Defining Successful Writing in Zambia

By Ingrid Nayame.

Writing can be defined variously by different cultures, but good writing is universally understood. So what counts as successful writing in Zambia? Is it fame and wealth that decide if a writer is great? Or is it communicating people’s deepest experiences—their spirits, struggles, and pain? In Zambia, excellent writing may not use fancy language. I believe successful writers are the ones who awaken weary hearts and break silence. They are not here to please experts or sell many books. They are here to help people see the truth that can heal. They spark change and light within. When writers give voice and vision to lift their community, this is a meaningful and virtuous achievement.

The Journey of Mubanga Kalimamukwento

I know of successful writers like Mubanga Kalimamukwento, who won the Dinaane Debut Fiction Award for her first novel, The Mourning Bird. She also claimed The Kalemba Short Story Prize in 2019. Additionally, her short story, Thandiwe, was shortlisted for the prestigious 2022 Commonwealth Short Story Prize. Most recently, Mubanga was awarded the 2023 Miles Morland Foundation grant supporting African writers. She has also been named the 2024 recipient of the distinguished Drue Heinz Literature Prize for her short story collection Obligations To The Wounded, considered one of America’s highest honours for a compendium of short fiction. Furthermore, Mubanga won the 2022 Tusculum Review Poetry Chapbook Contest, selected by esteemed judge Carmen Giménez Smith.

Through numerous accolades across genres and continents, Mubanga has cemented her reputation as an accomplished and lauded author within the international writing community.

In accumulating this esteemed constellation of literary honours, Mubanga epitomizes the very essence of impactful writing I described—to spark change and light within her community through voice and vision. Mubanga’s level of literary success demands tremendous persistence and dedication to mastering one’s craft. The writing path she has bravely forged from Zambia across oceans requires facing countless rejections and obstacles out of public view. If we knew the full extent of challenges confronting Mubanga as an expatriate author, we might abandon aspirations for such honours. Yet she persists tirelessly, boldly knocking on gatekeepers’ doors closed to marginalized voices. She elevates human stories, which are seldom told with sensitivity and care, using her literary talent.

So while accolades now confirm Mubanga’s creative excellence, the arduous road defining a writer never ends, regardless of mounting recognition. For those from underrepresented communities, external achievement only scratches the surface of what must burn within—that resilient force whispering at each new dawn: write your vivid truth again today despite all silence and doubt. This fire, not trophies, marks the successful storyteller or writer.

Finding Success on Your Own Terms

Ingrid Nayame, winner of two NGOMA Awards trophies in 2023.

As a young writer, dreams of fame and fortune from your writing feel within reach. But for those residing in Zambia, success wears many faces. Personally my achievement begins with completing my first manuscript―regardless of what comes after.

Living as a writer here brings daily struggles unknown to wider audiences. With scarce resources, perseverance reaches new depths. Yet from such adversity comes wisdom and strength unbound by outward measures. Any success Zambian writers’ achievements often hides bigger struggles behind it. Prestigious global awards or major publishing deals are extremely rare. More attainable are local prizes given by our supportive community and the National Arts Council of Zambia; not famous academies abroad.

Many writers still lack the resources and backing they require. Too many talents go undiscovered or give up due to poverty. Some have even been tragically silenced far too soon, before sharing their full gifts.

Other countries proudly display top literature, showing writers utmost respect. Yet our wordsmiths capturing people’s real lives frequently go unheard amid wrong priorities. Still, if their work makes ordinary voices ring out clearer and farther―this impact defines our excellence. Though big names and sales elude, we triumph whenever unseen stories touch more minds and hearts because of these dedicated dreamers.

For many Zambian writers, the deepest fulfilment comes when your voice resonates profoundly with readers from different walks of life. As your narratives capture the common threads of human experience that transcend background, identity and worldview, you forge precious moments of mutual understanding. This emotional impact generates an invisible web of connection harder to quantify yet intensely meaningful.

For what could be more gratifying than receiving reader responses articulating that exact sentiment: “Thank you for eloquently capturing a piece of my own heart with your story. I could relate with the characters.”

When writers bear witness to these subtle but beautiful instances where prose erodes barriers, shifts perspective, and opens channels of empathy, therein lies the true soul and legacy of success.

Other writers’ paths should not stop you from pursuing your own creative dreams. But we can redefine success on our terms—simply finishing a draft or touching lives can be achievement enough.

Think of authors like Mubanga. Though now globally celebrated, she started small, just chronicling forgotten tales without seeking awards. Your journey will look different than others’, and that’s okay. When I started writing long ago, I had very little guidance. I eventually had to put my author dreams aside to have a paying job, as writing is not lucrative here. Like most Zambian writers, I now write purely out of passion rather than as a career. Initially, I wrote following my desire to translate my imagination without much direction. With writing resources online, upcoming writers can continuously improve. Fellow writers can also inspire when doubts arise.

But if you feel driven to write, don’t let obstacles stop you. First ensure you can support yourself financially, then make time for writing pursuits when you can. Finding energy after long work days is hard. Some perseverance will be required. But fueling your creative spirit can make it worthwhile.

Focus on small victories. Just finishing a story draft is success when fame is uncertain. Most importantly, define accomplishments your own way in this journey; be it completing parts of a manuscript or conveying an experience that matters. Through the struggle of perfecting your art awaits the reward―those first strands of meaningful story you share with the world. Let your unique words reveal hidden truths that matter. Do not only aim for prestige judged by institutions far removed. Making meaning for those wanting their experiences voiced holds real purpose and power.

Wherever you are, start writing in your voice. For when you document your reality, uncover your community’s little-known stories, you cultivate rich soil for renown to slowly grow. Publication’s prizes may come in time or not, but uplifting people through unrestrained creativity will have already achieved something wonderful.

Find inspiration from successful authors like Mubanga. Though your journey differs, let her perseverance motivate you during difficult times. Creativity requires nurturing; sometimes long periods of patience before coming to fruition. But keep faith, you will find your own path to triumph on your own terms. Let your stories slowly brew inside through self-discovery before sharing them. Writing has power to uplift, bring insight, and drive change within and beyond yourself even in small ways. You already have everything needed to unlock that potential. Now confidently embrace your craft, let inspiration flow through your pen onto waiting pages. The seeds planted today with vision and care will grow into something beautiful waiting to be told.

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3 Comments

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