Reading 2010: Miriam Shumba (Zimbabwe/USA)

Miriam Shumba is the author of two novels, Show Me the Sun and That Which Has Horns, both published in the USA by Genesis Press. She has had several short stories and articles published in Zimbabwe, South Africa, and the United States. She earned her teaching degree at Rhodes University in South Africa and continued her education at Walden University. Miriam has taught elementary school in several countries. She moved to the United States in 2001 and now lives in Michigan with her husband.

Miriam Shumba's 2010 Reading List

1. The Shack [book cd] : a novel/ William P. Young
2. The Bishop's Daughter / Tiffany L. Warren
3. The First Lady [book cd] / by Carl Weber
4. Serena : a novel / Ron Rash
5. The Piano Teacher / Janice Y.K. Lee
6. Finding Nouf [book cd] / Zoƫ Ferraris
7. The Christmas Sweater [book cd] / Glenn Beck with Kevin Balfe and Jason Wright
8. Esteemable acts : 10 actions for building real self-esteem / Francine Ward
9. Your best birth : know all your options, discover the natural choices, and take back the birth experience / Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein ; foreword by Jacques Moritz.
10. Roses
11. An Elegy for Easterly : Stories / by Petina Gappah.
12. The Boy Next Door : a novel / by Irene Sabatini.
13. Knockout : interviews with doctors who are curing cancer-- and how to prevent getting it in the first place / Suzanne Somers
14. The Actor and the Housewife [book cd] : a novel / Shannon Hale
15. Once Upon a Day [book cd]: a novel / Lisa Tucker
16. Roses / Leila Meacham
17. Her mother's hope / Francine Rivers.
18. Shameless [book cd] / Karen Robards
19. Powder necklace : a novel / Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond
20. Fireworks over Toccoa / Jeffrey Stepakoff.
21. The help [book cd] : a novel/ Kathryn Stockett
22. Strangers at the feast [book cd] : a novel / Jennifer Vanderbes
23. Unaccustomed earth : stories / by Jhumpa Lahiri.

Interview with Miriam Shumba

1. Your reading list consists of both print and audio books. Which medium is provides a more effective reading process for you? Does a read get the same effect from a book when listening to it as when reading it? To what extent are both processes considered reading?

Both mediums are enjoyable. I always have a print book at home and an audio book in the car. For some reason I rarely listen to audio books at home and when I tried I found myself falling asleep. Listening to a book from some exotic location the actors/readers imitate the accents very well and it adds richness to the story. The story interests me more that way. Both processes should be considered reading because at the end I’m satisfied with the story in print and audio. Once in a while it’s nice to have both audio and print so I can reread some parts or see how things are spelt.

2. Do you always read as a writer or a reader? Do you read when you are working on your own writing? Does this slow down or speed up your writing?

I can’t help reading as a writer. It’s enjoyable to look out for fresh ways to describe people, for instance, or to find out how flash backs are used. The way words can transport you to another time in space and wreck havoc with your emotions fascinates me, so my notebooks are always close by. Keeping my “writer's cap” on doesn’t really slow me down if I am lost in a good story.

3. What is the audience of your novels?

My audience is both male and females who enjoy reading about life and relationships but who also hope to grow and change after reading my books. I see people from 16 years onwards picking up my books and liking the stories.

4. How have your books been accepted in the United States?

From the reviews I’ve received the books have been accepted very well. I’ve attended book clubs where my books were discussed too and that was encouraging. Several people told me that they could identify with the characters even though they are from the US and the characters are from Zimbabwe.

5. Are your books available in Zimbabwe or any African country?

They are available in South Africa and right now I am in the process of making them available in Zimbabwe and Ghana initially then spread to other countries.

6. How do you deal with the issue of translation? In other words, are there cultural concepts that you find difficult to present in English?

Absolutely. I even had to translate the title into English and that proved challenging too. I know that there are so many phrases we say in Shona that get lost when translated into English. What I do is to write some sentences in Shona then add the translation immediately after so the people who speak Shona will really get the nuances and those who don’t understand the language will at least know what was said and not get confused.

7. You read short story collections like An Elegy for Easterly and Uaccustomed Earth? Considering that you are publishing in the novel sub-genre, what do you think of the short stories you read? How well do you appreciate the short story sub-genre?

I find most short stories engrossing. Before publishing my two novels I enjoyed and still enjoy writing short stories. I wrote for Drum Magazine in South Africa and Parade Magazine in Zimbabwe and the issues I had with writing them is the same I have when I read them. The challenge for me is that I get attached to certain characters and feel disappointed when the story has to end. Another thing is that not all the short stories in an anthology are enjoyable, and it takes me a while to get into the next short story after having been so absorbed in the one before. They are entertaining and thought-provoking and they are quick and hit you like a whirlwind with all the senses and emotions packed into a short work. With Jumpa Lihiri I noticed that she did continue one short story and I was so excited to see the characters back again in another short at the end of her collection.

8. You also read one of the contemporary Zimbabwean novels, The Boy Next Door by Irene Sabatini, which has been received well in some circles of the US readership. What's your opinion of this book?

Irene’s novel is incredible. When I picked it up the cover drew me, which shows the importance of captivating covers. It was set close to the time when I was a teenager and I could relate to her protagonist. It was like taking a literal tour around Zimbabwe because she mentioned almost every place of great significance in Zimbabwe including our mysterious magnificent ruins, The Great Zimbabwe. The love story was breathtaking and handled very well. I thoroughly enjoyed her book and it got me excited about all the other new books coming up from Zimbabwe that I can’t wait to read. It’s great to see the children of Zimbabwe telling their own stories like never before.

9. When writing, do you care about the genre your work will come out in? Does it matter to you whether a work will be received as literary or popular fiction?

It would be great to see my work stand the test of time, and be enjoyed by generations either as popular fiction or literary.

10. In a radio interview, you stated that your current publisher features Christian (or is it spiritual) literature. What are the characteristics of this genre?

From the books I’ve read this genre is about characters that are Christians or become Christians. These are books to inspire you and in a way celebrate the love of Jesus in stories that are entertaining. This genre is so broad and can be divided into romance, science fiction, mystery and so on. I don’t know how I feel about categorizing books that way as it means that certain people will not read great works just because they are under the Christian section. Fiction should just be fiction and not be separated by religion.

11. What do you think of the reception of African literature in the USA? Do think this is the African writer's time in (1) the USA (2) the World?

Many people who have book clubs in the USA tend to enjoy reading books from around the world and some even introduced me to authors J. Nozipo Maraire who wrote Zenzele, A Letter for My Daughter. In the US the books I hear about tend to focus on controversial and disturbing topics and my worry is that the same themes are marketed. What I’ve seen usually revolves around civil war, or politics. I think most people are interested hearing about Africa’s struggles which are truly there but every country has them but their stories are more varied. I haven’t seen that many novels on regular every day stories of families, romance, and friendships. I think it’s time to show more variety. We have more to offer and want to tell all our stories, not just one story.

12. What is your advice to aspiring writers looking to market their works in the United States?

My advice is to definitely find the publishers who are interested in multicultural books in the US. There are not that many out there but the book that I used to locate my publisher is called Writers Markets and it’s published every year. In there you can search for the agents and publishers who want your genre. The United States has always been a multi cultural and there is room for African writers and those from all around the world as well.


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