The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Spotlight on … Dambudzo Marechera Black Sunlight (1980)


‘While I was writing Black Sunlight I was reading books on intellectual anarchism to reinforce my own sense of protest against everything; I was reading Bakunin and Kropotkin. Intellectual anarchism is full of contradictions in the sense that it can never achieve its goals. If it achieves any goal at all, then it is no longer anarchism. And so one has to be in a perpetual state of change, without holding on to any certainties. And that element I put across very seriously as well as in a very frivolous vein.

‘At the same time a very heavy element in Black Sunlight is this idea about sexuality. Everything political becomes personal, everything personal becomes political, but the four are in a state of continuous tension, and therefore almost everything one says or does reeks actually of sex. A bullet can be a heavy sexual image. A bomb can be like the eruption of sperm in the womb. Most of the people I was living with were people who rejected traditional sexual roles and accepted sexuality as a liberating force in itself. As you know, I provide no answers, except only a rigorous re-evaluation, especially of western intellectual thought.’ — Dambudzo Marechera

‘Today we remember the extraordinary and explosive life of Dambudzo Marechera, the Zimbabwean ‘enfant terrible of African literature’ who on this day in 1987 died homeless, penniless and sick from AIDS on the streets of Harare at the age of thirty-five. Tragically for Marechera, even the greatest genius cannot flourish if through the misfortune of their awful circumstances they have become sociopathically programmed to deride contemporaries, to show absolute nihilistic contempt for academic and literary institutions and, at all opportunities, to bite the hands that attempt to feed them. Unfortunately, as the culture of Marechera’s war-torn birthplace had for the previous century been systematically used, abused and ultimately destroyed by White rule, such a brutal finale appears to have been the destiny of this perplexing figure – this simultaneously sensitive and insensitive Poet Brute whose task was always to question, provoke and even endanger all kinds of authority figures whom he would encounter in his too brief life.

‘Deadly aware of his ‘problem child’ reputation, Dambudzo blamed his mother for ‘cursing’ him with a first name that had traditionally been given to girls, and which means in his own Shona language ‘the one who brings trouble’. Little wonder then that this brilliant outsider would grow up seething with resentment. Born into extreme poverty, in 1952, Marechera as a young boy found his escape from his violent surroundings through reading, after obtaining his first book – a Victorian children’s encyclopaedia – from a rubbish dump. His homeland was at that time still named Rhodesia after the dreadful Victorian adventurer, Cecil Rhodes, whose gold and diamond mines had turned most of the population of former Matabeleland into his private slaves. Now still governed by the racist white minority under Prime Minister Ian Smith, Rhodesia was by 1965 boiling over with bile and antipathy, and Marechera was forced to enter his teenage years in a country mired in civil war – one that would not conclude until the creation of the Republic of Zimbabwe in 1979. His country’s instability, its permanent turmoil – these were the factors that most informed his art and his future lifestyle. And though Marechera’s singular if vexatious brilliance emerged soon afterwards, so too would the signs of an unstable personality that would persistently and ultimately sabotage his life.

‘Marechera won a scholarship to the University of Rhodesia but was expelled after his participation in campus riots in the summer of 1973. Shortly thereafter, he won a scholarship to Oxford University: a life-changing opportunity! Marechera, however, did not adapt well to British culture and in particular the rigid Oxford educational tradition. Alcoholism now fuelled his inherently rebellious nature; after numerous disruptions, his final act at Oxford was an attempt to set fire to the university’s New College. Given a choice between psychiatric treatment and expulsion, Marechera made his decision: “I got my things and left.”

‘Three years later, these six words would form the opening sentence of his extraordinary book, The House of Hunger – a collection of eight stories and two poems. After quitting Oxford, Marechera had chosen to live a shadowy existence in a tent by the River Isis in London where he wrote and drank. The House of Hunger was a semi-autobiographical account of violence, squalor, political upheaval, cultural and racial divides, and personal torment as viewed through the eyes of a Rimbaud-like boy-brat visionary – it found immediate acclaim, in 1979, going on to win the Guardian Prize for First Fiction. Marechera however rejected the plaudits in favour of self-sabotage: he arrived at the award ceremony wearing a flamboyant red poncho and proceeded to throw china, chairs and accusations of hypocrisy at his fellow participants. Marechera returned to the newly liberated Zimbabwe shortly after the publication of Black Sunlight, his surreal novel about revolution set in his nation’s violent landscape. But the author’s itinerant and recklessly provocative lifestyle continued in Harare, where his reputation, talent and future prospects were just not enough to prevent him from self-destructing. In the words of his biographer and champion, Flora Veit-Wild, Marechera’s “major quest in life and work was to fight any form of pretence, to unmask all forms of oppression of the individual’s freedom and rights.”

‘Dambudzo Marechera’s untimely vagabond death in no way reflects fairly the vivacious life of this extreme, almost heroically contrary figure. But it does aid Marechera’s legacy as his role as an African literary hero continues to gain momentum. In 2009, even stuffy Oxford University celebrated the life of their would-be arsonist!’ — On This Deity



Dambudzo Marechera @ Wikipedia
The 40-year-old “prophetic” novel that predicted the troubles of modern-day Zimbabwe
Dambudzo – A native of nowhere
Tribute to the extraordinary Dambudzo Marechera
DM @ goodreads
Dambudzo Marechera Archive at Humboldt Universität zu Berlin
The Grotesque Body of the Postcolony
Four poems by Dambudzo Marechera
Dambudzo Marechera – Beyond the Single Story
The life of Marechera
Unpacking Dambudzo Marechera: Part One
Soul-Food for the Starving
Abjection in Dambudzo Marechera’s The House of Hunger
The Fourth Dimension: Dambudzo Marechera as a Dramatist
Vindicating Dambudzo Marechera
Dambudzo Marechera: a man beyond his time?
Buy ‘Black Sunlight’



Dambudzo Marechera interview: His Life and Work

A visit to Dambudzo Marechera’s untidy grave

Dambudzo Marechera (late) on his visit to Zim after 8 Year in UK


Constructed Interview


Tinashe Mushakavanhu: Where does the problem lie in Zimbabwe? Who is to blame for the crisis in Zimbabwe today?

Dambudzo Marechera: We in Zimbabwe know who the enemy is. The enemy is just not white, he is also black. The police force, the army in Zimbabwe are three-quarters black. They have always been. And for me…I believe that to see the Zimbabwe struggle as merely a black versus white struggle is stupid and naïve. And hence, in most of my work, there’s always a mistrust of politicians, no matter who they are.

TM: Zimbabwe has been constantly in the news as a kind of hell on earth. What is the actual state of affairs in Zimbabwe?

DM: The rich are getting more powerful and richer and the poor are getting poorer. Any writer worth his name cannot write about that, the publishers are afraid of Government attitude towards anything they publish which may not be considered patriotic.

TM: What is your opinion on the present leadership?

DM: This is a weird world of mechanical speeches; lullabying the povo with mobile horizon promises (what is Zimasset?). They are quick to mend legislation; so the world is what they make it for us who are passive, we who they shamelessly claim to have liberated from the white man. With that as their pretext, they weigh their grievous lot on us day in day out. All we hear are empty slogans.

TM: In the past three decades, the ballot has failed to effect political change. Is it better for Zimbabweans to resort to violence?

DM: I am against everything, against war and those against war, against whatever diminishes the individual’s blind impulse.

TM: What is your comment on the historical domination of Zanu (PF) in post-independence Zimbabwe?

DM: I am afraid of one-party states, especially where you have more slogans than content in terms of policy and its implementation. I have never lived under a one-party state, except under pre-independence Zimbabwe, Ian Smith’s Rhodesia, which was virtually a one-party state. And what I read about one-party states makes me, frankly, terrified.

TM: After 36 years of misrule and dazzling corruption, do you think independence is a reality for the majority, or just an illusion?

DM: I think some things have been improved. But basically our revolution has only changed life for the new black middle class, those who got university degrees overseas during the struggle. For them, independence is a reality; it has changed their income, their housing conditions and so on and so on. But for the working classes and the peasants, it’s still the same hard work, low pay, rough conditions of living. In other words, I don’t think independence so far has really made any significant change as far as the working class are concerned; especially for those who committed themselves to become fighters. They joined ZANLA or ZIPRA before they’d finished their education. Most of them are now unemployed and live in the streets. This is what I wrote about in Mindblast.

TM: Indeed, Mindblast gives a blistering account of the early years of independence. Why do you think Zimbabwe downplayed your significance as a writer?

DM: In some ways there is a certain disconnection between my profession as a writer and the needs of Zimbabwe as a developing country. A developing country doesn’t really need a writer like me. It needs teachers, it needs development officers, it needs people who will help to build a better future for the working class and the peasants. I had come back armed with a profession which is irrelevant to development.

TM: It seems contemporary Zimbabwean writers are uncertain about their stand today. Was it easier for your lot before 1980?

DM: Oh yes, it was. Because the objective was to fight racism and obtain independence. After UDI in 1965 Ian Smith deliberately created the Rhodesia Literature Bureau to promote a certain kind of Shona and Ndebele literature which would be used in the schools and perpetuate the idea that racism is for the good of the blacks. And we had writers who were writing the very books Ian Smith wanted the blacks to read. In primary school I was taught Shona literature which caricatures black people and which was in line with the specific political policies before independence. One of the main themes in Shona literature of that period was the story about a person coming from the rural areas thinking that he’d have a good life in the city. Then he or she comes to the city and goes through hardship and decides to go back to the rural areas because that’s where heaven is. Now this was in direct line with the urban influx control policy. Blacks were being discouraged by the city council and by the government to come to the cities.

In other words, even before I left the country, the literature which was being written here had no relevance to me or even to our people, to those who knew. Before independence you had two schools of thought among writers: those who participated in Ian Smith’s propaganda programme, and those who had to run into exile and write protest literature. You will find that after independence the ones who were in the first school are now the ones in high positions, and those who were part of the Zimbabwean protest literature are the ones who are having problems or who have been forced to compromise themselves. Literature is now seen merely as another instrument of official policy and therefore the writer should not practise art for art’s sake or write like Franz Kafka or like James Joyce or explore the subconscious of our new society. All that is for European bourgeois literature. And that’s why for instance my work is condemned. One of the reasons given by the censorship board when they banned Black Sunlight on August 7th, 1981, before I had come back, was that Dambudzo Marechera is trying to be European, that this book has got no relevance to the development of the Zimbabwean nation.

TM: The economic downturn has driven many people out of the country, though in your own case what drove you out of the country was the political madness of the time. Tell me, when you came back after years of exile in Britain, what kind of country did you expect?

DM: The only idea I had of what to expect was what I had been reading in the British press about the struggle here and about what was going on in Uganda, about the military coups in Nigeria and so on and so on. In other words, the idea that our own independence would be another disaster had been instilled in me very much. The first time I heard the Prime Minister’s motorcade, and there were suddenly all these sirens going, “whee, whee, whee”, I thought, “shit, another civil war has started.” And I rushed to my hotel room and just locked the door, listening hard, waiting for the gunfire. Some people here call the motorcade ‘Bob and his Wailers,’ after Bob Marley.

TM: The Third Chimurenga came up with a wholly new cultural programme meant to celebrate Mugabe the supreme leader, first secretary of ZANU PF, commander of defence forces, chancellor of all universities through musical galas, political jingles, etc. What in your view is the relationship between culture and politics?

DM: Here we have a deliberate campaign to promote Zimbabwean culture: everyone is talking about it, building it, developing it. When politicians talk about culture, one had better pack one’s rucksack and run, because it means the beginning of unofficial censorship…. When culture is emphasised in such a nationalistic way that can lead to fascism. When in Nazi Germany culture started to be defined in a nationalistic way, it meant that all other people, all other nations were stupid; it meant intellectuals, painters, writers, lecturers, being persecuted or being assassinated. In this sense, all nationalism always frightens me, because it means the products of your own mind are now being segregated into official and unofficial categories, and that only the officially admired works must be seen. All the other work we must hide or tear up.

*All the responses are actual quotes from Dambudzo Marechera.



Dambudzo Marechera Black Sunlight
Penguin Classics

‘“I really tried to put terrorism into a historical perspective, neither applauding their acts nor condemning them. The photographer does not take sides; he just takes the press photographs.” In an unspecified setting the stream-of-consciousness narrative of this cult novel traces the fortunes of a group of anarchists in revolt against a military-fascist-capitalist opposition. The protagonist is photojournalist Chris, whose camera lens becomes the device through which the plot is cleverly unraveled. In Dambudzo Marechera’s second experimental novel, he parodies African nationalist and racial identifications as part of an argument that notions of an ‘essential African identity’ were often invoked to authorize a number of totalitarian regimes across Africa. Such irreverent, avant-garde literature was criticized upon publication in Zimbabwe in 1980, and Black Sunlight was banned on charges of ‘Euromodernism’ and as a challenge to the concept of nation-building in the newly independent country.’ — Penguin


Through the open window. The fucking window, a slashing wind blows. Through the open window. Within this pale womb with its beard, a brutal story writhes. Night imprisoned in the room stayed with me all day long. Laughter’s broken glass, through the fucking window. Is the view. The endless glittering view of gigantic humid trees shutting out the sun. A thin mould of history covers the walls. Covers the blood, flesh and bones. A black skin, thin and minute. Covers the darkness in the room. Through the open window, blows the slashing wind.

From a long ago, astonishment comes. From a once upon a time, that fucking window of fiction, astonishment comes. Blowing on his fingers. Thrust of pistonknees shoots through the giant, the humid, the fetid trees. Trees clenched against the astonishing news.

‘I tell you it was white from head to foot. It was bathing by the blunt rock falls. It was human in form but I tell you it was white, so pale you could almost see the red flesh the white bones and the blue veins, see them through the white skin.’

The chief, as black as human beginnings, pondered. What new madness had struck this messenger? White men indeed! The chief removed his foot from my head.

He chuckled.

‘White meat. We’ll have white meat one of these days. White cunts. White arses…’

The thought like a seed burst into bloom.

Erect between his sweating chunks of thighs.

I ventured to smile, laughing behind clenched teeth. At the chief’s erection.

The sharp blade of his eye slashed through a hole in my soul. The verdict:

‘Throw him down the pit-latrine!’

I threw myself at his feet, cringing.

‘ Not again, not again, not again, O great chief,’ I begged.

He was contemplating his gigantic erection. He looked sly.

‘Then suck my cock,’ he said.

I visibly flinched. Shrank back to the waiting guards and pleaded:

‘Throw me down the pit-latrine this minute.’


I had never killed before. But killing suddenly seemed only a small irrelevancy to the interior happenings of the house. But they were indissolubly connected to what was happening out there. However ephemerally. We had I suppose talked and behaved ourselves into a mood whose shadow would always outgrow us. No longer could we register the temperature of the blood in ourselves. The reading of the instincts and archetypal triggers. We had so given ourselves up for lost that there was only a meaninglessness which perhaps cybernetics could trace on a graph. At the same time the thoughts that controlled our feelings were not those of where straight lines come from nor where they go. There was no centre either, no circumference, but as it were spiraling nebulae, galaxies beyond galaxies, exploding wildly outward, hurtling away towards the incredible infinite that lay beyond the boundaries in where we had lingered.




p.s. Hey. ** Corey Heiferman, Hi. Oh, cool. My grandmother was a taxidermist by profession, and I grew up in the company of stuffed wolves and owls and lions and gila monsters and you name it, and I turned out strange but fairly okay. Oh, I suppose if you don’t like bands to self-inebriate onstage it’s more of a taste thing than a puritanical thing? I guess I don’t mind if bands drink or get high onstage. I never think one way or another about it. In fact, thinking back, some of the most exciting rock shows I’ve ever seen involved very drunk bands: GbV, The Replacements, Germs, others. Interesting topic. Me too, re: preferring bookstore purchasing but same deal here. The vaunted Shakespeare and Co. is pretty much a tourist trap unless you read best sellers. There is a great used English language bookstore. And a great one that mostly sells art and theory books. That’s about it. ** David Ehrenstein, Oh, ha ha, yes, how could I have forgotten him and his, it’s true? ** Keatongiving, I’ve never practiced necrophilia, obviously, or I hope that’s obvious, although, given my ‘reputation’, who knows, but I did interview a ‘recovered’ necrophiliac once ages ago. He said that unless you can get the dead body fresh, in the first two hours, it’s gross unless you wait until after the organs are removed, and then the ‘sex’ is basically symbolic. So there you go, ha ha. Enjoy the tanning and crunchy ground and the sound of the crashing waves and whatever else beaches give out. I can’t remember. ** _Black_Acrylic, Oops, typo, obviously, and I’ll fix that post-haste. Thanks. ** Rewritedept, Yeah, the blog has gotten all passive-aggressive. The plan is for Zac and me to be there for the LA screening, yes. That’s not set in stone, but it’s pretty chiseled. Man, your move-related high is palpable. Nice. Later, dude. ** Steve Erickson, Hi. Here’s hoping the antibiotics do what science intends. No, I am embracing the non-existence of Thanksgiving over here. It’s a holiday I always dreaded, so I’m cool. Might finally see the new Claire Denis this afternoon barring mishap. Good, good, on the later stage progress on your film! Genre-less music is an interesting ideal. Seems like one would need to redefine or parse some genres’ outlines to get there or decide that there is some perfect balance/blur that would erase a music’s context. Could definitely be an interesting think piece. ** Bill, Thanks, Bill. I was thinking you might dig it. I don’t know that Alexis Turner book, but, now I’m thinking Gisele might have mentioned it. She’s way into dioramas. She considers ‘This Is How You Will Disappear’ as a diorama with things going on inside it. Oh, wow, I don’t know Rina Banerjee’s work, and that looks really interesting. I’ll pursue, thank you! Keep having fun. I hear the air might be breathable by the time you get back home. ** Right. Dambudzo Marechera is a super powerful writer if you don’t already know his works. See if you agree. And see you tomorrow.


  1. David Ehrenstein

    Dambudzo Marechera shows just how little White Imperialism knows about life.

  2. Misanthrope

    Dennis, “The chief, as black as human beginnings, pondered.” Fucking awesome line right there.

    Well, no flu. And no cold. As far as I can tell. At one point, I was like, “Have I been poisoned?” Hahaha. Soooo weird. I had chills, nausea, and ached, but I had no fever at all. Just a general feeling of un-wellness. I soldiered through, of course, taking my zinc treatment just in case. I really think it was to do with either something I ate or a tomfuckery to do with this mesh in my stomach or a combination of the two. I’ve had food poisoning before, and it was nothing like that. I just focused on getting more rest than usual, and I guess that did the trick.

    Yeah, I had to read Franzen’s “rules.” They were shit, hahaha. Some didn’t make sense at all. One was “never use ‘then’ as a conjunction; always use ‘and.’ ” Dumb shit like that. And a couple that essentially said technology sucks and we shouldn’t use it. Or something like that.

    I had just re-read Hemingway’s seven rules for writing from years ago. Even if you don’t agree with them or subscribe to them, they actually make sense, like, “Yeah, I could see how that could be beneficial.” But these Franzen rules are just hilariously weirdo stuff.

    Yes, Thanksgiving! I’ll just be eating, watching football, and I hope writing today. Oh, and getting a lot of sleep. I’m going to a friend’s tomorrow night to watch Timothee C. in HOT SUMMER NIGHTS. That’ll be fun, even if the movie sucks.

  3. _Black_Acrylic

    Thank you for this intoduction to Dambudzo Marechera, I always appreciate a good enfant terrible and he seems like a great one.

    Just had a really nice online meeting with the Yuck ‘n Yum team for the first time in what seems like ages. Everyone is asking after the various contributors from the DC’s blog and I hereby pass on all of YNY’s regards.

  4. James Nulick


    Dambudzo Marechera and Lawrence Braithwaite appeared to follow some of the same trajectories… expulsion, rejection of society, erratic behavior, confrontational, dead at an early age… you know the old cliche … some of the brightest candles…

    Thank you for introducing me to yet another writer I’d never heard of! After your awesome intro, I was intrigued enough to purchase the only copy of ‘Black Sunlight’ available on eBay at the moment. It cost me a pretty penny, though, and in paperback, no less! Hopefully it will be worth all that phat coin! There are copies available on Abebooks, but they are all over $100 …. yikes! I just can’t bring myself to pay $100 for a paperback book.

    I bought a signed copy of Bosun directly from New Juche last week, looking forward to receiving it from Thailand! I contacted him via email, He says his internet is kind of weird when it comes to looking at websites, like DCs, for instance.

    How has your Thursday been treating you? Are you still hammering out the three episode TV script? No long weekend for me, I have to work tomorrow… such a drag.

    Much love,

  5. NutGobblerakaFishon

    Haha, what? As Type O sang, “loving you was like loving the dead. was like fucking the dead!” I feel like I have slept with a dead person. I did have a thing for fucking passed out people, my Caspar routine. one kid woke up and flipped. fresh makes sense but then there’s bundy hed ghoul them for months. Haha you crack me up. A turkey will always say Frisk to me lol. turkeys in the oven. tomorrow is Black Friday I’m gonna go somewhere and fight over something lol that’s my babies cabbage patch bish. cool post, I think of Robert mugabe I wanted to name my child that or Rimbaud talking of the many colors of people in Harar Leopolds ghost kinnisons Ethiopia joke Africa is so many things back to this turkey obsession

  6. Steve Erickson

    When I talked to my dad today, he said he felt slightly better. He was sneezing so heavily that it was hard for him to hold down a conversation, but his hay fever has been an issue ever since the heat came on in my parents’ house last month. He’s only be taking antibiotics since Tuesday evening, so it’s too early to tell.

    I’ve watched four of the British “mentalist”/”illusionist” Derren Brown’s TV specials on YouTube or Netflix over the past few weeks. What interests me is that their surface material is dark but supposedly in the service of a progressive political agenda: his latest Netflix show, SACRIFICE, is about a xenophobic man whom he pushes to see the error of his ways. He first became famous in the UK with a show where he played Russian roulette on live TV (shortly afterwards, it was revealed in the wake of complaints to the police that he was using blanks, and from the way the show is shot and edited, I’m certain that the gun wasn’t even loaded with genuine blanks when he put it to his head, rolled around the barrel and pulled the trigger.) He seems to have gone in the direction of trying to bring THE MAGUS or THE TRUMAN SHOW to life, with very elaborate and expensive set-ups devised to manipulate people (in two separate shows, to convince men to kill , and in another, that the apocalypse has happened.) And ultimately, the political goals seem like a thin justification to revel in that manipulation, although I listened to part of a recent podcast with Brown, and he seems smart and well-read enough to talk about what he’s doing without sounding like dumb schtick.

    The concept of “genre-less fans” has also been brought up, but it seems more like the norm now. I wonder if there could be another rebellion along the lines of punk, with its sense of Year Zero and strict rules about what’s cool to listen to. Rough Trade Records puts out a printed guide to its 10 “albums of the month,” and it’s common to see a range of reference points as wide as Michael Jackson, Faust, Dory Previn, Nick Cave, Soft Cell and Superorganism (for the British band Audiobooks.)

    I’m not at all used to weather in the 20s (Fahrenheit) as early as Nov. 22nd, and it’s really unpleasant, especially when I’m alone on a holiday and thinking about my parents’ aging and mortality.

  7. Colin Herd

    Hi Dennis, This is a really amazing post. I’m ashamed I didn’t know about Marechera, but I’m really excited to learn more. That interview is just great: “a weird world of mechanical speeches” rings a bell…! We had a great Zimbabwean writer here recently called Chirikure Chirikure… my favourite of his poems: WE SHALL NOT SLEEP
    No-one is going to sleep a wink this year
    till we fix this whole mess
    No-one is going to close an eyelid
    till we get to the bottom of this

    We can’t just watch while you tear things down
    We can’t just keep quiet while you stir up storms
    We can’t just stare while you bring the walls down
    We can’t just cross our arms while you cook up a stink

    That day you assaulted granny, we said nothing
    The other day you sold the family milk cow, we said nothing
    Only yesterday you set fire to the family granary, again we said nothing

    And, now today?
    Today will you shit in the water-well?
    shit in the well?
    shit in the family water-well?

    I hope you are well. It’s so long since I checked in here. I’ve been really enjoying the Gig the other day and also need to get a hold of the Lally collected. I have ‘Just Let Me Do It’ which is brilliant. Anyway, I wanted to ask you about getting a reading arranged in Glasgow some time (I know I’ve mentioned this before) but basically whenever suited you we could get arranged and we’d have funds to organise it. Also, a student of mine who is a great writer and big fan of yours is putting together a publication with a cool Gallery and Independent Publishing shop called Good Press – I think they wanted to ask your permission to include a previously published poem of yours in it. The email I have for you is o-o-d I think so if you are interested in this or the reading and can drop me a quick line that would be amazing. Sorry for this business-y message!! Colin x

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