Tsitsi Dangarembga’s next work won’t be read by anyone until 2114

The Zimbabwean writer joins authors including Margaret Atwood and Ocean Vuong who have agreed to lock away new writing in the Future Library

Tsitsi Dangarembga made the Booker shortlist for her most recent novel, This Mournable Body, the story of a girl trying to make a life in post-colonial Zimbabwe which was praised as “magnificent” and “sublime”. Her next work, however, is likely to receive fewer accolades: it will not be revealed to the world until 2114.

The Zimbabwean writer is the eighth author selected for the Future Library project, an organic artwork dreamed up by the Scottish artist Katie Paterson. It began in 2014 with the planting of 1,000 Norwegian spruces in a patch of forest outside Oslo. Paterson is asking one writer a year to contribute a manuscript to the project – “the length of the piece is entirely for the author to decide” – with Margaret Atwood, Ocean Vuong and Karl Ove Knausgård already signed up. The works, unseen by anyone but the writers themselves, will be kept in a room lined with wood from the forest in the Deichman library in Oslo. One hundred years after Future Library was launched, in 2114, the trees will be felled, and the manuscripts printed for the first time.

The artwork “perfectly expresses my yearning for a human culture that centres the earth’s sustainability”, said Dangarembga. “I share with many other dwellers of our beautiful planet a deep sense of concern for our home’s wellbeing.

“Communicating through the project with those who will be present in 100 years’ time is thrilling and a privilege.”

Katie Paterson in the Nordmarka forest, Oslo
Katie Paterson in the Nordmarka forest, Oslo Photograph: © Vibeke Hermanrud

The author, whose acclaimed debut Nervous Conditions (1988) was the first novel written in English by a black woman from Zimbabwe, said she was already “settling on the story” she would tell. She was not worried about the fact that she will never know how her writing is received.

“I’m always my first audience. So I think as long as I’m satisfied, then I’ll be ready to let it go,” said the author . “I’ve been writing for a long time, and lots of things, without a great deal of feedback. When it comes, for example with This Mournable Body, that’s wonderful. But a lot of my life has been writing into the void. So I’m used to writing into the void.”

Paterson said that Future Library was “honoured” to include Dangarembga on a roster of authors that also includes David Mitchell, Han Kang, Sjón and Elif Shafak. “Tsitsi Dangarembga’s words have shaped the world. Praised for her ability to capture and communicate vital truths, the Zimbabwean novelist is admired worldwide as a voice of hope,” said Paterson. “She examines oppression, discrimination, and systemic racism, through writing that is brave and unforgettable.”

“It’s really quite shocking, because, you know, I don’t think of myself in those terms. I’m sure there are writers out there who know that they are that level of writer, but I don’t think of myself in those terms,” Dangarembga said. “So it’s really a great honour, I’m very pleased about it.”

Nervous Conditions, to which This Mournable Body is a sequel, was named by the BBC as one of the 100 books that shaped the world. Currently in Harare, the Zimbabwean author is working on a piece of non-fiction, and a speculative young adult novel. She is also awaiting a trial date after she was arrested during anti-corruption protests in Harare last year, and charged with intention to incite public violence. Authors and free speech organisations have called for the charges to be dropped, describing them as an outrage.


Alison Flood

The GuardianTramp

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