The Book Caf goes global

brian_chikwavaLONDON - Last month, on a visit to Harare, the British MP Hugh Bayley and other UK parliamentarians, accompanied by members of the Department for International Development and an assortment of Zimbabwean VIPs, spent an evening at Harares legendary Book Caf.

The international rumour mill has it that a grand time was had by all.

Only a short time ago, this would have seemed highly unlikely. The Book Caf is, after all, Zimbabwes most famous counter-cultural venue. It is fabled for hosting the House of Hunger Poetry Slam (named in honour of maverick writer Dambudzo Marechera), started by the poet and performer Victor Mavedzenge and others some years ago. Although it has not been selling books since 2008, it is still an important cultural venue, whose fame has been spread by its international group of friends and patrons.

The British parliamentarians visit comes at the heels of an exhibition showcasing the activities of the Pamberi Trust, the cultural organisation which supports the Cafs activities, held at the House of Commons 7 10 December 2009. Entitled Crisis and Creativity and opened by Bayley, the exhibition attracted a multi-cultural group of the Trusts friends and supporters. Among them were Britain Zimbabwe Societys Margaret Ling and the London-based Zimbabwean writer Brian Chikwava.

Chikwavas debut novel Harare North has been receiving rave reviews in the international press since its publication in 2009. Legend has it that Chikwava kick-started his literary career by circulating manuscript copies of his short fiction around Harares cultural outlets; a publisher spotted a copy of a short story entitled Seventh Street Alchemy at the Book Caf, and the story won the prestigious Caine Prize in 2004, after having been published in an anthology. Speaking at the opening of the Westminster exhibition, Chikwava called the Book Caf his intellectual home.

The Pamberi Trust was founded in 1980 as an educational body. Today, it is an umbrella organisation supporting a range of cultural outlets and activities: among them is the Mannenberg performance venue in Harare and The Arts Factory a production, staging, rehearsal and promotion agency for artists and performers. The Westminster exhibition also highlighted the Trusts partnership with the African Synergy Trust in South Africa.

It is only to be hoped that the activities of the Pamberi Trust will continue to expand. Meanwhile, excitingly, the Book Caf has now found a home in UK: starting this year, the New Empowering Church club in London (for venue details, see http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=173953903734 ) will host a regular Book Caf event on the last Wednesday of every month. See you there!

Post published in: Arts

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