The English Department has selected Zimbabwean novelist Tsitsi Dangarembga's debut novel, Nervous Conditions, for the 2009 Text and Community Program. Each spring, Text and Community fosters a collaboration between the English Department and other Mason departments and organizations, with professors encouraged to adopt the chosen title in their course work and students encouraged to read the book on their own, all with the goal of approaching a single text from diverse viewpoints and across a variety of disciplines.
The choice of Dangarembga's book for this year's Text and Community is part of the English Department's Year of the African Novel, which has included a visit by renowned Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe, author of Things Fall Apart, at the 2008 Fall for the Book festival.
"Because Achebe's appearance at Fall for the Book focused attention on African literature, the department wanted to choose an African novel for Text and Community," says professor Rosemary Jann, who chairs the committee planning this spring's program. "Since its publication in 1988, Nervous Conditions has attained the status of a classic woman's coming-of-age novel and seemed to our colleagues to offer a good counterpoint to Achebe's work."
"Most people don't even know there are other African novels apart from Things Fall Apart," adds assistant professor Helon Habila, an African novelist himself. "Here's a chance for readers to discover more of Africa, a more contemporary Africa, not the Africa of more than 100 years ago that you have in Achebe's novel. Since it was published, Nervous Conditions has come to assume the status of an African classic and is perhaps the most-read African novel after Things Fall Apart. Its success depends on its accessibility and its ability to combine politics and history with art, creating in the process a unique picture of a unique place."
Set in colonial Rhodesia in the 1960s, Nervous Conditions follows a teenage girl, Tambu, as she moves away from rural village life to study at a missionary school, befriending a cousin whose own childhood in England has been radically different from her own. This relationship and Tambu's growing awareness of the world around her sets the stage for exploring a number of themes: the difficulties inherent in retaining or revising traditional cultures in the midst of Western influences, the various impacts of colonization on African life, and the changing roles of women in Africa in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Nervous Conditions was the first English-language novel published by a black Zimbabwean woman. The year after its publication, it won the African section of the Commonwealth Writers Prize. The book is part of a proposed trilogy; a second novel, The Book of Not, was published in 2006, and Dangarembga is at work on the third book.
Numerous events are planned as part of the 2009 Text and Community, including a visit by Dangarembga later this spring for a reading and discussion of her work. The department will host an essay contest for students, and potential plans include a screening of films written by Dangarembga and directed by other Zimbabwean filmmakers, and a staged reading of her play She No Longer Weeps.
April 28, 2009