Oxford celebrates poet it once shunned

first_imgOxford University spent last week honouring Dambudzo Marechera, nearly four decades after expelling him. Events took place over the week, celebrating the work of the writer that one Zimbabwean newspaper called “the most controversial author Zimbabwe has ever produced.”After gaining a scholarship to New College, Marechera was expelled following a series of incidents, including threats to burn down the college. After growing up in poverty, he had previously been expelled from the University of Rhodesia in 1973 after a student demonstration.Professor Elleke Boehmer, co-organiser of the event, explains that Marechera had a “schizophrenic disposition, which was never formally diagnosed,” and was made worse by his “extreme isolation, as one of the only black students in a very white Oxford.” It was this combination of race and class prejudices, Boehmer suggests, that led to such behaviour.She stressed the continued relevance of the work, stating that “People now still relate to the crises which Marechera faced, especially in his native Zimbabwe.His thinking represents precisely the opposite to the kind of rigid, binary thought of someone like Robert Mugabe. He asked a lot of difficult questions, and crossed boundaries.”However, some object to the perceived double standards of the institution. Wadham second-year Sophie Lewis directed a production which combined two of Marechera’s plays, but split from the conference organisers “after a very difficult beginning.” Lewis objects to the idea of the University embracing the writer after rejecting him as a student.“I don’t want to see Marechera’s dramatics, his nationsroman, his poems, stultified by the academic institution he rejected, and which rejected him.”One English undergraduate said, “I always think it’s quite ironic when Oxford welcome back someone they barely cared about at the time. I don’t think they mean to be hypocritical, but there is the sense that they want to share in Marechera’s success.”Boehmer acknowledges that the celebration may “seem on the surface” to be hypocritical, welcoming back the writer now that he is safe and dead, but points out that ‘the English Faculty and academia has moved on. We’re now in a place where black writers’ work are discussed and celebrated. It’s a different Oxford from the one Marechera experienced.’“This isn’t in any way trying to excuse or make up for the past, but a genuine recognition and celebration of his work.”last_img read more