From Harare to Harvard: Education, Gender, and Citizenship in J. Nozipo Maraire’s Zenzele: A Letter For My Daughter

Carrie Walker, Concordia University - Portland


The article examines the representation of gender, education, and citizenship in J. Nozipo Maraire’s epistolary novel Zenzele: A Letter for My Daughter. This novel consists of a letter written by the protagonist, Shiri Shungu, to her daughter, who has recently left her home in Harare, Zimbabwe to study at Harvard University. Through her letter, Shiri seeks to supplement her daughter’s formal learning experiences regarding Shona culture, family history, and national events. Through the informal teaching offered in her letter, Shiri fosters her daughter’s understanding of indigenous practices and stresses the importance of self-definition. Shiri intends that the information contained in her letter will empower her daughter with a stronger sense of identity while Zenzele is far from home, yet her narrative also reveals ambiguity and anxieties she experiences regarding the status of women in contemporary Zimbabwe. While Shiri’s missive draws attention to the struggles of individuals who made sacrifices to ensure educational access for all, it also challenges assumptions regarding the nation that education is a panacea, exposing how Western education can undermine African systems of knowledge. Through her novel, Maraire argues that although education may offer benefits such as social mobility and prestige, it leads to empowerment and promotes dignity only when accompanied by full recognition of dual citizenship and responsibility to family, community, and nation.