Phillip Zhuwao was born in 1971 on a commercial farm to the north of Harare, Zimbabwe. He died in 1994 at the tender age of 23. He wrote in English but used neologisms, deliberate misspellings and slang from rural communities. His use of different registers and dialects makes his work both fresh and unique.
Phillip Zhuwao died of illness in 1994 when he was only 23. We know little of his life save that recounted in an interview published by Alan Finlay in the journal Bleksem. Zhuwao was the son of a Mozambican mother and a Zambian father, born on a commercial farm into conditions of under-privilege and marginalisation. An inkling of these difficulties can be traced in his writing: “Farm after farm Squatter/Permanence/Why?” His family, however, recognised his intellectual capacities and managed to put him through school, about which he writes, “We swallowed whole chunks/ Of unpronounced vocabularies”.
Zhuwao’s determination to write and his love of words seems to have been with him from his earliest years. That his adult life was also one of hardship is intimated in the dedications to his only published work, Sunrise Poison, and in his poetry: “this dark little room where/ the unmattresed bed”, a place where “the tens and tens of books/ the oversized jacket behind the door/ the holed shoes/ are POETRY themselves.”
In the early 1990s, several of Zhuwao’s poems were published in the South African journals Bliksem (ed. Alan Finlay) and New Coin. Later, in 2004, a selection of his poems was re-edited by Robert Berold and published by Deep South, based in Grahamstown, under the title Sunrise Poison. This edition contains the one surviving interview with him, also reproduced in South African Poets on Poetry edited by Robert Berold (Gecko Poetry, 2003).
Sunrise Poison, Deep South, Grahamstown, 2004
Deep South are also planning to publish the complete collected works of Phillip Zhuwao, including his unpublished novel, in autumn 2006.
Home page of Zhuwao’s publisher