[The JRB Daily] Tribute to the extraordinary Dambudzo Marechera, thirty years after his death

18 August 2017 is the thirtieth anniversary of the death of Zimbabwean writer Dambudzo Marechera. He would have been sixty-five.

To honour his life and work, The JRB is republishing a radio tribute to Marechera, recorded just a few days after he died. In addition, the writer’s sister, Masiyiwa Florence Ndebele, has shared some memories of her brother.

Dambudzo Marechera and Charles Mungoshi, Harare, May 1987. © Ernst Schade

The images in the post are taken from the recently established Dambudzo Marechera archive, a rich collection of documents and multimedia from the author’s estate, which is hosted by the Humboldt University of Berlin.

Following a troubled period at Oxford University, Marechera achieved critical acclaim with his first book, a short story collection titled The House of Hunger, in 1978. In a recent appraisal of the book, as part of The JRB’s Temporary Sojourner series, Efemia Chela emphasised its continued relevance: ‘The House of Hunger speaks, or rather shouts, forward from its own time to 2017. Perhaps the most painful parts of the book to read are those that show how little has changed in thirty-nine years.’

The House of Hunger won the Guardian Prize for First Fiction in 1979, with Marechera becoming the first and the only African to win the award in its 33 years. At the ceremony dinner, Marechera shocked the literary establishment by hurling plates at a chandelier. This infamous anecdote seems to sum up the blend of brilliance and self-destructiveness that marked Marechera’s life.

Marechera passed away in Harare at the age of thirty-five.

Dambudzo Marechera, wearing a jacket from Flora Veit-Wild’s wardrobe (which he kept for good), March 1986. © Ernst Schade

In memory of my beloved brother, Charles D Marechera

I have fond memories of Dambuzdo as I was growing up. Unfortunately, he left for London when I was still very young. The image that I treasure in my heart is of Dambudzo teaching me how to knit and purl using grass knitting needles as the family sat by the warmth of the fire.

He was a very kind, gentle, and caring brother. A strict disciplinarian, and he wanted all to excel at what they were doing. Always remembered with love.

Sadly missed.

Masiyiwa Florence Ndebele

Dambudzo Marechera, ‘Dialogue’. Handwritten poem. © Dambudzo Marechera Trust

Listen to the radio tribute, which was produced by Fiona Lloyd, who also narrates the segment:

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