Beaven Tapureta Bookshelf
It is today, September 19, in the morning of 1964 that a stone virgin was born at Mpilo Maternity Hospital, Bulawayo.
Dr Yvonne Vera the lovely baby — one who refused to be silenced even before she was born — signed her arrival with a cry, a melody. The girl child had, under her tongue, some special message to the world.
This memorable moment, ‘‘recreated’’ here by Bookshelf (“Stone Virgins” and “Under Her Tongue” are titles of Dr Vera’s books), is found nowhere else but in “Petal Thoughts: Yvonne Vera”, a three-part biography written by Dr Vera’s mother Ericah Gwetai. It is actually captured in the opening chapter titled ‘‘When a child is born’’.
Today, 13 years after the award-winning author passed on, is a day of remembrance and celebrating the gifted writer’s 54th birthday anniversary. Although she is not around to smile again that captivating smile, the surprise cake we have for her is in our hearts, a special present of love in exchange for her gift of words she bequeathed us until the end of time . . .
In an exclusive interview with Bookshelf, Dr Vera’s mother Ericah Gwetai said it means so much for her when her daughter is remembered like this.
A writer in her own class, mum Gwetai has her love for and memories of her late daughter well put in writing in the 2008 biography “Petal Thoughts”. Her story captures all parts of Dr Vera’s life, yet today we are not reviewing but curious to know from mum Gwetai which one is her most refreshing reminiscence of all Dr Vera’s birthdays.
“The most memorable Yvonne’s birthday was in 1985 when she turned 21. We had just moved to the previously whites only suburb and we threw a big party. I must confess that it was partly to celebrate her birthday and to show off the house!,” she says.
The status that comes with owning a house was to become a secret lesson for Yvonne as she later when she was grown prioritised purchasing a house. One can tell how she admired both the house and the respect her mother earned from those that came for the birthday party. In most of her stories, award-winning Dr Vera inquisitively creates female characters and yet underlines them with an unsaid motif that women are also able or that women cannot be ‘‘owned’’ but can own themselves. Her writing raised eyebrows with its themes which portrayed various forms of suppression of women.
Mum Gwetai writes in her biography that when Dr Vera returned to Zimbabwe from Canada in 1995, she first bought her own house and she partied with friends and relatives. Wasn’t it a joyous recollection of achievement she had leant on the sidelines of her 21st birthday party?
A genius Dr Vera was. Although she mainly wrote fiction, she was a brilliant poet as can be seen in her writing which is mostly described as ‘‘poetic fiction’’. Mum Gwetai says that Dr Vera’s inquisitive mind started to show when she was her teacher in Grade One.
“The moment I would like to share is when I was her grade one teacher in rural Tsholotsho in the 70s. She opened one of the books (a teacher’s guide) and said, ‘Wow! I thought that you teachers were intelligent but now I know that you copy all the things you teach us from books like this!,’” says mum Gwetai.
Asked if there are any plans to name some building like a library or street after the late Dr Vera in her birthplace, mum Gwetai said, “I think she was immortalised by the biography that I wrote titled ‘Petal Thoughts: Yvonne Vera’. A book will never die!”
Indeed, a book never dies. The collection of titles Dr Vera left us is also a timeless treasure. In 1992, she published her debut book, a short story anthology “Why Don’t You Carve Other Animals”.
Her novel “Nehanda” (1993) was followed by “Without A Name” (1994). Her other works are “Under Her Tongue” (1996), “Butterfly Burning” and “The Stone Virgins” (2002). In 1997 Dr Yvonne won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book (Africa Region) and in 2002 she scooped the Macmillan Writers’ Prize for Africa.
Today under the hot September sun as we commemorate the 54th birthday anniversary of this iconic daughter of Zimbabwe who was a gift to the world, we also pray to the Lord.
May her soul continue to rest in peace.