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Petina Gappah 


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Website: PetinaGappah.com

Petina Gappah  is a Zimbabwean writer with law degrees from Cambridge, Graz University, and the University of Zimbabwe. Her short fiction and essays have been published in eight countries. She lives with her son Kush in Geneva, where she works as counsel in an international organisation that provides legal aid on international trade law to developing countries. She is currently completing The Book of Memory, her first novel. 

Short Story Collections

 An Elegy for Easterly
Faber and Faber, 2009

Shortlisted for the 2009 Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award

Reviewed by Tania Hershman

 Interview with Petina Gappah

The Short Review: How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?

Petina Gappah: I wrote the first story in May 2006, it was the first short story I had ever written, I called it Something Nice from London. That story's surprising success encouraged to write more short stories. My third story did well in the SA PEN competition judged by JM Coetzee. I wrote more and more stories, until I had about 22 stories in something like one and a half years.

TSR: Did you have a collection in mind when you were writing them?

PG: I did not have a collection in mind at all, especially because very early on in my writing career, someone pretty high up in publishing had told me that there was no interest in story collections. So I wrote stories as a way of flexing my writing muscle, and to find my "voice", with no thought of collecting them in a single volume, until my agent Claire Paterson, at the time we were looking for publishers for my novel, suggested putting them together in a single manuscript. I was stunned when Faber offered to publish them. This went against all that I had heard about publishers' loathing of short stories.

TSR: How did you choose which stories to include and in what order?

PG: I initially wanted 15 of the stories that I had written to be included. My American editor Mitzi Angel did not like one of the stories, and in the end, I agreed with her that it was rather weak. I also took out another that I thought was poor. That left us with 13. I then took out yet another one, and replaced it with a new story, the last story in the book. It was a story that I had always wanted to write, and I wrote it in one week flat so that it could be included. The order that I wanted initially had been a chronological one, I wanted to start with the stories that were set before independence and continue on until the present day. My rather lofty idea then was that the main character in the collection was the country of Zimbabwe itself, and I wanted the reader to see it grow or regress through each story. But that approach was too artificial, too forced, and in the end, the stories simply fell into place on the basis of which one I managed to finish editing first.

TSR: What does the word "story" mean to you?

PG:  It means getting lost, getting completely immersed, in a world that is more real than my real world.

TSR: Do you have a "reader" in mind when you write stories?

PG:  I write for one particular person. If he likes something, then I know that I have nailed it, and I know that others will like it too. He is my Jillsy Sloper.

TSR: Is there anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your collection, anything at all?

PG: What colour were SisiJenny's dress and shoes?

TSR: How does it feel knowing that people are buying your book?

PG: More than a little strange, and not a little thrilling. What is really strange is that it will also be read in at least 7 different languages.

TSR: What are you working on now?

PG: I am writing my first novel, called The Book of Memory. I am also working on a new short story that I hope will be the best thing that I have written so far.

TSR: What are the three most recent short story collections you've read?

PGI recently reread Yiyun Li's superlative A Thousand Years of Good Prayers, which is one of the best collections of short fiction that I have read by a contemporary writer. And Christopher Hope's The Garden of Bad Dreams, which was weird and wonderful and very funny. I also read and enjoyed Wells Tower's Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned.