Q&A | Barbara Mhangami-Ruwende

Barbara Mhangami-RuwendeBARBARA MHANGAMI-RUWENDE LIVES IN ANN ARBOUR, MICHIGAN, USA. She’s currently working on a short story collection and a novel. Her story ‘Opportunity’ explores a mother’s hopes for her daughter in contemporary Zimbabwe.

How did get into writing?
I have written and enjoyed doing so from about the age of twelve. However, my friend and mentor, Sarah Ladipo Manyika (who put her forward for Still – ed), got me to start writing seriously for publication. She has been a wonderful source of encouragement and one of my biggest cheerleaders. My family have also been very supportive.

Why short stories?
I love the short story format, both as a writer and a reader. I enjoy the brevity of it as a writer, because taking care of four lively young girls does not lend itself to the intensity of focus that writing a novel requires. I like the sense of completion I feel with a short story, and I can write one in a few hours. Of course, then comes the editing and so on.

Is life good for a writer living in Michigan?
Being a writer in Michigan is no different from being a writer elsewhere. I guess this is because of the stories I like to write. They are created in my mind. My physical location seems to have no bearing on the creative process. Perhaps it is fair to say that I enjoy living in Ann Arbor and therefore that joy and contentment allows for a good writing mood.

Maintenance Room (Poster) by Roelof Bakker
Maintenance Room (Poster)
© 2012 Roelof Bakker

Why did you select this photograph?
It tugged at something in me, though I had no idea what I was going to write. I kept coming back to it, until I finally gave in and downloaded it.

What is the thinking behind ‘Opportunity’?
I honestly cannot claim that there was some great ‘thinking’ or approach to the story. I simply looked at the picture and words like light, education, power and freedom started tumbling about in my head. Then a little girl and her mother came to life. This was different to how I usually write. Normally I have a whole story basically in me before I sit down to write. This time the story unfolded as I wrote. I write social commentary and most of my fiction is around social justice issues so the subject matter was not really new.

Do you use visuals to develop ideas?
I generally don’t use visuals. However, since this project, I have found that I enjoy using images alongside social commentary. For example, I recently did a piece on human trafficking for my blog and it is peppered with photographs.

What’s next?
I’m putting together a short story collection, as well as a collection with five other Zimbabwean writers with whom I was nominated for a literary competition. I am also working on a memoir, but that’s a long-term project.

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