‘Literary shock treatment’: Dambudzo Marechera

1978 Heinemann African Writers Series edition of The House of Hunger

The young writer Dambudzo Marechera shared B.S. Johnson’s interest in literary invention and his debt to Arts Council funding. Marechera was granted just over two thousand pounds in 1978 and 1981 to support the writing of a novel following the critical success of his prize-winning volume of short fiction The House of Hunger (1978). Although extremely well-versed in the literary canon, Marechera took a more unorthodox approach to literary writing, mixing autobiography and fiction to often oblique effect.

His applications to the Arts Council were initiated and pursued by James Currey, a key figure in the publishing of African writing. In his supporting letters Currey contrasted Marechera’s promise as a writer with the financial uncertainty of his position, as Samuel Beckett had also done for B.S. Johnson, urging the Arts Council to provide Marechera with the financial support necessary for him to write a novel on the diasporic experience of living in Britain.

Like Jean Rhys, Marechera was near destitute at the time of his application. However the forces driving Currey were not merely for ones of welfare. Rather, his larger quest was to see Marechera contribute definitively to the Heinemann African Writers Series by converting his several (sketchy) draft novellas into a full length novel. Unfortunately for him, Marechera’s writing belligerently evaded the conventional requirements of a sustained plot, coherent narrative, and clearly identifiable characters preferring what he called ‘the literary shock treatment’.

See Chapter 2 for a fuller discussion of Marechera’s sponsorship history.

Archive reference: ACGB/60/20 box 6