Printer-friendly versionSend by emailPDF version this year's now announced, Mildred Kiconco Barya interviews Brian Chikwava, the 2004 winner of the prize. The winner of the 2009 prize will be announced at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, on Monday 6 July.

Brian Chikwava is a Zimbabwean writer. His novel Harare North was published by Jonathan Cape in 2009. He lives in a matchbox-sized flat in London. He eats fish but only on some days. He is also a staggeringly good cyclist.

MILDRED KICONCO BARYA: Why do you write?

BRIAN CHIKWAVA: I write because that’s what all bums do when they find a moment of solitude. That was a very useful attitude when I wrote Harare North.

MILDRED KICONCO BARYA: At what age did you start writing creatively?

BRIAN CHIKWAVA: I must have been 14 when I attempted a film script. I wrote half a dozen lines and had a sore head. I gave up.

MILDRED KICONCO BARYA: Describe your writing journey.

BRIAN CHIKWAVA: You could say it’s marked by a lot of groping in the dark, full of grunts and yelps.

MILDRED KICONCO BARYA: What are the thematic concerns in your writing?

BRIAN CHIKWAVA: It’s a mixed bag, I must admit. That’s because I just write what I feel like at the time and never really think too much. Maybe if I look carefully there is a running thematic strand but I don’t want to look yet.

MILDRED KICONCO BARYA: What inspired you to write Seventh Street Alchemy?

BRIAN CHIKWAVA: I just happened to have a lot of time on my hands then and was trying to learn the short story form. But I also was surrounded by interesting people.

MILDRED KICONCO BARYA: How did you know about the Caine Prize?

BRIAN CHIKWAVA: I heard about it when it was launched at the Zimbabwe International Book Fair.

MILDRED KICONCO BARYA: What was your initial response when you won the Caine Prize?
BRIAN CHIKWAVA: I calculated the number of rickshaw rides I could afford to have around Covent Garden, London. I remember it was just over 3,000 rides, including a high-quality English whip.

MILDRED KICONCO BARYA: What has been happening or not happening since winning the Caine?

BRIAN CHIKWAVA: I’ve been writing Harare North.

MILDRED KICONCO BARYA: If you were to rewrite your submitted story what would you change?

BRIAN CHIKWAVA: I’d take out a lot of sloppy writing there.

MILDRED KICONCO BARYA: How often do you revise or redraft your stories?

BRIAN CHIKWAVA: Until I’m bored.

MILDRED KICONCO BARYA: What’s your take on writing?

BRIAN CHIKWAVA: I need a long time to think about this.

MILDRED KICONCO BARYA: How do you deal with a writer’s rejections?

BRIAN CHIKWAVA: I take a 15km walk, find a bar, buy vodka and talk to a few complete strangers for a while. There is no problem that this cannot solve.

MILDRED KICONCO BARYA: Apart from writing, what else do you do and why?

BRIAN CHIKWAVA: I don’t even think I write. I’m always trying to blag my way through things.

MILDRED KICONCO BARYA: Forty years from now where do you see yourself?

BRIAN CHIKWAVA: In heaven, with good old God.

MILDRED KICONCO BARYA: What’s your best quote?

BRIAN CHIKWAVA: I stopped having any once I found they were quotes crowding my head and I didn’t have opportunities to use them.

MILDRED KICONCO BARYA: Which five authors do you admire most and why?

BRIAN CHIKWAVA: Every time I come up with five names I feel terminally stupid for having left out this or that author. It’s easier to pick the ones that one loathes.

MILDRED KICONCO BARYA: List your favourite five books.


MILDRED KICONCO BARYA: What’s your vision?

BRIAN CHIKWAVA: I’m still working on it.

MILDRED KICONCO BARYA: What genre do you read most and why?

BRIAN CHIKWAVA: I read anything and everything that passes under my nose.

MILDRED KICONCO BARYA: If you were to make a wish right now what would it be?

BRIAN CHIKWAVA: To be able to fall asleep at the touch of my nose. I’m a bit of an insomniac.

MILDRED KICONCO BARYA: If you were to have powers of a genie what two things would you change?

BRIAN CHIKWAVA: I would turn myself into a benevolent dictator and consign a few world leaders to the gulag.

* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at