Erasing the Single Story
Journalist and M.F.A. in Creative Writing Wadzanai Mhute
Creative writing M.F.A. student Wadzanai Mhute is out to smash what she calls “dangerous stereotypes” that stop the full story of a people and their culture from finding its way into literary canon. An immigrant from Zimbabwe, she was alarmed when she came to the United States to realize that African writers were underrepresented, their broadly diverse and myriad cultures relegated to what Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie called in a widely cited 2009 TEDGlobal talk “the single story,” one which overshadows the more rich and complex histories of the African peoples.
A multimedia producer, reporter, and author currently working as a writer and community moderator for The New York Times, Mhute also worked as an associate producer at ABC News Radio. Before she joined the Brooklyn College M.F.A. program, she graduated with a master’s degree from Columbia University’s School of Journalism.
At The New York Times Mhute is making good on her goal of erasing the single story by introducing readers to a number of African writers, namely women, from her native Zimbabwe, to Cameroon, Ethiopia, South Africa, and Ghana. Her reporting for the Times is not confined to covering Africans, as her work on the Pulitzer Prize–winning 1619 Project attests. For her story as part of that project, “Their Ancestors Were Enslaved by Law. Today, They Are Graduates of the Nation’s Preeminent Historically Black Law School,” co-written with project director Nikole Hannah-Jones, Mhute interviewed Howard Law School graduates about their family histories and their future plans. She also spoke with a genealogist who was helping the students trace their roots.
“The public response was overwhelmingly positive,” says Mhute. “This history is not always taught in schools or talked about; we tend to skip to certain parts of history without delving into the genesis of that same history. Understanding that the first enslaved people landed in Virginia in 1619 and the continued impact of the institution to this day, was a surprise to a lot of readers, and it made them ask more questions.”
Nonfiction is not the only writing in Mhute’s portfolio, as she has published short stories in several international journals, such as Per Contra, The Warwick Review, and Farafina, and in Journeys Home: An Anthology of Contemporary Diasporic Experience (African World Press, 2019), One World: A Global Anthology of Short Stories (New Internationalist, 2009), and Women Writing Zimbabwe (Weaver Press, 2008). In her fiction, Mhute spotlights her homeland.
“I tend to explore the role of women in Zimbabwe, the effects of the civil war there, and the generational trauma that needs to be addressed,” says Mhute. “But I also write about adventure as well as the mundane and delightful lives of Zimbabweans. My worldview always focuses on illuminating the inequalities in society but also the ordinary lives of my characters who live, love, and work in Zimbabwe.”