Thoughts on culture, education, and having been a Canadian in the US
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The Death of Yvonne Vera

One of the great discoveries for me last year when I taught a course on 20th Century world literature in English was the work of Yvonne Vera from Zimbabwe. I taught her novel Under the Tongue, which is a powerful and unforgettable book about one girl’s attempt to find herself in the face of incest, war, and the complex workings of society and family. The book won the Commonwealth Writers Prize in 1997 and Vera quickly became one of the rising stars in African literature.

Sadly, Vera died a few weeks ago in Toronto after an extended battle with meningitis. She was only 38. She had lived in Canada on and off for the past number of years, having done her PhD at York University and then teaching there before returning to Zimbabwe to become quite quickly the country’s best known young writer and the Director of the National Gallery in Bulawayo. Later, after being struck with meningitis, she returned to Toronto to battle through her illness and to work on her sixth book.

Vera’s death is a great, great loss to the world of literature and to the people of Zimbabwe. Fortunately we can remember her through the remarkably rich body of work she left behind.


1 Tendai { 09.27.07 at 2:33 pm }

The title of you obituary is questionable. Its impplications are that Yvonne Vera was claiming a Canadian identity yet she was ill. I don’t think her condition should confused with questions of nationality and shifting identities, its a false analysis that politicises Vera’s tragic illness in the wrong way. She was a prolific writer who was passionate abt her native land, Zimbabwe where she lived and she sought treatment in Canada. To raise questions of nationality as a result of this is an erroneous, over-interpretation of a private individual’s search for treatment.
I thought I should point that out, even though this article was written at the time of Vera’s passing, over two years ago from now.
Tendai Marima

2 Paul Martin { 09.27.07 at 3:02 pm }

Sorry for any confusion. The title of my blog, which has been running for nearly four years now, is “As Canadian as Possible Under the Circumstances;” the title of my entry about Yvonne Vera (published shortly after her death) is simply “The Death of Yvonne Vera.” I’m a great admirer of her work, and I would be the last person to suggest she claimed a Canadian identity in any way (just as I know that as a Canadian living in the US, I am in no way suggesting that I am somehow now an American).