Friday, August 24, 2007

In the lost footsteps of Marechera.

In 1979, Marechera found himself living in Sheffield, England. He was (intentionally) to become an artist-in-residence at the University of Sheffield. This came about through the usual old boy network: Marechera’s publisher at Heinemann, Currey, contacted Christopher Heywood, then a lecturer in English. Heywood, who was born in South Africa and a visiting professor in Nigeria in the late 1960s, had a connection with Africa that Currey obviously felt would be helpful in guiding Marechera. Not so.Heywood was approaching 50 years old when Marechera hit Sheffield and not exactly in line with the off-beat living style of a literary protege.

One of the famous stories surrounding Marechera concerns Heywood’s discovery that Marechera had helped himself to an array of books from his collection and sold them. The recipients were Rare and Racy. In the late 1970s, Rare and Racy was one of the cult places in Sheffield. Situated on the outskirts of the city centre, it was well known as a centre of the literary and music scene. As a secondhand bookshop, it had an ambience all of its own. A visitor, then, as today, would browse whilst strange sounds echoed through the grey shadows; everything from experimental jazz to Messien. Heywood lists some of the books that Marechera re-cycled: Nietzsche, Poe, Whitman, Achebe etc. That doesn’t sound like the most likely of selling-lists for Rare and Racy, with the exception of Nietzsche, for its reputation was built upon its collection of philosophical and occult texts.

The Bookshop itself!

4, Collegiate Crescent.

During his excursion to Sheffield, Marechera lived briefly with Heywood, then at the YMCA on Broomhall Road, and following his eviction from there in April at 4, Collegiate Crescent. His habitat in 1979 was the region around the University itself, which at that time, would have been of considerable interest to his personality. Not far from Rare and Racy was Hartley Seeds, the University’s bookshop, which was well stocked with contemporary poetry, noticeably Ezra Pound. And another local bookshop specialised in occult texts and radical political literature, anarchist and Marxist.

Heywood jokingly refers to Marechera as “a dark cloud on the horizon”. It is a pity that we know so little about his stay in Sheffield prior to the composition of Black Sunlight and his life in the dark and dusty underworld of Sheffield, whose name means "the borderland".

3 comments:

Unsane said...

good pictures, nevertheless.

Unsane said...

Do you know if Marechera spent only one year at Oxford -- as in Black Sunlight, he says he spent one year with Blanche Goodfather...?

eshuneutics said...

One year. two terms...he only completed one academic year.