A Woman Who Reads




‘If you meet a guy in a bar and go back to his place with him, if he doesn’t have a bookshelf, don’t sleep with him!’

I love this quote by John Walters …

When Multi Award-Winning Zimbabwean Designer, Pam Samasuwo-Nyawiri recently launched her book and global brand, A Woman With No Country, AWWNC she very kindly asked me to give a talk on ‘A Woman who Reads’

Books are sexy, I argued.

A woman who reads lives a thousand lives, she is reflective, globalised and has travelled the world through many characters.

My grandmother lived beyond a hundred years, she never new her date of birth. A lioness of her kind, she born nine children, uneducated, yet she was the sharpest woman I have ever known.

Every night after a meal of sadza and vegetables, always vegetables because meat was for special occasions, we would huddle around the smokey fire, our weepy wooded eyes glaring, roasted nuts tossing in a chipped mud pot. Grandma would be begin the stories with:

Paivapo‘ which translates to ‘once upon a time’ in our Shona language.

And so the stories unfolded, some fictional, humorous and always cultural. Most were flavoured with superstition, designed to instil a childhood fear that still haunts me.  To this day I am petrified of snakes and darkness. These elders pitched their stories around their long lived experiences and cultural exposures. In many ways they wanted a better life for the children who sat around them in those dark nights, they dreamed of a better tomorrow. All this was communicated rather artistically in African proverbs, rituals and the highest regard for our cultural values.

There were no writers or publishers in my village to capture these moments,  the stories are documented in an oral history that touches the core of my heart and spirit. In many happy and sad moments I return back to that fire place in search of clarity, peace and providence.

I love reading, I love the feel of books, the  crispy turn of a page, I love dribbling over my book when I fall asleep, my life synchronised into  these characters that I have grown to love and loathe.

I can never loan my books out, I struggle with that, I miss my books, those characters who have become friends beyond the pages. I would rather buy you a book than lend you one.


The world is too often a stressed out space,  we have over complicated the simple construct of humanity.  Although we have made remarkable progress in science and technology,  our attitudes to the value of life are still ancient. In this agitated world, it is poetry and yoga that ground me. I often come back to Ben Okri work, I adore Warsan Shire writing.  I come to Warsan’s poetry for  validation of my feminism, strength and silence. In this poetry, Warsan nails down the mood of the world:

“later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered
where does it hurt?

it answered
Warsan Shire

Over the years, I have loved reading so many books but a few stand out. To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee blew me away it still does, I come back to that book so often in search of justice, The Poison Wood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver is one of the finest books of our time, I read Facing the Congo by  Jeffery Tayler at a critical time in my life, forever loved it,  We need new names by Non Violet Bulawayo is a beauty of a book, its humour is a necessary as the harrowing stories behind it.

I always have two books on the go, I am currently reading ‘The other woman’ by Yewanda Omotoso, stunning read, so well written and Mars His Sword by Philani Amadeus Nyoni, a sparkling poetic infusion of love and humanity.

As the famous writer Mark Twain said, ‘The secret to getting ahead is to get started’

Let’s get reading!


To order Philani Amadeus Nyoni’s book, email

Dorcas Gwata
Director Tribal Sands

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