Petina Gappah

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Petina Gappah
Petina Gappah
Image Via The Guardian
EducationUniversity of Zimbabwe, University of Cambridge, University of Graz
Alma materUniversity of Zimbabwe
  • Author
  • Lawyer
Notable workGuardian first book award with her short story collection An Elegy for Easterly in 2009

Petina Gappah is a Zimbabwean lawyer and writer. She was was born in Zambia, in Copperbelt Province, and raised in Zimbabwe. She writes in both English and her native ChiKaranga, also called Shona. She has law degrees from Cambridge University, Graz University in Austria and the University of Zimbabwe.

She lives in France with her son Kush and works as an international lawyer in Geneva, Switzerland.


Born in 1970, Gappah had 4 siblings. Her father worked in a bank and she went to a school in Harare where Africans were a minority. Gappah's dream was to become a journalist and writer, but her father insisted she become a lawyer.

Legal Career

Petina’s first job as a newly-qualified lawyer was with Kantor and Immerman solicitors in Harare where she assisted in the constitutional challenge to the monopoly of the PTC, a state agency, on behalf of Retrofit Engineering, the company that became Econet, Zimbabwe’s largest telecoms provider. She also worked for the Harare Commercial Arbitration Centre.[1]

She then joined the secretariat of the Appellate Body of the World Trade Organization in Geneva, the tribunal that arbitrates trade disputes between and among nations.[1] She has been based in Geneva since 1998, and currently advises developing countries involved in trade disputes.[2]


  • An Elegy for Easterly - a story collection which won the Guardian First Book Award in 2009.
  • The Book of Memory - 2015
  • Rotten Row - a short-story collection that explores the causes and consequences of crime through a panoramic view of Zimbabwean society published in 2016. The book is named after the Rotten Row Street in Harare.


  • First Book Award, the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award and Zimbabwe’s National Merit Award for An Elegy for Easterly
  • Finalist for the Orwell Prize for An Elegy for Easterly
  • Zimbabwe’s National Arts Merit Awards 2010 award for An Elegy for Easterly


In 2011, she was appointed by Education Minister David Coltart to the Board of the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe. Betweeen 2011 and 2013, she chaired the Board of the Harare City Library where she initiated a million-dollar refurbishment project funded by the government of Sweden. [3]

  • In 2009, three of her stories were performed on BBC Radio 4 by the Zimbabwean actors Chipo Chung and Lucian Msamati.[3]


  • Gappah is passionate about languages and has said that she owns every Shona novel and volume of poetry published by the Rhodesia Literature Bureau. In 2007, she translated into English the novel “Zviuya Zviri Mberi” by Joyce Simango, the first novel to be written by a black woman in Rhodesia. In 2015, Petina led a Facebook Project to translate George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” from English into Shona. With the support of the Orwell Estate, the resulting book, “Chimurenga Chemhuka”[4]
  • Petina is a strong advocate of legal aid, prison reform and the abolition of the death penalty. [1]
  • After her first book 'An Elegy for Easterly came out, she was referred to as "the voice of Zimbabwe" by her publishers, a title she strongly objected to as she said writing "about Zimbabwe, it's not the same as writing for Zimbabwe or for Zimbabweans."[2]. She objected to her publisher, and the press material was rewritten.
  • She has also objected to being referred to as an "African writer" saying that I get irritated by the term 'African writer' because it doesn't mean anything to me. Africa is so big. There are some people who are happy to be African writers. They are pan-Africanists. I'm not a pan-Africanist. [2]

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  1. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Stephen Moss, Petina Gappah: 'I don't see myself as an African writer', , Published:4 Dec 2009 , Retrieved: 7 Nov 2016
  2. 3.0 3.1 Petina Gappah, Petina Gappah official Webiste, Collaborations page , Petina Gappah, Retrieved: 7 Nov 2016
  3. Petina Gappah, Petina Gappah official Webiste, Languages page , Petina Gappah, Retrieved: 7 Nov 2016