Writing in a time of corona

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Harare -Gabriel Marquez in his seminal “Love in Time of Cholera” delivered a text relevant to the world as we know it today.

Marquez explored the intersection between epidemic trauma, human weaknesses and fate.

It is a story meant to thaw even the most cynical of hearts, mellow yet tragic.

Set in an unnamed city but with description matching Cartagena in Colombia,“Love in the Time of Cholera” is a story of a poet called Florentino who sets his heart and eyes on the beautiful Fermina.

Florentino tries to use his strength writing, to woo the girl he set his sights on but his words do not translate to fortune.

Poor as he was, he lost the race to win Fermina`s heart to Dr Juvenal Urbino, a physician who had won the city`s respect through eliminating cholera.

The story despite its marshmallow ending where Florentino eventually gets Fermina, betrays the difficulty that artists face in times of outbreaks; relegation and uncertainty.

Writers, who carry many weights in normal times, have had to be resilient to continue creating at a time when their livelihoods are under threat from the pandemic.

Some are already putting bodies of work together.

Poet and literary academic Tanaka Chidora is co-ordinating an anthology of stories written by individual writers during lockdown.

He has had to be strict to avoid clichés.

“The stories were obviously written during lockdown but they do not necessarily need to be about COVID-19, although the haunting presence of the pandemic must be there in the background of each story,” Chidora said.

He argued for the importance of such work saying despite the hard times, writing must continue occupying itself in society as a draft of history, even when it is fiction.

“Sometimes COVID-19 makes a cameo appearance through a sentence, paragraph or a remark. These act as historical signposts for readers who will read these stories after we are long gone.

They will know that at some point in the past, our ancestors encountered a pandemic that confined them indoors for a long time.”

Chidora cited one of his most recent story as an example of writing in times of turmoil and how writers can avoid being tedious in their writing.

In one of his lockdown stories, he wrote about a couple which was experiencing some domestic friction trying to attend a neighbour`s burial.

They fail to go to the cemetery because of social distancing regulation and they go back home to continue with their dispute.

Veteran writer, Memory Chirere believes now is the time for writers who have time on their hands to read and seek inspiration from authors they had not engaged with before.

“The COVID-19 and resultant lockdown left me suddenly with more time on my hands than I had bargained for. I was able to read novels by JM Coetzee, I had not found time for this great author.

Every time I read a chapter by Coetzee, I went into a response mode. It is called writing along and writers do that often,” said Chirere.

After each chapter by Coetzee, Chirere said he wrote a poem and it has culminated into an anthology tentatively titled “Shamhu Yezera Renyu”, which can be loosely translated to “A whip fit for your age”.

For internationally acclaimed playwright Gideon Wabvuta, the pandemic and resultant lockdowns have taught him to pursue a different kind of discipline, learning to slow down.

“The first month or so I felt the need to keep working, I felt guilty that I was at home and not writing everyday which was bad for the creative process, guilt does not work for me.

I think it shifted when I finally managed to convince myself that we are in the middle of a pandemic, people are dying and it is ok to take a week and not write,” said Wabvuta.

Stage works and theatre plays have been greatly affected with the pandemic, as entertainment events remain banned, Wabvuta says there is anxiety among creators on whether their work will eventually be consumed by the audience in its original form.

Theatre is premised on intimate presence in the auditorium, the feel gets lost when the same work is transposed online.

It is a genre for puritans.

There is a reason why Broadway remains a global citadel of musical theatre.

“There is going to be a lot more work, it will be different though, it can’t be the same when we’ve lived through a pandemic.

I think the confidence has faded but I think we create because that is what we know and it brings some form of comfort. As artists, we don’t want to do anything except create,” said Wabvuta.

In history, writing has been a channel through which society tries to make sense of new realities.

Writer Wiseman in 1995 delivered Jemedza, a classic novel which explored families navigating HIV and AIDS when it was a taboo.

Maybe, the world will smart from the pandemic with important bodies of work with nuances from COVID-19.

Feedback: dzengavisuals@gmail.com

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