of my upbringing and influences all tainted with patches of Nigerian history and my own upbringing in the many cultures that I’ve interacted with. The rest are my own questing polemics. In essence, I don’t write so as to be patriotic except to defy and to question, but mostly to locate the common humanity in my characters as well as in those who read and connect with them. I like the simple, small, family things, not the grand “national” political ones, and I’ve dedicated myself to exploring the small ones. I’ve discovered that they’re often even more fun than big politics. And as a writer, you get the liberty of imagination. Politics is more restricting. In that, Marechera was right. But overall, we are still a sum of our individual experiences, and are conditioned by our environments whether we like it or not.

IWH: Sure, I agree with you there, I'm also not into the grand political novel (or even short story). What interests me is the ordinary lives of ordinary people, because as soon as you look deeper no one is ordinary. We all have extraordinary things that happen to us at some point in our lives and how we deal with them is fascinating. The average Zimbabwean living in Zimbabwe now, is an everyday hero, you have to be in order to just survive.

KT: I know that you like Science Fiction. What is that about?

IWH: Well, its more the broader umbrella genre Speculative Fiction that I have a great interest in, which does include Sci-Fi, but also Fantasy, Horror, Supernatural Fiction, Superhero Fiction, Utopian and Dystopian Fiction, Apocalyptic and Post-apocalyptic Fiction, Alternate History, and Magical Realism. This is because I feel that in Spec-Fic there are no limits to the imagination and what you can do as writer, anything goes, and that is a tremendous freedom. I do write Contemporary Fiction too, it's really just a case of whatever will serve the story best. Though in terms of African writers, I am a big proponent of us moving into Spec-Fic and other genres, for the simple reason that we seem for the most part to be stuck in Contemporary Fiction. It seems as if every African writer wants to be the next Soyinka or Marechera, and I'm saying hang on a minute we can't all be that so what about the rest, the whole breadth of fiction? I want to see bookshops stocking us African writers under all these other genres too, and we can do it, we have massive amounts of talent here.

KT: Who are your influences in the Sci-fi fiction category, and for people meeting you for the first time, which of your stories in that genre would you encourage them to read first?

IWH: There are so many excellent Sci-Fi writers, but my top all time influence is undoubtedly Frank Herbert, and the six Dune books he wrote. What he showed me was that sci-fi could go to another level entirely, one that was as deep as the writer could make it. I re-read those six once a year, and every year I discover new insights and subtleties, things that make me go Wow! Frank you are the Man!

Hmm, well I haven't published that much yet (but have quite a bit unpublished including shorts and novels in progress), but I think to date my favourite is Earth Rise (actually a novel but I have only published the first chapter so far). After that it’s The Last Wave and Mr. Goop. So those being my favourites are what I would recommend reading to anyone interested in getting into Sci-Fi solely from reading my works, but there is so much out there I would recommend rather plunging into all of it.

KT: As a sometime sci-fi/fantasy writer. A few decades ago, getting a book
of this nature published would have cost an arm and leg, and several weeks of postage costs. Can you paint me a picture of African writing in the next fifty years from your own creative crystal ball. A little sci-fi fantasizing is welcome, if you feel like it.

IWH: Hard to say with any surety exactly how things will develop. But given the rising popularity of eBooks and the devices to read them on I suspect that this will undoubtedly become the main way of reading books, quite a lot sooner than fifty years from now. There are however some problems with this especially in Africa and third world countries, given that the average internet access in Africa at present stands at 8.7%. And as Nadine Gordimer pointed out recently printed books don't need batteries or internet access. So there is still a great need for the publishing and distribution of printed books, and indeed an ever widening gap technologically between the first and third worlds. So while it's great to be able to publish books electronically, if you want to ensure all-round distribution printed books are a still a necessity. This will certainly change in the coming years, and smart cellphones will drive it I believe, as there is certainly a far wider cellphone coverage and penetration into Africa than there is internet access alone. So with cellphone providers including more services in their packages, this could pave the way to greater eBook reading. Fifty years from now, I think print books will be nostalgic curiosities, and much like gas guzzling cars, only bought by for those who can afford the expensive luxury of having them.

KT: When you’re not writing, what would you likely be found doing?

IWH: Editing other authors more than likely, it takes up a fair amount of my time, and of course creating graphics and other stuff which keep me alive and able to still write. I'm a bit of a workaholic, but do occasionally find the time to attend book launches, hang out with other writers and friends, and of course I do religiously end every single day by reading for at least an hour before I sleep, but usually it ends up being quite a bit more.

KT: Finally, what’s your final word on the current progress of writing on the continent?

IWH: I am so impressed I can't even express how much and more so with every new submission I receive. We have a vast amount talent in Africa, so much so that when it truly starts to hit the world scene in a big way, we will be unstoppable.

KT: Thank you for this chance to talk with you.

IWH: Thank you Kola, it's been a pleasure talking with you." - Kola Tubosun and Ivor W. Hartmann in conversation about about African Roar and writing.

From Kola Tubosun at Sentinel Nigeria.

21 June 2010

An interview with Anthony Williams for the Caribbean Book Blog about African Roar and other topics

16/06/10 An Interview with Ivor Hartmann, co-publisher of African Roar

"This week I had the pleasure of doing an email interview with Ivor Hartmann, co-publisher and co-editor of the short-story anthology African Roar and the creator of the literary ezine StoryTime. Born in Harare, Zimbabwe Hartmann is a contributing editor for Sentinel Nigeria and has published fiction and non-fiction works in several magazines, including StoryTime, African Writing, Wordsetc, Something Wicked, Sentinel Literary Quarterly, Paulo Coelho’s Blog, and African Writer.com.

The topics we discussed ranged from his writing and publishing experiences, what the future holds for African writers, and the challenges publishers face as they work with authors to build a strong foundation for the continuing growth and flowering of African literature on the continent and worldwide.

Hartmann’s feedback is valuable in that it offers the perspective, not of an outsider, but a born-and-bred African whose love of literature and his knowledge of Africa’s literary turf (particularly southern Africa) make his views a real eye-opener.

The publication of African Roar is clearly a source of pride to Hartmann and his fellow editor Emmanuel Sigauke. His optimism about the book reflects his belief in the ability of the region’s emerging writers to take control of their destinies and chart the way forward for African literature.

CBB: How does it feel having published African Roar?

Hartmann: I don’t really know yet, I am so wrapped up in what still needs to be done to get African Roar out and about. I haven’t had the time yet to sit back and say to myself well there you go, the first African Roar is out. And then collapse with the sure knowledge I have done everything possible I can.

CBB: Has the internet been helpful to you in your search for new talent?

Hartmann: Undoubtedly, especially in the early days of StoryTime when I ransacked every online listing of African writers I could, and did extensive Google searches through the night to find blogs, email addresses and more. Basically, anything that would show me which African writers were online, what they were writing and how I might contact them. But there is still a great limit to what you can find online, seeing as how on average only 8.7% of Africans have internet access. This is a great shortfall, which can only be covered through word of mouth. One of the writers at StoryTime can only get in touch when he travels to a big city, and he contacts me through an online café once every couple of months or so. He heard about StoryTime through another writer friend who encouraged him to send me his first short story.

CBB: Are you satisfied that the stories in StoryTime and African Roar capture the complexities and diversities of 21st century African experiences?

Hartmann: I don’t think anything can truly capture the incredible complexity and diversity of the African experience now in the 21st century, or ever. Though the same applies to any continent, but more so with Africa as, after all, it is the second largest continent in the world, home to over one billion people with over two thousand languages. However, StoryTime and African Roar, though a drop in the ocean comparatively, does seek to try and faithfully represent the continent in whatever small way we can through the work of African writers. In this only, am I satisfied with what StoryTime and African Roar seek to achieve.

CBB: What are some of the memorable experiences you’ve had working with the writers who contribute to StoryTime?

Hartmann: There have been so many in the last three years, both good and bad. What comes to mind at present (and is a bit of both), is how I ended up publishing possibly the last living work of a fantastic Zimbabwean writer just before he died. Stanley Ruzvidzo Mupfudza was a well known writer in Zimbabwe. He was friends with a great set of Zim writers like Memory Chirere, Charles Mungoshi, Emmanuel Sigauke, and many more. Now although he was quite widely published, he moved away from creative fiction writing for a long time but came back to it in 2000. So when he sent me a story in 2009 I was, needless to say, quite blown away that a writer of his prestige would do so (and not from my pestering either). He in his own way by doing this was saying I like what you’re doing Hartmann, and giving StoryTime and me a nod of approval. So I in due course published his story and it was a pleasure to do so. When I found out on the 5th of May 2010 that he had died in Harare on the 3rd, I was deeply affected. As here was an extremely gifted writer, just one year older than me, and who was returning to creative writing after a long absence, also like me. I had from the very beginning of our communications back in 2009 felt a strong kinship with Ruzvidzo, even though we never did get to meet in person. So even though I am happy I published his story, I am still a bit haunted by the loss of a writer who had so much potential and seemed to be back on track towards fulfilling it.

CBB: Which audiences are you targeting? And is there is a risk that the book and StoryTime will be out of the reach of many potential readers in Africa considering that the internet and electronic readers are two of your main modes of delivery?

Hartmann: StoryTime has always been about attaining exposure for African writers to the world at large, and the cheapest and most efficient way to do that is online. In this way StoryTime provides a reliable and consistent showcasing of emerging talent (with our one issue with one story, once a week, policy), which gives a week-long exposure to the writer and their story. This is a format I will maintain, no matter how popular StoryTime may get. That is except for the occasional specials. So StoryTime will remain an ezine for as far as I can see into the future, that’s its purpose.

That said, African Roar is, however, a different story. With African Roar I am endeavouring to get it as widely locally published and distributed within Africa as I can. As Nadine Gordimer pointed out recently, printed books don’t need batteries or the internet, and this is particularly important in Africa where both can be a problem. So while I feel that first world countries can make do with African Roar being available to buy at Amazon, etc. (for now), this is not the case with Africa. Local print publishing is the way forward I believe. Now the main reason I am doing this for African Roar is because, although it is drawn from the very best of StoryTime, we (Emmanuel Sigauke and I) then spent eight months further editing each story with the authors to help them fulfil the highest possible potential of their story. And it is these finely honed stories I believe should be read by everyone in Africa. Also African Roar is an anthology of mostly emerging African writers that is not in any way dependant on international acceptance or approval (as seems to be so often the required case for the work of African writers to re-enter Africa in a big way), and is written, selected, edited, and published strictly by African writers only.

CBB: What do you consider the biggest challenges confronting aspiring writers and publishers in Africa today?

Hartmann: For an African writer the first obstacle is getting your work published (in any medium), as there are so few outlets, and certainly far more potential writers than outlets at present. Now the internet and blogs have changed this in a big way, but you need online access to do this. And even then you have the most consistent problem for any writer, and that is writers need editors. No matter how good a writer you are, if you don’t have an independent professional opinion on your work it will never be what it could be. It’s the can’t see the trees for the forest syndrome. Every writer has it, because in general only ten percent of the story is actually written down, the rest is inside your head. This means while something may be plainly/painfully obvious to the writer, the end reader won’t have a clue. So what you have is this dearth of outlets and editors, both of which you need as a writer.

Now as a publisher ironically you face the same problems as the writer but in different ways. There are so few outlets to distribute that one then needs to be very creative in getting the book distributed and actually bought. Also as a publisher there is a lack of good editors, so the ones who are good tend to be way over-worked and that, of course, affects their editing. Also editing is certainly not the most well paid job and involves a lot of hard work with long hours. Then, of course, as a business publishing has incredibly low profit margins, and generally banks on one out of x-number of books they publish really doing well and so covering all the others. It’s a very risky business worldwide.

What these challenges do, though, is to provide serious obstacles to both writers and publishers. And in so doing form a filtering system that means only the most determined actually have a shot at succeeding (and thereby it’s not necessarily the most talented that do succeed). Neither is for the half-hearted, though this is true of any profession that requires a similar level of determination. This means that either you are willing to sacrifice great chunks of your life working towards a possibly unachievable goal, or you are not.

CBB: The eminent professor of literature at American University and president of the African Skies Library Foundation, Charles R. Larson has been quoted as saying “African writers inhabit a world devoid of privilege or advantage, lacking many of the things that their Western counterparts take for granted such as informed and understanding critics, [and] rarely encounter enlightened political leaders willing to acknowledge the importance of the arts.” Do you share that view?

Hartmann: Not really, it’s a fairly generalised assessment. For one, what it leaves out is the passion of the writer, the writer who will stop at nothing to write and be read. Like the StoryTime writer I mentioned earlier who lives in a rural village, but because he is passionate about his writing does not let things like first world privileges and advantages stand in his way.

It also does not take into account that Africa has a very long and rich history of storytelling and indeed the arts as a whole, the longest history out of all the continents in fact. Though, this may not be immediately apparent to a foreigner, as it is so imbedded into local culture as to seem an integral part of daily life. So unlike western arts no-one pays to see it, or hear it, or support it; it’s just there, a part of society performed by everyone. This could also be the reason why the western concept of the arts seems to be under-funded and somewhat ignored. As it would in a way be like your uncle saying to you as a child, you have to pay me to tell you a bedtime story. Thus when it comes to books, artworks, etc. there is a natural resistance towards the artist, as only an artist. An attitude that says, but you are just a loafer telling us or showing us what we have already heard or seen from our grandfathers (or whomever) for free, go get a real job.

I’m not saying any of this is good or bad, but it’s a fact that has to be accounted for, and why generalisations like the one above don’t really get at the truth of the matter of the arts in Africa. Though of course, you also have to add the ever-rolling process of the westernisation of Africa into the equation, which means things are changing. More and more Africans are buying books, artworks, etc. for the pure pleasure of them, and thus starting to see support of the arts as a good thing. Africa is not static and therefore dynamic and ever changing, and this defies attempts to point fingers or bemoan the state of the arts in Africa from any perspective.

CBB: Some African publishers have complained that often when they discover and nurture fellow African writers, they end up losing them to mainstream Western publishers simply because they can’t find financial support to expand their business, nor can they afford to pay the royalties that the bigger publishing houses do, or offer the level of readership that is available in Western countries. Is that your perception and, if so, what are the implications for the future of African publishing?

Hartmann: Sure, this does apply to some African writers, but so few as to be insignificant in comparison to the number of African writers who don’t get nabbed by the big publishers. If an African writer does make it into the big time, I say more power to them, well done. But don’t forget your roots, make sure at the least, the local rights for your country goes at a reasonable price to those publishers who nurtured you. As the author you have the power to put that clause into whatever contracts you sign. Authors must realise that the power does indeed lie with them not the publisher. As sure, maybe you balk in the beginning at demanding anything from your big publisher who has been ever so kind enough to realise your talent and take you under their most esteemed wing. But there does come a time when they need you more than you need them, and then you can make sure your original publishers are taken care of.

For African publishers this dilemma is commonly called putting all your eggs into one basket, and then moaning when your sole basket gets bought from under you at a fraction of the authors real earning potential. However, and this is what I’ve been thinking about recently, how about keeping the author and selling the foreign rights country by country to the big publishers for decent sums and royalties. In this way you can sort out the author in proportion to their sales and rights fees, thus keeping them happy. And also launch the author in a big way through the big publishers without losing them or losing out entirely. I suspect this is what (though I could be wrong) Bakare of Kachifo Ltd. did with Adichie.

CBB: Most publishers in the Caribbean survive by publishing textbooks for schools and adult non-fiction books. A lot of the fiction originating from the islands is self published and read by a relatively small number of people. How does that compare to the African countries, particularly West and East Africa?

Hartmann: I can only really talk for Southern Africa (being born and raised in Zimbabwe and now recently living in South Africa as an economic exile), though I have had some contact through fellow writers with West and East Africa. The way I see it, what it comes down to is this, it’s tough being a fiction writer anywhere in the world, and you do whatever it takes to keep on being able to write fiction. If that means publishing textbooks and non-fiction, then that’s what you do until you don’t have to anymore. In my case, I do visual arts stuff and write non-fiction articles, and have recently ventured into publishing to survive while I build my writing career. That’s what it takes for me to make fiction writing a career. But as I have said, I don’t think this is an isolated African or Caribbean issue for fiction writers. All writers have to do something similar wherever they are in the world. That is unless they are incredibly lucky and their first book is an astounding success, which is just so very rare.

They used to call self-publishing vanity publishing, and in my opinion it still has this stigma attached, and for good reason. If you write and self-publish a book, the chances that it has been properly edited, proofed, published, marketed, promoted and widely distributed are slim. Yes, there have been successes with self publishing, and more so each year because of the marketing and promotional power of the net, I don’t deny this. But it does require that you become a one-person writer/publisher with all that truly entails, which is a huge load that not many people can successfully bear. So, unless you can be that successful one-person band, or alternatively if you’re happy with the odd few sales to friends and such (but I’d call that more of a hobby than a career), then I’d say get serious. Start hunting for a good publisher and don’t give up until you have been accepted and published by one, and not just once, often (a minimum of one book every two years after the first one is out), as one fiction book rarely makes a profitable life-long living for a fiction writer.

CBB: Although they face tremendous obstacles, some publishers on the African continent who have been investing in fiction are reportedly experiencing some level of growth, such as Sub Saharan Press in Ghana and Kwani and Storymoja Publishers in Kenya. Should that give African fiction writers hope?

Hartmann: Definitely, as I’ve said in the forward to African Roar, there is a revolution going on in African literature and there are many reasons for it. There are, as I see it, three big ones, the net, westernisation and technological advancement (as in better print presses, therefore more affordable and reliable publishing, etc. and also easier access to first world presses like Lightning Source and shipping from them). These three things are whipping up a thirst for both African writers to be published and African readers to read those writers. And the thing is, there is a massive talent pool in Africa (being the second largest continent), one that has barely been touched and once it starts to be (as I think is beginning to happen), I do believe that African writers on the whole will be unstoppable, both locally and internationally.

CBB: What are your thoughts on the relationship between writing from the African Diaspora and works from the African continent in terms of relevance and authenticity?

Hartmann: All writing is relevant and authentic no matter where it comes from or its genre. The problem always arises when you try and categorise it. It seems to be just an exercise in semantics to me, to even start down that road where you are trying to separate the two in some definable separation that is either relevant and/or authentic. At what point do you draw the line? How long you have lived in Africa? Whether you were born here? For StoryTime, because I have had to, I draw the line thus: ”African Writers: (writers born in Africa, or having domiciled in Africa for over 10 years, and/or holding citizenship in an African country)” but I’m not happy about doing it, so for me these are just rough guidelines. For example: if a child of an African is born somewhere else, has not lived here for over ten years, visits irregularly, but has been brought up and exposed to African culture, and does not hold citizenship in an African country. Does this make them any less African? Should their writing be spurned as inauthentic and not relevant? I don’t think so. If there wasn’t such a first world domination of the literature scene, there wouldn’t be a need for a solely African literature-orientated publisher.

CBB: Do you think the providers of international literary prizes should seek out more books published in Africa and marginalized areas like the Caribbean?

Hartmann: Sure they should. If they lay claim to being an international prize, it should be their utmost duty to seek out the entire published works for that year worldwide regardless of where they come from. Not, as seems to be the case in general, just peruse the most heavily marketed, which would naturally come from first world countries at this point in time. But that aside, what I would really like to see is more locally created and sponsored writing prizes, awards, competitions, etc. As it stands Africa’s most esteemed literary prize, is not even based in Africa and not, for the most part, judged by Africans. This means we are looking to outsiders to judge us, with their own criteria, what they happen to think from their perspective is Africa’s best writing. Look, I think having such a prize is better than not having it. But, I’m saying, is it not about time we started to judge ourselves with the same rigour, backed up by the same kind of cash and opportunities such a prize brings? I think it is way past time for that.

CBB: What are your hopes for the future of African literature?

Hartmann: As you might have gathered in the previous answers, I’m very optimistic about the future of African Literature. What I would like to see are the same opportunities a first world writer has from the moment they decide to become a writer, no matter the age that occurs, being available for African writers, and it can, and will, happen. The net and technology, though still limited at present for Africa, has and will, in many ways, level the playing fields. Ten years ago, StoryTime and African Roar just wouldn’t have happened, not by me anyway. It just would have been too difficult and costly to even contemplate. But look at them now, they are thriving and producing fine writing that is being noticed and read worldwide. And if you look at both, I have hardly spent anything except vast amounts of my time on them. StoryTime, although a registered serial publication, is on the free Blogger platform. Sure, it doesn’t have a dedicated domain name, but so what? Is a dedicated domain name really that important? To me what is important is what it publishes and that anyone online can read it, for free.

The same in a way goes for African Roar; the biggest real expenses so far have been buying the ISBN, registering the title and paying for the Lightning Source online distribution network. The stories initially came from StoryTime, the editing and proofing was done for free by Emmanuel Sigauke and I, the cover I designed and laid out printer ready also for free, The Lion Press through Lightning Source (a Print On Demand printer, so no massive and costly print runs or warehousing required) puts the title up online at Amazon, etc. And there you go. One book on the international market, though admittedly only really for first world countries in a major way. Then my fellow African Roar authors and I embark on a blitz of online marketing and promotion (which this interview is part of), again at no cost to them or myself except time and net charges, which also includes sending out free PDF copies of the book for reviews. Now we want to also get it print published and distributed locally in Africa (being well aware of the limitations of the net in Africa), so then with a firm and growing online base (website, facebook page, and that the book is available to buy online), I start asking around for local publishing. Now obviously, because we have done all this work beforehand, and the book itself is a really great book, the chances of a local publisher acquiring the rights are far greater. Because they (who generally are also online because they have to be), have seen the impact the book is having. So although I approach them un-requested, first via email, they ask to see the book and I send them the PDF copy, which is more than enough to give them an idea of the book and whether they think they can sell it. And there you go, local publishing of African Roar is now underway and should hit the shelves from July to December in quite a few African countries. All this from a relatively unknown group of African writers who happen to have written and edited some fine stories and put them together into an anthology called African Roar.

So I guess what I’m saying is that I’m no longer just hoping the future of African literature will be bright, my fellow African writers and I are making sure it will be." - Anthony Williams interviewing Ivor W. Hartmann for the Caribbean Book Blog

From Anthony Williams at the Caribbean Book Blog.

06 June 2010

New story at StoryTime: Diner Ten

Radic squeezed through a gap in an air-vent. His passage and that of the millions before him had scoured and burnished it smooth and bright around its edges. Inside the lobby it was dark and greasy from the cooking that took place below it. Radic quietly took his place in the line of diner's. From this point on there was to be no talking at all, battle-rules applied until one exited again – hopefully alive and well-fed. Though this diner, Diner Ten, was well known for both its safety and good food... Full Story

28 March 2010

Free Owen Maseko!

On Thursday 25th of March 2010 a new exhibition opened up at Bulawayo National Art Gallery in Zimbabwe featuring the works of Owen Maseko.

"an artist’s impression of the harsh reality of Gukurahundi as well as the decades of oppression and violence that have characterised Zimbabwe. Gukurahundi was the name given to the violence in Matabeleland and the Midlands in the mid 1980s that led to the deaths of an estimated 20,000 Ndebele people, after ZANU PF unleashed the notorious North Korean trained Fifth Brigade in the area. In a combination of graffiti, 3D installations and his painting Maseko unflinchingly dared to tell the truth, adding his usual and whimsical element of humour." -Owen Maseko's website

The next day Maseko together with the gallery director Voti Thebewas was forcibly arrested and the exhibition shut down. While Thebewas was later released the same day, Maseko remains in jail until he appears in court on Monday, he has been so far charged with, 'Undermining the authority of the president', 'Causing offence to people of a particular race/tribe/etc.' and 'Promoting public violence'.

There can be no doubt about the continuing oppression within Zimbabwe, in the wake of this event and many others.

"This latest development comes a day after a photo exhibition at Harare’s Delta Gallery, organized by the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association, was abandoned after police tried to confiscate the photographs on show, in defiance of a court order. They had previously seized all the photos and briefly arrested the organization’s director." -Violet Gonda (SW Radio Africa news - The Independent Voice of Zimbabwe )

What you can do you, lend your voice of protest:

Blog, twitter (#owenmaseko #zimbabwe #art), facebook about it.

Join these groups at Facebook:
Release Owen Maseko

And share images of this exhibition as widely as possible, which can be found at the Sokwanle and Release Owen Maseko groups.


Monday 29th March
Owen Maseko has been remanded in Custody till tomorrow, when we expect the magistrate to make a bail application ruling. He will spent his 4th night in prison at Bulawayo Remand.

Tuesday 30th March
Owen Maseko has been granted a US$100 bail. He will be back in court on the 12th of April 2010.

24 March 2010

SpeakZA: Writers for a free press

The function of the free press is an keystone in any country and when this goes it is an inevitable slide into totalitarianism as has been evident time and time again. I give my full support to the SpeakZA initiative put forward and promulgated by Sipho Hlongwane.

Last week, shocking revelations concerning the activities of ANC Youth League Spokesperson Nyiko Floyd Shivambu came to the fore. According to a letter published in various news outlets, a complaint was laid by 19 political journalists with the secretary-general of the ANC, against Shivambu. This complaint letter detailed attempts by Shivambu to leak a dossier to certain journalists, purporting to expose the money-laundering practices of Dumisane Lubisi, a journalist at City Press. The letter also detailed the intimidation that followed when these journalists refused to publish these revelations.

We condemn in the strongest possible terms the reprisals against journalists by Shivambu. His actions constitute a blatant attack on media freedom and a grave infringement on constitutional rights. It is a disturbing step towards dictatorial rule in South Africa.

We call on the ANC and the ANC Youth League to distance themselves from the actions of Shivambu. The media have, time and again, been a vital democratic safeguard by exposing the actions of individuals who have abused their positions of power for personal and political gain.

The press have played a vital role in the liberation struggle, operating under difficult and often dangerous conditions to document some of the most crucial moments in the struggle against apartheid. It is therefore distressing to note that certain people within the ruling party are willing to maliciously target journalists by invading their privacy and threatening their colleagues in a bid to silence them in their legitimate work.

We also note the breathtaking hubris displayed by Shivambu and ANC Youth League President Julius Malema in their response to the letter of complaint. Shivambu and Malema clearly have no respect for the media and the rights afforded to the media by the Constitution of South Africa. Such a response serves only to reinforce the position that the motive for leaking the so-called dossier was not a legitimate concern, but an insolent effort to intimidate and bully a journalist who had exposed embarrassing information about the youth league president.

We urge the ANC as a whole to reaffirm its commitment to media freedom and other constitutional rights we enjoy as a country.

17 March 2010

Review: Black Diamond - Zakes Mda

Black Diamond - Zakes Mda

Reviewed by Ivor W. Hartmann, first published in wordsetc#7.

From start to finish, Black Diamond is a profound and often hilarious satirical rollercoaster ride around the heart of Johannesburg and the South African psyche. With this his eighth novel, Mda displays a warm mature confidence and he stands without a doubt as one of the master contemporary storytellers of our time.

Writing a novel can be a lonely pursuit but there is a definite sense that when Mda sits down to write he is never alone nor lonely. Each main character is deep and well rounded holding true to Mda’s philosophy of compassion being the key to understanding each character and writing about them. Like life, nothing is simply black and white in Black Diamond.

First we meet the seemingly sexually repressed and uptight magistrate Kristin Uys, on a crusade to rid Roodeport of the “scum of the earth”; that being anyone having anything to do with the sex trade. In Kristin’s court room are the Visagie brothers, Stevo a small time pimp and Shortie his accomplice. When Kristin has to dismiss their case through lack of evidence, she takes revenge on Stevo and puts him back in prison for contempt of court. This single action forms the backbone plot which drives Black Diamond, as Stevo then swears revenge on the magistrate.

Outside the courtroom we meet Ma Visagie and the brother’s ex-nursemaid Aunt Magda. They, along with a motley bunch one way or another indebted to the Visagie family, are protesting the Visagie’s imprisonment. It is this scene that sets the inverted stereotype as the continuing tone for the book, with white folk using classic anti-apartheid demonstration techniques. Though to paraphrase Adichie, a stereotype is just an incomplete story, and Mda strives to tell a whole story. For every character in Black Diamond has a very real place in today’s South Africa.

Enter Don Mateza, a cat-loving high level security guard and ex-freedom fighter AKA AK Bazooka, who fought for the liberation of SA from his early teens. But because he was successfully never imprisoned failed to enter what could be called The Robben Island Club, and thereby gain enough “Political Capital” to be converted to “Capital Capital” and become the book’s namesake, a Black Diamond. Not that this is what he really wants above all else but rather it is expected of him, especially from his girlfriend Tumi who is constantly pushing him towards this end.

Tumi’s oft played example, and indeed the shadow that hangs over all wannabe Black Diamonds, is the minor character of Molotov Mbungane. A man who likes to say “accumulation cannot be democratised comrades” and is the king pin of the Black Diamonds, the wealthiest beneficiary of BEE. With a few more liberally scattered references Mda make it easy to guess whom he might be.

From Soweto, Weltevreden Park, North Riding to Roodeport and Strijdom Park, Johannesburg itself is also very much a main character. Each location, like each character, is lovingly rendered as if they were Mda’s children and he has carefully watched them blossom. Though always tempered with a gentle humour there is a definite strong undercurrent of exposure inherent in Black Diamond, a willingness by Mda to expose all facets of Johannesburg and its denizens. He consummately describes a rapidly evolving city as indicative of the country, which has come out of the celebration of freedom and headlong into its practicalities, fuelled with an undeniable optimism and willingness to move forward and overcome any obstacle.

Wordsetc is one of my favourite print literary magazines (available worldwide through subscription) and here's a bit about issue#7 from the publisher and editor Phakama Mbonambi:

The seventh edition of Wordsetc, South Africa’s foremost literary journal, has just reached the shelves! The publication continues to showcase the best of South African literature. This time around it focuses on crime fiction as a theme. Guest edited by author and editor Joanne Hichens the edition explores the ins and outs of the genre, the motivation of crime writers to write crime fiction, and takes a look too at real-life crime in our society.

Read all about Margie Orford’s success – how she makes crime pay - with her Clare Hart series, in the main profile by Sam Beckbessinger.

There are also illuminating essays by Joanne Hichens, Jassie Mackenzie, Sarah Lotz, Richard Kunzmann, Roger Smith, Helen Moffett, Andrew Brown, Justice Malala, Emma Chen, Thembelani Ngenelwa and Megan Voysey-Braig. It’s a feast of reading for those who can’t get enough of South African literature and South African writers providing, apart from great writing, food for thought.

08 March 2010

Review: Amelia's Inheritance - Sarudzai Mubvakure

Amelia's Inheritance - Sarudzai Mubvakure

Reviewed by Ivor W. Hartmann.

Sarudzai Mubvakure’s Amelia's Inheritance is a powerful heartfelt tale of family intrigue and its devastating long term effects. Set in a troubled colonial Rhodesia in the late sixties and early seventies as seen through the eyes of one Amelia Gruber. Though born into a wealthy family with all the privileges that money and her race bestow, when we first meet Amelia she is a somewhat awkward adolescent. This soon changes as she is flung into an uncertain future when her father is bankrupted and dies shortly after. It is through these dramatic changes that Amelia, who far from being defeated instead blossoms into a strong woman who takes control of her life; and along the way, discovers and is strong enough to deal with the secrets of her family’s past.

From the bright and dashing lawyer Peter Mudondo boldly championing the victims of illegal re-settlement, to the calm and supportive though private Sisi and downright slimy piece of work Bruce Forbes. Each of the characters Amelia encounters in her life changes her in the way people whom we are passionate about, in love and hate, do. In this Mubvakure rings a golden note of a gentle and compassionate observation, understanding, and portrayal of the complexity of human relations. How people in our lives and the way we interact with them mould us into who we are.

This is Mubvakure’s second novel and she has a firm yet very empathetic voice as she plough’s wholeheartedly into a setting and perspective that few writers today can deal with; without becoming too embroiled in the politics and injustices of this period. Mubvakure’s colonial Rhodesia on the brink of massive change is a character unto itself in the way it influences and in many ways governs their actions and thereby their lives. But never does it overtly intrude, though these elements are certainly there and accurately portrayed, her principle focus nobly remains within the rich lives of her characters.

In Amelia’s Inheritance, Mubvakure also tackles many of the issue’s of that era and some which still persist, from woman’s rights and domestic violence to poverty and racial injustice, but always without malice or a sense of finger pointing. Instead she skilfully employ’s these issues to both highlight them and to drive plot and character arcs. Indeed one can say for sure Amelia’s Inheritance is a primarily a character driven novel.

With many Zimbabwean writers eagerly diving into stories set in and of contemporary Zimbabwe with its instability and upheavals, Amelia’s Inheritance is surely a breath of fresh air. She has a wonderful easy going style that invites the reader onward and envelopes you in her world as you laugh and mourn together with her characters. There is no literary pretension on her behalf; only a good story well told that leaves you happy to have taken the time to experience it.

22 February 2010

Radio interview on SAfm Literature about The Baobab Prize

I was recently invited by Deborah Ahenkorah, Director and Co-founder of The Baobab Prize, as a former winner, to talk with Deborah and Karabo Kgoleng on SAfm Literature about The Baobab Prize. I think the show went well (apart from my blanking on the names of Lauren Beukes books, apologies Lauren, I do know they are Moxyland and the forthcoming Zoo City).

I hope it served to really put the prize out there as a much needed encouragement and call for African writers to step up and start writing our own stories in All Genres. As well as a call to African publishers to start publishing All Genres, and perhaps begin to make a dent in the imports that dominate bookshop shelves across Africa, (and maybe we African writers can escape from being lumped all together in those far shelves in the darkest depths of book stores marked African Literature).

You may listen to the podcast of the show here.

15 February 2010

African Roar fan page launched!

Happy to announce that the forthcoming StoryTime anthology African Roar has just launched its facebook fan page:

Forthcoming in 2010, African Roar#1: An eclectic anthology of African Authors. Selected from the StoryTime Ezine and edited by Emmanuel Sigauke & Ivor W. Hartmann, to be published by The Lion Press Ltd.

The African Roar#1 anthology selections were made from all works published in the StoryTime Ezine up to Aug 2009, through a combination of a public voting process and final selections from the anthology editors. It will feature works from:

Ayesha Attah
Ayodele Morocco-Clarke
Beaven Tapureta
Chuma Nwokolo Jr.
Christopher Mlalazi
Emmanuel Sigauke
Ivor W. Hartmann
Kola Tubosun
Masimba Musodza
Nana A. Damoah
Novuyo Rosa Tshuma

This is a website for Zimbabwean Author Ivor W. Hartmann. All posts on this site are Copyright © Ivor W. Hartmann 2007-2011. All rights reserved.