a conversation with L. LEE LOWE
by Tinashe Mushakavanhu
SLQ had a short conversation with writer, L. Lee Lowe, who is widely travelled and publishes her on stories online and widely distributes them for free on the internet through serialisations, weekly podcasts and free downloads. Her first novel reached an amazing feat by surpassing 10, 000 downloads. However, the conversation is not very comprehensive. It focuses more on her experiences in and with Zimbabwe as she spent 18 years in the country and fortunately witnessed its transition from colonial rule to its ‘political’ independence. She now lives in Cologne, Germany with her family. She has written two novels, Mortal Ghosts and Corvus (an excerpt of which is published in this issue of SLQ) and several short stories. Corvus, is described as “part odyssey, part tragedy, part riff on the nature of consciousness.”
I am a fervent advocate of ‘open culture’ – perhaps because of my many years in Zimbabwe.” Which period did you live in Zimbabwe and how would you say that impacted on your creative and social life?
I lived in Zimbabwe from 1978-1996, which meant I lived through the period just before independence as well as the time of transition and new social and political order. At the outset I was excited as many by the possibilities of this situation. Since my husband was a lecturer in theology, minister to what was originally a German congregation, and administrator of several international aid projects, we concentrated on building multiracial understanding – in essence, reconciliation.
Where are you originally from? And do you still have a strong connection with that place as a source of identity and inspiration in your interactions with the world?
I was born in Manhattan and grew up on Long Island. Though I tend to view myself as something of an exile – writers are essentially outsiders in one way or another – the childhood years form a person indelibly, and in some sense I will always remain an American. The hardest part of living in a foreign country is, for a writer, the loss of one’s native language. Obviously I still speak and read it, as well as write in it, but the ebb and flow of the living language is missing.
Born in New York and educated in the US, France and Germany and worked in Zimbabwe. How much has the idea of exile and movement affected your identity and creative work?
A writer in exile is always in search of roots. Perhaps this too is a reason why I tend to set my fiction in half real, half imagined places.
What do you think of the book culture and literature of Zimbabwe, that is, from your time when you lived there and now as an outsider observing from a distance?
It is a young book culture full of drive and energy. An oral tradition which lies closer than that in the Western world makes its sense of voice particularly rich and strong. And of course the colonial past needs to be re-imagined: first in terms of rejection, now in a new postcolonial phase.
Dambudzo Marechera is an iconic figure in Zimbabwe today. In your own view, what makes him such a relevant voice today?
He was wild and daring, angry and searing, but highly intelligent, well read, and truly experimental as well.
The fanaticism around Marechera is mostly among young men in Zimbabwe. What would you think puts off women from his writings and almost cultic influence?
Interesting question, and I’m not really able to suggest an answer. Perhaps women are less susceptible to this sort of myth?
I am fascinated by the way you have decided to use the internet to broadcast your own work, and free of charge. Do you think the internet has revolutionised the way we process our literature for the good? What have you learnt and gained from your own experiences?
The internet cuts two ways: it makes a great deal available globally but has changed the way we read, at least for many. The brain is so very plastic that I fear the talk of decreased attention span and constant search for stimulation has a real basis in fact. To read a layered, complex text online is less attractive than surfing. But all new forms of technology give rise, eventually, to new art forms – think film, for example – and I’m sure this will be no exception, even if I have no way of predicting what such forms will be.
For my part, I simply use the internet as a means of publication because it gives me the freedom to write exactly how I choose without the need for commercial considerations. It doesn’t matter to me whether I have 100 readers or 100,000. (The number is somewhere in between.) And those who have no access to books, or can’t afford them, often do find my writing – even by mobile/cellphone in Zimbabwe!
Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned is to trust myself. I’m very dissatisfied with earlier work, but being forced to be my own editor has become a gift rather than just a necessity. Any writer who does not learn to edit herself, always and without mercy, is only doing half her job. Am I there yet? No, of course not, but that’s a writer’s lot – the elusive search for perfection.