Tendai Huchu: Author of The Hairdresser of Harare

Tendai Huchu’s debut novel, The Hairdresser of Harare, was published in 2010 to wide acclaim. Praised by the New Internationalist as “a wry and touching portrait of contemporary Zimbabwe”, the novel follows the relationship between hairdresser Vimbai and smooth-talking interloper Dumisani, and its frankness and direct style has been seen as a challenge to the Zimbabwean authorities, although Huchu insists that this wasn’t his intention.

Huchu was born in 1982 in Bindura, Zimbabwe. He attended Churchill High School in Harare and went on to the University of Zimbabwe. After an ill-fated attempt to study mining engineering, he dropped out in the middle of the first semester and drifted from job to job, including some time working at a casino and—an unhappy memory—as a binman. He began to write, returned to university and now lives in Edinburgh, Scotland, where he divides his time between being an author and a podiatrist.

He can be found at www.tendaihuchu.com, although his Luddite tendencies mean that you’re not likely to spot him on Twitter or Facebook any time soon.

Describe your earliest memory.
I remember vegetable patches and lush, green lawn. I remember a chicken coop and a small fence. Two kids, in shorts, running round the yard—my brother and I.

What was the first book you ever loved? Why?
A Kiss For Little Bear by Else Holmelund Minarik. My poor mum had to read it to me again and again and again and again… at bedtime because I was utterly enchanted. You’d be hard pressed to find a more perfect story.

Describe the first time you realised that the world may not be as it seems.
I reckon in my teens, when I started seeing the great social and class divides in Zimbabwe and couldn’t reconcile them with the State’s uber-patriotic narrative.

What has been the most formative place in your life? Why?
Reading, Berkshire—I was living alone for the first time which gave me a lot of time to read and, crucially, to think. It happened late—I was in my early twenties, but, without that time and space, I wouldn’t be who I am now.

Which literary or historical character do you most identify with? Why?
Raskolnikov. I carry a huge amount of Catholic guilt with me every day.

Which literary character do you have a crush on and why? How would you win him/her over?
I’m a sucker for those old school femme fatales in hardboiled fiction. If I had to pick one it’d be Sternwood’s eldest daughter, Vivian, from Chandler’s The Big Sleep. I mean she was hot, rich and smart. I’d win her over by becoming, in the parlance of that universe, a private dick.

What do you do when you’re not reading or writing?
I play a bit of chess, take long walks along the canal near where I live, a bit of this and a bit of that. The great thing about this line of work is you get a lot of time to float about and do whatever.

Describe the worst job you’ve ever had.
Binman—enough said.

Describe your most defining experience with money.
Not having any—the writer’s curse. I think, when you don’t have a lot of money, you come to realise just how powerful those little pieces of paper are. The way you see opportunities collapse around you and the anxiety you have when you don’t have a lot of money can be character building. Alternatively, they can lead to a prescription of Prozac.

If you could time-travel and teleport, which literary world would you want to visit? Why?
The X-men universe so parallels the world we live in today, but with the added bonus of really cool superpowers and questionable outfits. There is so much complexity in comics that I feel is under-appreciated by readers today.

Being a writer is a strange brand of celebrity. Tell us about your most memorable encounter.
More like Z-list celebrity. My most memorable encounter is meeting a reader in Germany who went on to become, like, an online stalker, sending me loads of emails. I was flattered at first, then became a little concerned, and finally, exasperated by the torrent of emails and her declarations of affection.

What’s the most extreme thing you’ve done in pursuit of your writing?
Quitting my job—kids, don’t try this at home.

If you were to write yourself as a character, what would be your most defining characteristic?
I’d say dreaminess. I’d be a character blundering his way through a world he can barely comprehend.

If you were to write a novel about an anti-hero/-heroine, what would his/her central flaw be?
S/he would have a Hulk like temper, sort of a red mist that descends periodically, so that s/he loses perspective and fucks up his/her relationships with people close to him/her big time. And so, s/he spends most of the novel going round in circles, fixing shit and knowing full well s/he’s gonna fuck up again.

If you could have a superpower, what would it be? Why?
Omnipotence, proper Godlike powers. It’s an open secret that’s what every writer truly desires.

What is the most important piece of life advice you would give a young person?
Don’t ever grow up, never compromise with the world, never give up, don’t ever be afraid to look like a fool.

What’s next for you, work- and life-wise?
I have a new novel, The Maestro, The Magistrate & The Mathematician, coming out next autumn. I have quite a few different projects going on, but my main priority at the moment is making my next genre hop and going into noir, so I hope that works out too.

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