KAPALA CHISUNKA, Lusaka
AFTER Marita Banda completed her studies at Nkrumah Teachers Training College in Kabwe, where she majored in English and French, she joined the Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in Lusaka as a monitoring and evaluation officer.
Although she did her teaching practice at Munali High School in Lusaka, she never worked as a teacher.
Also, at CRS, she only worked there for one year and six months.
“When I left CRS, I went to the United States of America on an exchange programme,” Marita says. “While there, I studied creative writing at the University of Massachusetts at the Boston campus. My plan there was to polish my writing skills in short fiction.”
However, her professor thought otherwise and instead advised her to focus on poetry because that was where he thought her forte was. He told that her poetry seemed to come naturally for her.
And that was how she concentrated on poetry.
Renowned local poet Nicholas Kawinga describes Marita as “witty, creative and a fresh poet rising with an indigenous taste of language on the literary scene.”
Old Nico, as he is fondly called, says he tends to think of a painter and a poet as similar in many ways. He says while a painter uses a brush, paint and canvas to bring about a picture, a poet uses, words, pen and paper to depict the same picture. Little wonder, a poem can be illustrated by a painting.
He goes further.
“Poetry, like ballet is widely known as a high art form, and both require quite an application of mind and thought to appreciate. And the two could be tied in dance… poetry in motion; where poetry is expressed through a dance format than recital or page poetry, while ballet is dance in which a story is told without speech or singing,” he says.
“Before poetry was written and well-structured as an independent art form, it appeared in our communities through other art forms, like speech, proverbs, idioms and chants. Poetry could also be traced in song and dance, culturally laid there. Even in contemporary song, you will find it buried there. In fact, the other name for poetry is song. In the Holy Bible, we have Songs of Solomon which is the poetry of Solomon.”
But while King Solomon has Songs of Solomon, Marita has Telling It As It Is, a compilation of different poems in English, Tumbuka and French.
In it, Marita, who also attended Jacaranda Primary School and Roma Girls Secondary School in Lusaka, is showing the world her prowess in poetry.
After two years at the University of Massachusetts at Boston campus, Marita moved to Illinois where she worked for the Village of Mount Prospect as school counsellor for two and a half years.
Upon her return to Zambia, she joined PEN Zambia, a not-for-profit organisation that promotes literature and freedom of expression.
It was at PEN Zambia where she was encouraged to get her work published. But that proved difficult because she had no funds as she was not in any formal employment.
She decided to approach the National Arts Council of Zambia (NAC), which is the motherbody for all arts associations in the country, for financial assistance to enable her poems to be published.
NAC advised her to have her work edited before they could assist her.
“Luckily, my father has friends who are language specialists,” she says. “The two language specialists went through my work. I also took my work to another teacher of English, Maliya Sililo. I got very interesting feedback. My work was really criticised and that helped me a lot. I had to go back to the drawing board for several months to perfect it.”
After several months of perfecting her work and removing certain poems, Marita went back to NAC with a perfect product and they were ready to support her using the Art Development Fund.
That is how Telling It As It Is was published. It is her first book.
The book comprises of 29 poems discussing a variety of issues including the environment, climate change, gender-based violence, politics and spirituality.
“My poems are in English, Tumbuka and French and they touch on various topics,” she says. “The interesting thing is that each time I make an appearance, people prefer I recite the poems in Tumbuka. A lot of people enjoy those.”
She promotes and markets her book mostly by word of mouth as well as by making appearances at various events. She currently does not have an account with Amazon Books so she usually sends her book to her friend in the diaspora to sell for her.
Marita is also working on another project for next year, involving poetry and non-fiction books.
One is on values as African people and another on love poems in Tumbuka.
Though Marita is proud to see her work being appreciated and in bookstores in Lusaka, it is not something she ever envisaged would be possible while growing up because there were not a lot of Zambian books she had read.
However, writing has always been her passion and growing up, she kept a journal from the age of 13. Marita says she thought about having her work published when she read a novel about a 13-year old boy but that it did not seem like a possibility at the time.
“When I was in Grade 12, I realised there weren’t a lot of books by Zambian writers, so I thought it was not possible,” she says. “But now, things have changed for the better. The environment is different. A lot of local writers are getting their work published.”
Marita says the current environment is no longer expensive or prohibitive as local writers can have their work published according to their budget. She says writers now have an option of having their work printed in China or India as the market is open.
“[But] we still have a long way to go because we cannot compare ourselves to other countries,” she says. “For instance, Malawi is economically inferior to Zambia but its’ literacy is advanced and so is Zimbabwe.”
She says some of the efforts meant to encourage local writers include the annual Tilembe Literary Festival which was initiated last year, writer’s clinics where people have access to training as well as book expos.
“Poetry is hot now,” she says. “There are a lot of initiatives to promote poetry now. We have Bittersweet, Writer’s Clinics and many others. Social media has also birthed a lot of writers. And they just post their work on these social media platforms. Many do not know about the need to have their work copyrighted and protected.”
Marita, who describes herself as a “not introverted but extroverted among familiar faces”, says writers have to be educated on the need to have their work protected because people can easily use the work on social media platforms for their gain.
“People need to have their work protected if they want to make money instead of posting it on social media platforms,” she says.
Marita says she writes at night because that is when she has her creative juices flowing.
Marita is also an English private tutor of foreigners and diplomats. She also teaches French to Zambian students as well as those interested in learning the language.
In her free time, Marita says she is adventurous and likes to explore unique things.
“I am currently learning to play the violin and Zambian Sign Language. I like to go on the trampoline, swing on monkey bars, hoola-hoop and climb trees. I also enjoy cooking and trying exotic food. I am interested in gardening have been pescatarian for the past 11 years,” she says.