NoViolet Bulawayo. Writer

Elizabeth Zandile Tshele was born in Tsholotsho Department, Zimbabwe, on 12 October 1981. Known in the literary world as NoViolet Bulawayo  – the name recalls her mother, who died when she was just 18 months old, and the town where she grew up, the second largest in Zimbabwe, after Harare.

Her literary career has been brief, with only two books published, We Need New Names (2013) and Gloria (2022), She was known from the start for her ability to describe, explain and recreate the difficulties, suffering, joys and sorrows of a country that was transformed, in a few years, from a British colony to a promising independent nation – at the hands of a then enthusiastic Robert Mugabe – only to fall into a state in which repression – with Operation Gurkurahundi, led by the army, in which almost 20,000 citizens considered dangerous to the regime were eliminated, poverty, hyperinflation or attrition led to the disillusionment and emigration of a large part of the population.

These themes, permanent in Bulawayo’s literature, are also a way to position herself in the face of the reality of her native country: “The criticism is intentional. In the times we live in, I believe that not being an activist is not an option. Above all if we tell the stories of vulnerable people£”, she said recently in an interview, in the presentation of her book: We Need New Names.

In this novel, the condemnation was disguised, among other tricks, as simple children’s entertainment. Bastardo, Sabediós, Chipo, Stina or Darling, some of its protagonists, played at being countries, and the winners chose the United States, Switzerland or Canada – destinations of much of the emigration from the southern nation – as a reward for the victory, while the losers embodied South Africa, Botswana or Tanzania.

In real life, those who remained in post-colonial Zimbabwe suffered from an increasingly despotic Mugabe, while those who left, like Bulawayo herself  – who left at 18 for the United States to complete her academic education and start his literary career  –  found themselves in a context far from the ideals, the myths and dreams they had before embarking on the migratory project.

This pioneering work placed her on the shortlist for the 2013 Man Booker Prize, making her to be considered the first black African capable of winning the prize. She received due recognition when she was awarded the Caine Prize (2011) for her story Hitting Budapest, the Etisalat Prize and the Hemingway Foundation Award. 

In addition to lecturing at Cornwell University, between 2014 and 2018 she was part of the pan-African literary initiative Writivism. Four years after leaving that project, she returned to the fray with Gloria, a work in which many analysts see parallels with Orwell’s Animal Farm.

Bulawayo uses satire to denounce a power – that of the late Mugabe and that held by the current president, Emmerson Mnangagwa – for which the author is not a comfortable figure. “I know the government is not passionate about my work, but I’m not worried.” And she adds: “If I remain silent, I will in no way help resolve this situation.” (Javier Fariñas Martín) – (Illustration: Tina Ramos Ekongo)