The Writers Hustle
Bookstores are the collection of souls living in chambers with different roles, enjoying existence in different centuries, narrating their stories with printed memories, yet still, it’s the outside hustle of the writer that butters their bread.
The writing industry, if one still exists, has been incessantly proclaiming “the end of bookstores” for years now, and if articles like this one are any indication, they’re still not done announcing the end is nigh.
The internet cannot be solely blamed, the reading culture invested in buying from bookstores is no longer a winning game. Nevertheless, local writer Batsirai Chigama sets herself to defy all odds.
Having won a NAMA for her debut poetry collection, “Gather the Children”, Batsirai Chigama possesses but perhaps doesn’t know it yet, narrative super-powers. Having started writing at just 14, Batsirai is passionate about providing alternative narratives to those featured in mainstream media and her work with young people, has taken her as far as Denmark, performing and facilitating creative writing and spoken word workshops in schools.
A spoken word poet, a short story writer and a socio-political gender activist, the late Charles Mungoshi and Memory Chirere are her creative goals, taking in mind how their simplicity in dealing with complex issues with the reader in mind is a goal she’s set to achieve.
“Gather The Children”, her first collection of poems, is “a reflection on Zimbabwe in the last ten years; chronicling stories of displacement, loss and desperation”.
“It’s a book about us as a people, many will find themselves within the pages of ‘Gather the Children’, perhaps a reflection of things most of us think about but have not put into words.”
“When I was younger I used to have an ambition of writing novels. I still have a couple of full hard covers with my efforts. Then I went through training in writing for film and this completely changed me. I still want to write short stories and perhaps a novel but poetry for me was a deliberate choice.”
Over the question of the dying bookstore collusion, Batsi has become her own book shop, a hustle most emerging Zimbabwean writers now face over the traditional book shop trading.
“I sell the books from my bag now. I recalled books from a couple of book shops because generally book shops are not selling books these days. People are just not getting into book shops to buy books. I am a mobile book shop.”
“Hustle from your handbag or boot. Hustle every time, everywhere. Bookshops are not selling books. The idea is to get your work in the faces of the people who are interested or care about your work.”
“We can not only write, we have to push our work in every space we find ourselves in, otherwise we risk producing work that sits and gathers dust till kingdom come.”
“Gather The Children” was self-published and went on to win a NAMA award in 2019. Batsi believes publishing taught her to reach out, keeping in mind how after writing there is a whole process that needs to be executed well without cutting corners.
“The work involved is a lot. The back and forth with editor, typesetter, illustrator, chosen readers and the printer are something I had to endure. The process, no short cuts.”
“Writing is healing for me. As I said earlier I am inspired by the people and environment around me. It can be a process if I choose to but if it’s too personal, I just write. The healing and breathing easy is what is important and I employ writing to do that, a lot.”
Her best poems from the collection include “We Must Bury Mother”, “Bullets of Perseverance” and “Gather The Children”. She admits to being a work in progress, with the political, social and economic environments of Zimbabwe impacting her work.
“They are the fodder from which I feed inspiration from in a huge way. People as well as a body of work are shaped by the environment surrounding them.”
“I try more to be real. Talk about experiences that are not foreign but are relatable to those around me.”
As writing keeps her sane, Batsirai is in the business of telling stories. This on its own, is a hustle countless Zimbabweans out there still go all-out to thrive on.
She might admit to love singing — not having the voice for it — but her spoken word poetry is a whole power force of its own kind.