Writer’s Blog: Barbara Stevenson – The Idea Behind “Zuri Mtu”

Barbara Stevenson talks about what inspired her story ‘Zuri Mtu’ published in Breve New Stories Issue One.

Visiting Africa, in particular west Africa, I was intoxicated by the spirit of the people there and how in tune their lives are to their natural surroundings. I wanted to write something to bring this out. I also wanted to write about how larger decisions, often made by BREVE-LOGOgroups with no direct knowledge of or interest in the subject, affect individuals. There is often no right or wrong. In Zuri Mtu, the protestors feel they are in the right and see the result of their demonstrations as a victory, but it has a devastating effect on Kofi and to the local community. I am also concerned about how people treat the natural world, manipulating it to suit. In the story, people revere the ancient tree as the last of its kind, conveniently forgetting that they were the ones who destroyed the others. To make a point, they go over the top to ‘protect’ the tree using scientific data, but the tree is dying in its artificial environment..

I hoped to give the story the feel of a modern folk tale or fable, by implying the tree is descended from the tree of wisdom and knowledge, blown to earth on a cherry blossom breeze and by writing in a simple style. I also hoped to add a touch of humour, with the goat eating the signs and when one of the protestors asks what it does, Kofi answers seriously ‘It is a tree.’ Like all fables, it has to have a happy ending, so Kofi is rewarded for his service. This isn’t in monetary terms, but in a way that he and people like him appreciate, giving hope for the world.

Barbara Stevenson

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