Chenjerai Hove Creates a New Exile Literature from Miami Thanks to City of Refuge Program

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In 2001, Chenjerai Hove was driven out of his homeland, Zimbabwe, after years of persecution by Robert Mugabe's government. Hove drew Mugabe's ire with plays like Sister Sing Again Someday about the plight of Zimbabwean women, leading his to home being burglarized, his works stolen and his movements placed under surveillance. Finally, his passport was seized and he fled to Norway.

But Hove hasn't stopped writing, thanks to the City of Refuge program, an international group founded by Salman Rushdie and others to give threatened authors a safe haven to work. Hove is Miami's first City of Refuge fellow. Ahead of his appearance at the Miami Book Fair International this weekend, he talks to Cultist about crafting exile literature -- and his hopes for Zimbabwe's future

Hove's best known work, 1989's Bones, explored the violence and loss rooted in the Zimbabwean liberation war. He himself was forced to leave his wife and youngest child behind when he fled to Scandanavia.

Yet, as he writes from his new home at Miami Dade College's Florida Center for the Literary Arts, he says he still has hope for his homeland. Hove will speak about Bones and writing in exile on Saturday at 2 p.m. in Room 3315 (Building 3, third floor).

New Times: How have you enjoyed writing in Miami so far?

Chenjerai Hove: It's going fine. I'm busy doing activities at Miami-Dade College, a lot more than just writing. I've just come back from a presentation at a grade school, actually. I went to talk to the little ones about what they want to do with their life. I took almost all my books which I have written and they said, 'You wrote all these books?'

One of them said I want to be a writer, but only writing about famous people. One little girl said she wanted to be like Oprah. Another little boy wanted to be the president of the United States. It was great.

So this program's mission, to give you a safe haven to express yourself, has been working out well?

Yes, I can work, I can interact with children, I get to do things in public, in terms of issues that I write about and my interest in human rights, that I couldn't do in Zimbabwe. I can work in education and in civil rights.

There are a lot the same problems here in Miami, of course, that you have in other cities with people mixing from everywhere. The problems with language, for instance. Coming from Cuba, you have to start learning English. You have to learn a new culture, and learn to share your culture with other people.

But it's a good thing, there's no doubt, because in this day and age we've become very complex people.

And it must change you as a writer, to experience all these new mixes of culture.

I think it does. As a writer, I absorb the environment. When I look at people dancing here, I can see some African dancing. When they dance the rumba, I say, 'That's from the Congo!' It's the same dance, but over the centuries it's taken on all these new experiences and cultures and it's changed. It's beautiful.

What are you writing now?

I'm working on a Miami memoir. It's about my life here, the people I meet, the cultural and social environment as I experience it. It's my life as a writer here, what I see and hear and what I'm able to share.

You've been away from Zimbabwe for almost a decade now. Do you still feel close to the people there and plugged into daily life?

Oh yes, every day I check on the news and read about what's happening in the cultural dynamic. I keep up on who's doing what. I'm always carrying my Zimbabwe life and culture and mixing with the other countries I experience. But Zimbabwe is home.

What are you thoughts on the power-sharing agreement between Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai? It seemed like a hopeful development at first, but now nothing much seems to have changed.

I was opposed to this agreement being signed. I was opposed because I know there's no way a dictator will ever willingly share power genuinely. Morgan is a completely powerless prime minister now, without any power to affect change. When they divided the ministries between the two, they've given all of them with any real power to Mugabe.

It was really, for Mugabe, just a PR exercise. If we have elections next year, they're likely to be symbolic as well. If we have a real government, people must get used to going home if you lose an election. You leave, and you let the other guy run the country. But he wants to die in power. He wants the elections to be formalities.

Yet from what I read, you're far from hopeless about your homeland's future. What gives you hope?

He is old, for one thing. The are a lot of possibilities for when he goes. Either we'll have a worse situation with someone yearning to take over his power, and then there could be an explosion of violence. But if Mugabe is defeated in the next elections, if properly run and supervised elections happen, then we'll have a new government, selected and elected by the people, and then we'll start the course of change.

Those are the two possibilities. The negative one, the bad one might happen because the military are in charge of the country right now. The police and military are in charge. And they don't want any change. They've been allowed to loot the country without anyone asking questions. They want to be still be protected. To dislodge the military, you'll have to give them immunity from prosecution for their crimes. And people don't want to see that. There would be be revenge justice. People will say, 'Here is the guy who killed my father, now I will kill him.' People will take it upon themselves to revenge the crimes. That's the cycle of that violence.

Do you still hope for a day when you can return to live in Zimbabwe?

Yes, that's my homeland and that's my hope. It will not be the same Zimbabwe I left. That is the saddest part. Either way, the political and the social landscape will be totally changed. Some people made mistake going back and not expecting to see a lot of changes. But our electricity used to work, traffic used to be managed. It's not that way now.

For now, I'm going to focus on writing in exile and the perspectives you gain.


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