In Conversation with: Samantha Vazhure

Samantha Vazhure holding her debut novel, Painting a Mirage

My name is Samantha Rumbidzai Vazhure, and I am an author and poet. My debut title was a collection of Shona poetry, Zvadzugwa Musango the English translation is called Uprooted. The poetry explores the experiences of immigrants living away from their countries of origin. Both titles were released in the summer of 2020. On December 10th, I published my debut novel, Painting a Mirage, part one of a series called The Mire. The Mire is a series of fiction novels set between post-colonial Zimbabwe and the UK, exploring an intergenerational legacy of trauma, narrated in first person through the eyes of Ruva, a 1st generation immigrant living in the UK. I explore the complexities of culture, religion and society within a dysfunctional family set up.

Prior to writing poetry and prose, I had always written in my professional capacity. I work in the legal profession as a regulatory consultant. My work involves a lot of writing, in the form of reports, training content, policies and procedures which can be a bit mundane, so I am very excited that I am now writing for pleasure and to further my advocacy work.

Where did your love for poetry come from?

I went to school in Zimbabwe where I studied English Literature, Shona and Divinity for A level. Poetry appreciation was part of the English and Shona syllabi, and I loved it. You may also know that the bible, which is the main textbook for Divinity, is written in verse, so I naturally read a lot of poetry during my study of Divinity.

After high school, I wrote a significant collection of poems which I shared with a few people, but I realised very quickly that the poetry I was drawn to was very lyrical and emotive, and exposed my innermost feelings. As a young submissive female introvert, a few inquisitions about my poetry at the time made me doubt my ability to write and discouraged my creativity, so I repressed that talent for a long time. I think what happened there is testament to the fact that society does not support women expressing themselves freely. When I finally found my voice 20 years later, I wanted to do something positively radical with it. So, I used the Shona language to speak about equality, abuse and emotions. I used the language to write about the very topics that the Shona culture does not expect us to talk about. And then I translated the Shona poetry to English, because I did not want the language barrier to limit my readers. 

What do you want people to feel when they read your work?

I think my work is shamelessly intentional. I write to give a different perspective of what we usually view as the norm when it’s not right or healthy. So, I’m not just an entertainer – I’m trying to inspire a shift in attitude about problematic issues.

Which writers/poets inspired your work the most?

Dambudzo Marechera

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Tsitsi Dangarembga

Maya Angelou

Toni Morrison

Samantha Vazhure poetry collection

What inspired you to write Zvadzugwa Musango (Uprooted)?

I didn’t make a conscious decision to start writing my poetry. Mid-2019 was the turning point for me. Things happened in my life that made me feel very conscious that we are here temporarily, and life is short. So, I embarked on a journey of self-realisation, seeking authenticity and living a more meaningful life. I think I was seeking a higher purpose and wanted to leave some sort of legacy… like what will I be known for after I’m gone? That journey must have caused the re-alignment of my mind, body and soul, because as soon as I was in balance, I felt compelled to write, as that was what I was meant to do. I got my phone out one day and started typing up poems on it, and it felt so good, I couldn’t stop after that. I also wrote the first 10,000 words of Painting a Mirage on my phone. Before I knew it, I had transferred my phone notes to my laptop, and the rest is history.  

The inspiration to write was intuitive. When I started writing, I had no intention to publish. However, I decided to publish the poetry for three main reasons:

First, I am proudly of Karanga origin and love speaking in that dialect. It is my desire to see more books written in this dialect so that it does not go extinct. My view is that a lot of Zimbabweans are hugely influenced by foreign cultures and do not make enough effort to learn and preserve their own. While it is important to embrace diversity, we must not forget who we are. I suspect that the reason we begin to admire other cultures is because within our culture there are some static problematic tendencies which have not been addressed because “we must follow our culture as is, because it is who we are.” We need to remember that culture is made by people, so it should evolve to reflect the times we live in. That is probably our best shot at getting the young generation to embrace our culture again. And it is indeed why I wrote the poetry in Shona.

Second, I am a collector of rare exotic plants, specifically cacti and succulents. One of the lessons I learnt from looking after these plants is that, plants uprooted from their natural habitat serve a purpose of adorning our homes, but us home keepers sometimes forget that the soil in our gardens is different from the soil where the plants came from. In order for exotic plants to survive, they need conditions they are acclimatised to in nature. For example, if I found an Aloe that was growing in sandy or gritty soil near a hill, when I plant it in a pot, the soil I use for it must be sandy and gritty so that it is tricked into thinking it is still in its natural habitat. If a plant got little water in its natural habitat, then I too give it little water. I see immigrants living in the diaspora as plants uprooted from their natural habitat. As such, they should not forget where they are from by losing their authenticity, so that they stay rooted and grounded wherever they are.

Third, I realised that for a very long time, I had quietly observed life unfolding and had wanted to write about some of my experiences. I have learnt a lot from life, directly and through others and I felt the time was right to share some lessons learnt. My creativity journey has gradually evolved very intuitively. I get gut instincts and I act on them to produce and share my art.

How did, Carnelian Heart Publishing come to be and why that name?

I established Carnelian Heart initially to publish my own work in a professional manner. Next I decided to use the company to drive my advocacy work through the publication of anthologies. Now, I have opened my doors to other writers who would like their work published.

“Carnelian” is the name of a brownish-red semi-precious gemstone which is believed to be a stabilising stone which restores vitality and stimulates creativity. It is said to have energy that promotes courage and positive life choices, dispels apathy and motivates for success. It helps in trusting yourself and your perceptions and is useful for overcoming abuse of any kind. These properties are aligned with the original intention of my creativity – advocacy. “Heart” means I am doing this work out of love and from the bottom of my heart.

Through my own creativity and helping to amplify the work of others,

I advocate:

• human equality, diversity and inclusion

• rights of women and children

• rights and welfare of immigrants

• mental health

• preservation of vernacular languages 

I raise awareness of:

• abuse and gender-based violence

• bullying and its effects 

I empower those weakened by:

• abuse and inequality 

• static cultural and manipulative religious beliefs and practices 

• systems designed to further the dominant ideology of patriarchy 

What inspired your upcoming debut novel Painting a mirage?

The short answer is, my advocacy. The story is an education, not so much about defining what harmful societal practices are. It is an example of how those practices might be abused to ruin lives of victims from childhood to adulthood, potentially transcending generations, if certain traits are left unchallenged or unresolved. On one hand, the story highlights that in life, everyone has a secret backstory that makes them behave the way they do, so we should learn to empathise. On the other hand, the story seeks to appeal to one’s conscience, to take personal responsibility for acts and omissions that might unintentionally exacerbate problematic practices in society. I think life lessons are best taught through storytelling, and that is why I write.

Painting a Mirage is a story about the coming of age of UK-born Ruva, who is raised in a privileged dysfunctional Zimbabwean family and returns to live in the UK at the age of 18. Ruva yearns to escape her toxic childhood, but relocation to the UK invokes a bitter confrontation with her illusionary upbringing; and she realises that she does not need to continue conforming to the dictates of her past. As Ruva navigates life in the UK as a first-generation immigrant, she begins to understand what it means to be a black minority living in a meritocracy. During her journey of learning to live independently, Ruva stumbles into marriage. Read the book to find out if the grass that seemed greener lives up to her expectations.

Tell us about your upcoming anthology, Turquoise Dreams.

Designed to amplify the authentic voices of emerging writers, Turquoise Dreams is a short story collection depicting life experiences through the eyes of women in modern day Southern Africa. With contributing writers from Matebeleland, Midlands, Masvingo, Mashonaland and Manicaland, the stories portray post-colonial struggles amidst societal degeneration within a declining economic environment in Zimbabwe and beyond its borders.

There are 29 short stories in total, by the following 10 writers:

  • Tinatswe Mhaka
  • Mantate Queeneth Mlotshwa
  • Nyasha Chiyanike
  • Nadia Mutisi
  • Chipo Mawarire
  • Sibonginkosi Netha
  • Nkosilesisa Kwanele Ncube
  • Gwadamirai Majange
  • Edith Moreblessings Virima
  • Panashe Mawoneke

Turquoise Dreams will be available to buy from all reputable online book retailers after 24 December 2020.

What inspired you to put together stories of emerging African women writers?

As part of my advocacy work, I compiled and edited an anthology of short stories by Zimbabwean women who have not been published before. This anthology is being published by Carnelian Heart Publishing Ltd.
Project Turquoise is a project where I have given contributing writers an opportunity to have their story-telling skills showcased to the world. The project involved seeking writers with potential and a track -record of writing, mentoring and coaching them as they wrote, editing and publishing their work, then remunerating them for their art. 

The name “Turquoise” is inspired by chromotherapy, a centuries old belief in the healing properties of colours; i.e. vibrations in colours are understood to improve mood and overall health. The colour turquoise is associated with feminine energy, as well as sophisticated calming wisdom, creativity, emotional balance and intuition. Turquoise is believed to induce internal serenity, flush negative emotions from the mind and to support detoxification of the body. “Turquoise” is therefore a befitting name for this women empowerment project. I believe this work I am doing benefits not just the writers, but readers as well.

Benefits for writers…

  • Promotes equality, diversity & inclusion by democratising writing
  • Gives writers a sense of purpose
  • Empowers and gives a voice to the voiceless
  • Gives hope that change is possible
  • Boosts confidence and promotes mental health
  • Promotes writing as a career rather than a hobby

Benefits for readers…

  • Expands the reading culture
  • Provides access to authentic voices from non-mainstream authors
  • Participation in advocacy through buying books 

Apart from being an author what else are you passionate about in life?

I was raised by traditional women, so I picked up a lot of skills from them growing up. I can knit, sew, bake, braid hair. While they used these skills for survival, I feel lucky to say I do these things for fun, and when I have the time to do them.

I love being at one with nature. As such I’m an avid hiker and love to climb hills and mountains, usually with my husband and kids. I also go on long solo walks in forests and along rivers in the Wye Valley where I live. I also look after a large collection of cacti and succulent plants and I’m a member of the British Cactus and Succulent Society. I have over 80 species of Aloe – they are my favourite succulent. I have a poem in Uprooted / Zvadzugwa Musango, inspired by the Aloe, which I would like to share with you. In the picture below I was performing this poem to my Aloes.

Gavakava / Aloe

Kunaka kwegavakava hakuna gakava 

The beauty of an Aloe in undebatable

Kunakisa pamusha nemaruva aro aya

It adorns a yard with its wonderful flowers

Nyuchi nezvipuka zvichitamba pariri

Bees and insects love to play on it

Mombe nezvifuvo zvichifura pariri 

Ruminants and other animals feed on it

Kunaka kwegavakava hakuna gakava 

The value of an Aloe is undebatable

Kunaka kwegavakava hakuna gakava 

The strength of an Aloe is indisputable

Kana ukarimwa rinopedza vugwere

It heals when consumed

Kana ukapa huku, dzinofuma dzanaya

Even sick chicken, heal from it

Kana uchinge watsva, zora rinopodza

If you’ve been burnt, it will soothe them

Kunaka kwegavakava hakuna gakava 

The value of an Aloe is indisputable

Kunaka kwegavakava hakuna gakava

The resilience of an Aloe is irrefutable

Kana kukasanaya rinoramba rimire 

During times of drought it remains steadfast

Kana kukanaya rinobuda maruva

When it rains its flowers will sprout

Kana ukarikangamwa iro harikukangamwi

If you forget it, it will not forget you

Kunaka kwegavakava hakuna gakava

The value of an Aloe is irrefutable

Describe a typical day in your life

In my personal life, I’m a mother and wife, so I am jointly involved in the day to day running of our home and nurturing of two children. Professionally, I am a regulatory consultant who helps regulated financial services businesses to operate in a compliant manner. My summer tends to be busier than winter because that is when my plants wake up from their hibernation and require my attention. Due to my very busy lifestyle, I tend to write at night when everyone else has gone to bed and peace is restored.

Samantha Vazhure

What advice would you offer to upcoming writers?

Write and never give up. Someone out there will appreciate your art.

What are you most proud of about being Zimbabwean?

The chiKaranga dialect of the Shona language. I am my true self and I feel at home when I speak it.

How would you like to be remembered?

As the author who inspired change to mindsets through writing; and the advocacy-publisher who paved the way for upcoming Zimbabwean writers.

Social media

Samantha Vazhure:

Author website

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Facebook author page

Instagram author page

Amazon author page

YouTube channel

Etsy shop for books and merch

Patreon author profile

Carnelian Heart Publishing Ltd:

Publisher website

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