Artists seeking freedom in exile feature

October 29, 2011 by newsdzezimbabwe

Award winning author, Chenjerai Hove says exile has broken up his family.

Hove, 55, has been exiled for 10 years and in the process has lost more than a home — from a wife who stayed behind and divorced him to loved ones who have passed on without the comfort of his presence. Most of his children are “scattered” throughout the African continent; one lives in Michigan.

His crime: speaking out against a violent regime.

In Zimbabwe, Hove denounced the massive killings that began shortly after the end of white colonial rule in 1980, just as blacks were beginning to enjoy their freedom. President Robert Mugabe, newly elected by a landslide, sent his military to the province of Matabeleland to rid his government of rival black insurgents. Some 20,000 people were reportedly killed and thousands more tortured.

Mugabe banned the discussion of the violence, and his critics were harassed, arrested and jailed.

A high school teacher, Hove wrote about the violence under both white and black rule in his poetry and novels – Bones and Shadows are the two best known – and he rose to prominence in Africa and Europe. But at home, he became an outcast and a target of the regime, which at one point tried to buy his silence by offering him a ministry post.

Hove has been in Miami since January.

This flawed and fascinating city is where Chenjerai Hove — one of Zimbabwe’s most prominent authors, a man forced into exile by a despot — has found a safe place to write, a temporary family among regulars at Pub One near his rented apartment downtown, and in Little Haiti, “a shop where I can buy all African foods.”

“… Goat heads or crow trotters or green vegetables similar to the ones we find home, sweet potatoes of many hues of colour and shape,” Hove tells us in a new memoir that chronicles his passage through Miami, Homeless Sweet Home.

A publishing project by Books & Books, the memoir debuts at the upcoming Miami International Book Fair, Nov. 13-20, and shines a special light on Miami’s role in a North American networking effort that finds places where persecuted writers can temporarily live and work under sponsorship.

Hove is the first writer hosted under the “Miami: City of Refuge” program run by the Florida Center for the Literary Arts at Miami Dade College and funded by the John S. and James L Knight Foundation. He has been here since January of last year and his stay ends in December, when he returns to Norway, a country that gave him permanent residency and issued travel documents after Zimbabwean officials took away his passport and left him stateless.

In Miami, Hove is a keen observer. He sees what we often don’t take time to notice.

“There is more talking than shopping in the supermarket,” Hove notes, and he’s touched by “the kind-hearted man who ran to the bus stop to give me the small change I had forgotten at the counter.”

He sees what we’d rather not.

“This is a developed country and I see so many people living the street, and I say, this is what we have been protesting in my country,” he tells me in a wide-ranging conversation about his life and his stay here. “It’s our responsibility to protect the weakest. If you protect the weakest, then you will really be great.”

His time here has been fruitful. A new anthology of poetry, Love and Other Ghosts, including some poems written in Miami, is scheduled to be published in the United Kingdom next spring.

“Exile gives me the detachment I need to concentrate on writing,” he says.

He writes in an unlikely place. Amid the bustle of a commercialized bayfront where some of us see only tourists, chain shops and peddlers of souvenir photographs with squawking parrots, Hove finds a perfect spot to work in the afternoons.

He walks to Bayside, satchel draped over his shoulder, takes out his notebooks and his thoughts fly across the ocean to the ancient land of his birth.

Other days, he stays until nightfall with the owner and regulars at Pub One, where everyone calls him “Chen” and knows he’s a formidable foe at the billiard table.

“This is my life in Miami,” he says. “Sometimes I need the noise. I need a lot of noise.”

With a $5 Metrorail day pass, he canvasses neighborhoods from Dadeland to Hialeah. He rides the bus. He walks everywhere.

“I’m a very bad tourist because I don’t want to be guided,” he says. “I want to find the places on my own.”

He’s leaving a footprint at the college where he’s a writer-in-residence, and in teenagers who’ve heard him speak through a Miami Dade Library System program that features Hove at branches from West Kendall to California Club.

“He’s a powerful speaker,” says his assistant, Pablo Hernández-Cartaya.

Hove sees links some of us might easily miss. So much of our culture reminds him of home.

He sees “how ordinary people joyfully dance at the open concert place without feeling ashamed of their body movement to express their deeper longing for their homelands in faraway places, which become nearer as they dance the samba, salsa, flamenco, the African rhumba from Congo and other confusing dances from all parts of Africa, where their spirit was whisked away and their drums burnt so they could not sing and dance again to the rhythm of their original source.”

In Miami, he feels at home.  MIAMI HERALD


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