Emmanuel Sigauke was born in Zimbabwe, where he started writing at the age of thirteen. After graduating from the University of Zimbabwe with a BA in English, he moved to California, where he completed graduate studies. He teaches English at Cosumnes River College in Sacramento, where he is an editor for the Cosumnes River Journal.
"A Sack of Words" was first published at Chisiya Echoes.
Five Questions with Emmanuel Sigauke:
1. Since your last profile, you have launched the Munyori Poetry Journal. How have you found this experience so far? Have you been able to promote African poetry as much as you hoped to?
Publishing Munyori Poetry Journal has been a rewarding experience, connecting me to the promotional aspects of writing. The journal is intended to showcase works by poets from all over the world, and so far it has attracted contributions from this target group, although a large percentage of contributors has been from the United States and several African countries.
Naturally, I am happy each time I receive works from Africa, a continent whose authors (especially the emerging ones) need promotion the most. Of course, I was constantly reminded of my struggles to find publishers when I was in Zimbabwe; so I hope that Munyori will become a trusted name in the showcasing of the talent Africa has to offer.
2. In the latest issue of Munyori, you feature fellow OGOV poet Prince Mensah, introducing Prince's writing to a new audience. Conversely, is there someone who you've featured at Munyori that you would like to promote to OGOV readers?
It was an honor to publish Prince Mensah's insightful interview and captivating poetry. I like what he had to say about the state of African poetry, and his call for writers to start utilizing the world wide web to promote their works. There are several Munyori names that I hope OGOV will discover, names like Zvisinei Sandi (February/March issue), Jabulani Mzinyathi (December), and Shilla Mutamba (October issue). These are highly promising African writers.
3. You have a poetry blog, Chisiya Echoes, on which "A Sack of Words" was originally published. What impact does having a personal place to publish have on the frequency and quality of your writing, if any?
A blog is a special gift to a writer. Drafting poetry at Chisiya Echoes has helped me produce over 400 pieces in a year. I like the tracking of dates which I can use to measure the frequency of my writing. I realize, of course, that mass-producing poetry may have negative effects; although the blog allows me to "publish" a draft within seconds, I know that much of the poetry is at the draft level. My goal is to draft-publish a substantial number of poems (say 300) and transfer them to a local document that will undergo more serious editing. On lucky days I can just blog a poem that just comes out complete, with little or no need for further editing. I hope that as I gain more experience blogging my poetry, I will be able to produce solid pieces in the first or second attempt.
4. You participated in our last Roundable Discussion for Africans Abroad. What was the best idea you took away from that discussion? What activities do you hope will result from it?
The discussion has made me realize that there is need for African writers to engage in self-promotion without waiting to be discovered by some outside organizations all the time. One way of helping the continent self-promote is by making those African writers who have access to resources promote fellow writers who lack resources.
Somehow, participating in the discussion has also made me consider the need to lead by example in being part of a team of African writers that seek to "promote" other writers back home.
On one hand there is the question of entitlement: Does my being in the USA automatically entitle me to assist writers in Africa? Often, I have told myself it is my responsibility to help make Africa attain a level of self-sufficiency in the promotion of its own literature. On other other hand, there has been the question of credibility: What experience and success record have I attained to be able to help beginning writers? This question has prompted me to become more aggressive in marketing my own works in order to gain experience in the process through which I am seeking to direct others.
Now that we have discussed the need to do something, I look forward to the implementation of some of the planned activities. Even if we are to start "small", I would like to see something concrete; so we are going to distribute flyers at schools and colleges in Ghana? [ed. note - see our News and Notices section for info on this]. Let's identify key writers who can help with this. I know Zimbabwe has a budding writers organization with an office in Harare and branches all over the country; that can be used as a viable avenue in announcing the existence of a manuscript review service, or a poetry competition. I see myself becoming part of a sub-committee that is involved with manuscript assistance (editing, etc).
5. As a professor at a college in California, how do you find American students respond to African literature, compared to African students? For instance, does an American student read Achebe's Things Fall Apart differently from an African, and if so, how?
Some American students who get a chance to learn African literature bring to it expectations influenced by the image of Africa that the media has given. At first the world in a novel like Tsitsi Dangarembga's Nervous Conditions starts off as a distant and unfamiliar place, and without the proper context of the literature, most students are at a loss.
Hurdles to understanding the literature often range from difficulty with the character's names to cultural practices that seem strange. For instance, the few times I have taught Nervous Conditions and Things Fall Apart, I have had to clarify to the students that these are novels set in a specific time, which is different from what present-day Zimbabwe or Nigeria is. But I try not to influence the way students interpret the literature too much to allow them to add to the richness of the discourse.
By mid-semester, after they have done some research, most students begin to connect to the stories, at once realizing that literature exposes a specific story in which universal qualities of life can be found. Most students begin to relate with Nyasha and her struggles with anorexia, and with Tambudzai and her desire to attain a high level of education to change her destiny. The same applies to Things Fall Apart - students begin to validate it as a story that could have happened anywhere, a story that applies to them as it applies to African readers. Those discoveries are often rewarding and are indicative of the power of literature to communicate the specific and the universal aspects of our lives.
Websites: chisiya echoes: new zimbabwe poetry
Munyori Poetry Journal
Emmanuel's Past Profiles:
Issue 1.27, September 22nd - 27th, 2007