Tsitsi Dangarembga was the first Black Zimbabwean woman to publish a novel in English/Photo: © Beowulf Sheehan/PEN American Center

Zimbabwean writer receives prestigious German prize

The Zimbabwean author and filmmaker Tsitsi Dangarembga has been named the recipient of the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade 2021. The Prize honours personalities who have contributed to the realisation of the idea of peace in literature, science or art.

“In her films, she addresses problems that arise from the clash between tradition and modernity,” explained Karin Schmidt-Friderichs, Chair of the Peace Prize Foundation Board, in Frankfurt am Main on Monday. The jury described Dangarembga as an “audible voice of Africa in contemporary literature”.

The Peace Prize is endowed with 25,000 euros and has been awarded since 1950, traditionally as part of the Frankfurt Book Fair.

Dangarembga was born on 14 February 1959 in Mutoko in what was then Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe.

She studied psychology at the University of Zimbabwe.

Dangarembga stepped into the international limelight in 1988 with her debut novel “Nervous Conditions”, a coming-of-age story about a girl’s battle to escape poverty and get an education in the then Rhodesia, before the country gained its independence from Britain in 1980.

It was the first book published in English by a black Zimbabwean woman.

“Nervous Conditions” is the first part of an autobiographical trilogy. In 2006, the second part “The Book of Not” was published, followed by “This Mournable Body” in 2018.

In the trilogy of novels, Dangarembga describes the struggle for the right to a dignified life and female self-determination in Zimbabwe using the example of an adolescent woman. “The books are the chronicle of the life of an ordinary woman living in Rhodesia [as Zimbabwe was formerly known] and Zimbabwe. To the extent that the situation and changes in the nation impact on her life, the books reflect the history of the country,” she said in an interview with Al Jazeera last year.

In the early 1990s, she studied film directing in Berlin and founded a film production company in Harare. She returned to Africa for good in 2000.

Tsitsi Dangarembga curated the second edition of the Berlin African Book Festival in 2019, an initiative for more diversity in the German literary landscape. The festival brings together Africa’s best-known authors and poets every year.

In May 2021, Dangarembga received the PEN Pinter Prize and the PEN International Award for Freedom of Expression. The award is given to authors who continue their writing despite persecution.

She will be presented with the Peace Prize at the award ceremony which will take place on 24 October in Frankfurt’s Paulskirche and will be broadcast live at 11.00 a.m. on ZDF..

Vivian Asamoah

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