Meet Danai Gurira the writer

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Gracious Madondo

One of the most interesting fun facts about Danai Gurira is that she first came into the spotlight as a writer nine years before she became an international movie star.

It is not surprising that many know Danai Gurira the movie star and have no knowledge of Danai Gurira the author and playwright.

I (among a few others) was introduced to Danai Gurira while studying Advanced Level literature when the anthology “In the Continuum and Other Plays” (2009) was recommended for study as a literature set book for the Zimbabwe School Examinations Council (Zimsec) examination.

Born in 1978, Danai Jekesai Gurira is a Zimbabwe born actress and playwright best known for her role as Okoye in “The Black Panther” (2018) and as the zombie-slayer Michonne in the television series “The Walking Dead” (2018).

Her name has become a household name in most homes and she has become a symbol of pride for Zimbabwe on the international movie scene.

Gurira has risen to be an international movie star loved by many, especially for her role as Okoye in the block buster movie, “The Black Panther” (2018).

Gurira became known to all when she starred in various Hollywood big budget movies namely “The Black Panther”, “Avengers Infinity War” (2018) and her recent partnership with the athletic clothing and footwear company, Reebok, as the company’s brand ambassador.

Gurira’s first publication is “Running Ahead: The Neglect of the Black Woman in Psychology” which is her Honours paper from Macalester College published in 2018.

Her latest publications include “Eclipsed” (2010) and “Familiar” (2016).

Her most celebrated literary work is the short story anthology “In the Continuum” (2009) edited by Rory Kilelea under Weaver Press publishing house.

“In the Continuum and Other Stories” is a four play anthology. It comprises of stories written by four female playwrights from around the world.

The short stories are namely, “Belonging” written by Zimbabwean writer Mirirai Moyo, “When I Meet my Mother” by Canadian writer and actress Kathleen McCreery , “In the Continuum” co-written by Danani Gurira and American writer Nikkole Salter, and “Power Failure” a radio play by Nigerian Jide Olubenga Afolayan.

The short story collection is named after Gurira and Salter’s short story “In the Continuum”.

The drama is characterised by two women living in different worlds, one living in Zimbabwe and the other living in America united by their struggles with the HIV virus.

The play explores Abigail Muromba and Petronella Siyanyarambanyika grappling with life after HIV diagnosis.

HIV may seem like a passive choice and subject for a new book but Gurira’s approach and style of writing, language and characterisation makes the play a master piece.

In a world where everyone preaches the gospel of gender equality “In the Continuum” suggest that in some social circles, man still dominate and this idea is embodied by Abigail, an aspiring television personality at ZBC who is diagnosed with HIV and faces the end being send back to the rural areas by her husband as well as losing her marriage.

Meanwhile, Petronella’s life living in America is a bit different from Abigail’s life although they are all facing the same problems. It is only their respective countries’ economic situations and their level of education which sets them apart.

Petronella has a sense of dignity and an independent mind. She thinks of leaving her husband when she discovers that he had infected her with HIV, a symbolism of her freedom and liberal mind.

Unlike Petronella, Abigail finds it difficult to break away from an abusive marriage.

Abigail follows the chauvinistic tendency that a woman has to bear children for her husband to save a dying marriage.

This can be noted in her monologue when she flashes back to her conversation with her aunt while looking for a solution to save her troubled marriage.

“He is going to stop that. But I think another baby will make him act better. Auntie always said showing the husband that you are a good woman will keep him indoors.”

The play takes place in different continents in which both protagonists come to the realisation that their husbands have infected them with the deadly virus.

Abigail and Petronella goes on a soul searching journey encountering various cultural and sexist biases as they come to terms with the realities of their HIV statuses.

As the play progresses, the two women begin to overcome their fears.

They overcome the fear of being judged by society and being stigmatised because of their HIV and marital status.

Gurira’s play gives voice to women who are victims of circumstances and patriarchal tendencies paying particular attention to those in marriage.

Having been affected with HIV by their husbands, Abigail and Petronella accept their fate and embark on a soul searching passage which liberates them from both psychological and physical abuse to acceptance and independence.

Among other short stories in the anthology, Gurira’s “In the Continuum” won the Obie and Outer Critics Circle Awards and the New York Times described the play as the best play in 2006.

“In the Continuum” is mostly celebrated because it is one of the country’s modern drama pieces many schools use to teach drama in both literature and acting class.

                

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