“Congratulations Muthi. You will be the fifth Malawian writer to go in history of the International Writing Programme,” wrote Steve Sharra on Muthi Nhlema’s Facebook page.
Sharra a recipient of the same programme which he participated in, in 1997, went on to say that the first Malawian writer to participate in the programme was the late Edison Mpina in 1982 followed by the late Steve Chimombo in 1983, Sharra in 1997, Shadreck Chikoti in 2019 and now Nhlema in 2021.
The list of those, who have participated in the programme for Malawi shows that the International Writing Programme is not a small feat. It is a programme that is of high class and brings together high profile writers across the world.
Sharra hopes next up on the ladder would be Malawian female writers.
He said this because since Malawi started participating, no female writer has been part of the programme.
It is a challenge to female writers to come out and be counted and make a name at the programme.
US Embassy Public Affairs Officer Douglas Johnston in congratulating Nhlema for his selection into the programme, said they were pleased that Malawian writer has been selected to attend the 2020 International Writing Programme (IWP) Fall Residency at the University of Iowa in the United States.
Johnston said the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) hosts this competition every year, and that US Embassies all over the world nominate writers to compete against their peers for a limited number of seats.
“It is a testimony to Mr. Nhlema’s reputation as a writer that he rose to the group of finalists in this competition. The Fall Residency convenes emerging and recognised writers from around the world for 12-week programme designed to boost creativity, facilitate interdisciplinary collaboration, support professional development, and promote freedom of expression,” he said.
The 2020 Fall Residency has since been postponed until Spring 2021, due to the current global Covid-19 pandemic.
Upon his return, Nhlema will join august company of IWP alumni in the country.
Last year US Embassy sent Chikoti on the IWP Fellowship. Chikoti is an award winning writer, who triumphed in the country’s Peer Gynt Award with his book – Azotus the Kingdom.
“This is a very good programme. I learned a lot and I hope as a country, we will continue participating. It is an enriching programme where you get to network and embark on different writing projects,” Chikoti, who is the founder of Story Club Café in Lilongwe, said.
He congratulated Nhlema for his selection.
US Embassy described IWP as one of the most prestigious programme of its kind in the United States and that IWP furthers participants’ professional development, and understanding of creative writing, literature, publishing and US societal values.
The programme’s activities provide international writers with opportunities to engage with the US creative economy and culture and encourage American writers to connect with priority foreign audiences.
Johnston said IWP’s host institution, the University of Iowa, is also home to the world-renowned Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
In 2008, Iowa City became the first Unesco City of Literature (http:// www.iowacityofliterature.org/) in the United States, the third such city in the world with two IWP alumni—Orhan Pamuk of Turkey and Mo Yan of China—receiving the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Describing himself as an up and coming short story writer, Muthi, said he was dedicating the international writing programme to his late grandmother, agogo Mandalasi who died last year in September.
“She and I had a shared passion for writing. She used to read Agatha Christ like crazy and during her last days, I remember I visited her at the hospital where she was asking for books from me to read simply because she was bored. So, I should say that I got the passion from her hence dedicating the writing programme to her,” Muthi said.
The writer has a passion to tell African stories and even more excited that the world is finally listening.
He recently wrote a novella called Ta O’reva which is a sci-fi thriller about how the repercussions of white genocide ripple through time to a post-apocalyptic South Africa where Nelson Mandela is brought back to life to save the rainbow nation again.
The novella went on to win U$5,000 and came third in the International Long-Short Story Contest administered by the online publishers, www.freeditorial.com and was shortlisted for Best Novella at the 2017 inaugural Nommo Awards for African Speculative Fiction alongside works from globally acclaimed authors such as Tade Thompson and Nnedi Okarofor.
At 39 years, Muthi has a twin brother, who is based in United Kingdom.
He is married to Asimenye and the couple have a son.
A civil engineer, who is a water advocate, Muthi’s mind understands numbers and science but his heart has always been artistic.
“A lot of people have known me not for writing but for theatre. People have seen me act with Nanzikambe and school and college I also used to act. I have been a director and producer but I have always wanted to write,” he said.
Muthi admits that he used to criticise a lot other people’s work and yet he did not have any writing to his wall.
“I decided to stop criticising other people’s work until I had my own work on the ground. I challenged myself to write until later in 2008 when I came up with Journey of Restoration.
In the story, Muthi was telling Malawi’s history through two people, who met in a minibus.
“It took me time working on the story and after finishing it, I kept it until later that Stanley Kenani saw it and was impressed before publishing it. So my writing basically came as a way of challenging myself and I got all the support from Stanley Kenani and Shadreck Chikoti,” he said.
He said he was looking forward to doing more during the programme as well as networking with other artists and at the same time flying the country’s flag.