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NoViolet Bulawayo Discusses the Nature of Names and Identity

We Need New NamesAerodrome’s Sophy Kohler and Vivien Horler from the Daily News both interviewed NoViolet Bulawayo about her Man Booker Prize shortlisted novel, We Need New Names.

Kohler asked Bulawayo (whose real name is Elizabeth Tshele) about writing under a pen name. Bulawayo explained that she took on NoViolet to honour her late mother and that she wasn’t called Elizabeth until she went to primary school: “I come from a place where names are always changing, people are always assigning names and, to somebody who has never ever been called one thing, Elizabeth really wasn’t part of my identity.”

With Horler, Bulawayo spoke about how moving to the US made her more conscious of her identity: “It became urgent to look at my Zimbabweanness and my blackness, because the US is a very racial space.”

Read the interviews

Why do you write under a pseudonym?

I don’t consider it a pseudonym; it’s more than a pen name. NoViolet is my mother’s name, she died when I was 18 months old. I have no memory of her and she wasn’t spoken about when I was growing up, so that kind of messed me up as a kid and I’ve always felt like there was something missing, so I decided to use her memory, her name, just to honour her. And Bulawayo because it’s my hometown and I lived in the United States for more than a decade without being able to go back.

NoViolet Bulawayo is slight, graceful and very smart. Born and brought up in Bulawayo, and the winner of the 2011 Caine Prize for African writing, she is halfway through a two-year writing fellowship at Stanford University in California. Last week she was shortlisted for the Man Booker, the first Zimbabwean to make it.

She is just 31 years old, but that’s “old enough”, she said cheekily when we met after a panel discussion during last week’s Open Book Festival.

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