Andrew Chatora is the Zimbabwean-born author of Diaspora Dreams, published on April 6th by US Publisher, Kharis Publishing. Andrew is resident in England and warmly settled in Bicester which he considers ‘home from home’. He received an MA in Media, Culture and Communication from UCL. Andrew has written and published widely on topical issues with This is Africa publication. He is principally interested in the global politics of inequality which he interrogates through his writing. Diaspora Dreams is his debut novella. When he is not writing, he is working on his PhD thesis on Digital Piracy, with Birmingham City University’s School of Media and English.
BY TARIRO NDORO
This conversation took place over Zoom between Andrew in Bicester, UK, and Tariro in Harare, Zimbabwe.
Tariro: Could you summarise Diaspora Dreams and share a little bit about how you came to write it?
Andrew: Diaspora Dreams is every migrant’s story —‘‘our story’’ as I’m wont to say. In recent years, how many of us have left our original habitat, the periphery as we journey for the centre due to economic reasons? And how have things panned out? In a nutshell, that is Diaspora Dreams for you. Readers will just have to read the book to get intimate insight into the narrative and its intricate permutations. I embarked on writing this book in the throes of the first Covid-19 lockdown in the serene calmness of my then Milton Keynes flat. It offered the escapism and companionship I badly needed.
Tariro: The opening scene of Diaspora Dreams takes place at Heathrow Airport. Is this symbolic of Kundai’s initial hopefulness/naiveté?
Andrew: Pretty much a mixture of Kundai’s optimism at entering a new country and equally naïve, his luck is going to ride out in a new habitat in England, ‘‘a land of milk and honey,’’ for want of a cliché. But of course, events pan out differently, don’t they, in the narrative.
Tariro: And now I’m going to ask the question that writers often hate. Like you, Kundai is a Zimbabwean man who leaves Zimbabwe and settles in Thames Valley. He is also a schoolteacher. In what ways is Diaspora Dreams autobiographical and in what ways did you distance yourself from the narrative? Did this help or hinder your writing process?
Andrew: Hmm… Very interesting question. You know what, I was hoping you wouldn’t ask that, (laughter). I forgive you, nonetheless. I would say Diaspora Dreams is very much personal to me, in the sense that it recounts migrant experiences that are very close to me. It’s rooted in mundane realities I have encountered at close quarters, from self, friends and colleagues’ lived experiences in contemporary Britain. Perhaps, it’s a semi-fictionalised memoir, (laughter) that’s the closest you’ll ever get from me… (laughter). I have benefitted immensely from my myriad interactions with the diaspora community in England and beyond, and therein in those lives, lies the repository of the story that Diaspora Dreams is.
Tariro: And what inspired Diaspora Dreams?
Andrew: Outrage, unmitigated passion, and a searing desire to see our diaspora story told first-hand unvarnished. As an immigrant myself, I have seen how our lot are treated in the greater diaspora. Thus, Diaspora Dreams is quite personal to me. As an African man, I have borne the brunt of the immigrant experience, be it in my personal or professional life. Nothing fires me up like injustice, all forms of injustices are a menace which has to be confronted head on. Diaspora Dreams has therefore availed me a chance to offer an authentic, credible voice to a poignant story. So, to come back to your question, Diaspora Dreams was borne out of the tragic death of George Floyd, an African American man killed by the police in Minneapolis in May 2020.
“I would say ‘Diaspora Dreams’ is very much personal to me, in the sense that it recounts migrant experiences that are very close to me. It’s rooted in mundane realities I have encountered at close quarters, from self, friends and colleagues’ lived experiences in contemporary Britain.”
George Floyd’s death gave me the courage to articulate my thoughts on the challenges faced by people of colour in the world over. A clear case of police brutality, George Floyd’s death should not have happened. He was someone’s son, a father, a partner and all those people have been robbed. And, we are saying, there has to be accountability to perpetrators of this wanton disrespect of human life! Sadly, George Floyd’s death typifies our story in which for far too often, Black people have been at the receiving end of institutionalised racism and white privilege, two inseparable bedfellows which stands out to disadvantage them. And his death was more of an “Aha!” moment for me, in which I had to interrogate myself, having lived in England for over twenty years and experienced racist microaggressions, I finally found the courage to confront these transgressions through Kundai’s story.
Tariro: Did you have a particular reader in mind when you wrote the novella?
Andrew: I wouldn’t want to split hairs by pigeonholing readers. Diaspora Dreams is a pertinent narrative which resonates with all of us, given the cosmopolitan world we live in today. In fact, the immigrant experience cuts across numerous variables; gender, class, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and therein in all these constituents lies potential readers. Even those who seek to demonise and vilify immigrants as the unwelcome other will find one or two useful titbits in Diaspora Dreams. So, this is for all of us.
Tariro: Could you talk a little bit more about your decision to use a first-person narrator, rather than an objective omniscient narrator in your novella?
Andrew: I think this all goes back to the whole idea of authenticity and credibility I was trying to foster through the portrait of Kundai, the protagonist. And, readers will notice, Kundai does not try to present himself in vantage points as he tells his story, in fact, one reviewer says of him, he is an everyman which enamours him to the readers, they feel for him as he goes through his fluctuating fortunes. Even when he talks about his own foibles, his infidelity for instance, he does not make excuses for himself nor tries to justify it. It is that candour which makes him immersive to readers.
Tariro: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Andrew: I’m from Dangamvura, Mutare. Although I now live in the UK, I have an enduring fondness for the dusty streets of Dangamvura, where I grew up. I miss my hometown, moreso Dangamvura library, even though I have settled well in Bicester, which I now warmly consider, home from home. I like to identify with ordinary folks, the underdogs, their trials, foibles and adversities. That is me.
Tariro: What made you choose writing as an artistic medium?
Andrew: I love to read. I have a voracious appetite for reading, something which started when I was a little boy. Work commitments often distract me, but in recent years, I find the wheel has come full circle as I read more and more. Nothing beats a good book as a companion for quiet introspection. Besides, writers have to read prodigiously anyway; it positively impacts on one’s craft.
Writing also provides me with my escapism space where I become a recluse with my characters and their myriad world. Many a time, I’ve regaled in unmitigated raucous laughter alone at the relationships amongst my characters, taking enjoyment in their limitless wit, biting sarcasm, acerbic humour captured in their mundane conversations. Writing is beautiful and liberating!
Tariro: Indeed, many writers trace their love for writing back to an affinity for reading. Which writers have influenced your own work?
Andrew: Phew! Now, that is a broad question to contend with, I hope you allow me to go on a myriad, winding journey as I strive to address this. Zimbabwe has a rich crop of diverse writers who have inspired me from when I was a little boy and I have to acknowledge these luminaries; Charles Lovemore Muzuwa Mungoshi, Chenjerai Hove, Stanlake Samkange, Dr. Yvonne Vera, Kristina Rungano, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Shimmer Chinodya, Stanley Nyamfukudza, Nhamo Mhiripiri and Memory Chirere among others. Look, we have a wider repertoire of talented Zimbabwean authors, it is simply not possible to list them all here, but I would say, at a micro-local level, these were some of the voices which inspired me to want to write and articulate my voice at an early age. Then, internationally influences such as James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Dickens, Wilkie Collins, George Eliot, Daniel Defoe, D.H. Lawrence, James Joyce, Jane Austen, and others. Dickens was a particular favourite because of his larger-than-life characters and his sardonic humour? I have also soaked up inspiration from other contemporary authors; Tayari Jones, Imbolo Mbue and Sue Nyathi, among others. As I close the circle, I have to acknowledge both my parents as my greatest influences on my literary passion.
Tariro: You have mentioned your parents as a literary influence. In what way would you say they shaped your passion for literature?
Andrew: My mother, Rudo Chatora, is an exceptional woman of wit and great storytelling prowess. Looking back, I realise she was the source of my early story arcs, not least infused by courtesy of her rich insights and profound knowledge of family history and oral tradition. She has certainly been a great inspiration. Equally, my late father, John Chatora; how can I ever forget his inimitable library of books in our Dangamvura home. His love for books engendered an insatiable appetite for reading in me which has brought me to where I am today, standing on the threshold of becoming a published author, and I am very grateful for this, instilling the reading ethos in me.
Fellow human beings are also an invaluable repository of my story arcs and so yes, they do inspire me as well. Without our mundane interactions, there would be no stories to tell, would there be? Those Twitter dalliances and recently, Clubhouse interactions and sparring, have certainly provided inspiration for my creative works. In fact, the second book I’m working on was borne out of a vibrant Twitter spat. So, yes, to round off, these are all major contributory voices who have been a great influence on me. And I thank you all, not least those who read me!
Tariro: That certainly sounds interesting and also highlights the way in which society has changed, from gossip and oral storytelling being the primary modes of learning about what is happening in communities to social media being a newer platform to share stories and experiences. Readers who enjoy Diaspora Dreams may want to know what other project you’re working on.
Andrew: I am currently working on two projects; a collection of short stories, Harare Alcatraz and other Short Stories and The Second Coming, my second novel.
Tariro: Do these projects also centre on migrant experiences in the same way as Diaspora Dreams or do they touch on other subjects?
Andrew: It’s pretty much a mixed bag. In the short stories I look at the post-colonial experience of what it entailed growing up in the early eighties in Zimbabwe. In addition, I also look at the black experience of what life is like for Blacks and other ethnic minorities in contemporary post-Brexit Britain. The Second Coming is multifaceted as it immerses itself in a range of subjects, not least ‘‘what does it mean to be an immigrant in a post-Trumpian-Brexit world,’’ among other pertinent subjects.
Tariro: Which book are you currently reading and how has it affected you?
Andrew: Tayari Jones’s Silver Sparrow. It’s beautifully written as she skilfully tackles a difficult subject, bigamy.
Tariro Ndoro writes poetry and short fiction and hails from Zimbabwe. Her writing explores themes of belonging, identity and gender. Tariro’s creative nonfiction, essays, poetry, reviews and short stories have been published in numerous journals and anthologies and can be found here. Tariro has read her poetry at Page Poetry Alive, Pa Gya! Literary Festival, Paza Sauti and Wordfest.