Requiem of a creative director

HARARE - Those who met and worked with former creative director and Book Café proprietor Paul Brickhill will assert that he was just a simple man.

But in his simplicity, Paul oozed with wisdom and knowledge of the arts business.

Apart from owning and running the Book Café in Harare, Paul was a trumpeter and performed live with a band.

A former Zipra intelligence officer during the liberation struggle, the 56-year-old did not boast of his war credentials. Instead, he took sanctuary in promoting the arts and book industries in post-independent Zimbabwe.

Paul fell sick from July 24 and died last Friday in a Johannesburg hospital where he was undergoing treatment.

He had started radiation therapy after spending eight days in the intensive care unit. He had been diagnosed with strep pneumonia and laryngitis, he told the Daily News on Sunday in his last interview before he passed on.

“I underwent emergency surgery to open an airway into my trachea after the unexpected discovery of a tumour pressing my windpipe, causing huge distress,” he said. “A biopsy diagnosed anaplastic thyroid cancer, the least-known cancer, its causes unknown, and the most aggressive.”

He said just before he fell sick, he had read this insightful paraphrase by Albert Einstein: “Either everything is a miracle, or nothing is.”

Paul said that as he reflected, it seemed like everything that had taken place in his life appeared to him as some kind of impossibility.

“Yet it has happened, none more so than our beloved Book Café, its thousand artists and life, histories and soul,” he said.

“Needless to say, Book Café and Pamberi Trust have united leadership, competent and dedicated management, and all will operate as normal. It is also not easy for my colleagues and comrades.”

And his family was with him through his sickness.

“Virtually my entire close and extended family was either with me or flew to Harare and mounted a 24-hour vigil at my bedside,” he said after his brief recovery.

“I find it a little strange to be saying this, but it is true, I feel myself utterly blessed, and in many ways too; this extraordinary, rich life, an African life, so many wonderful, loved people and happenings, my life brim-full with goodness, love, beauty, music, books and laughter,” he said.

“A new sunset every night, and the majesty and enormity of Africa, the place, peoples, and the idea; the strong, vital and decent people whom I have known, who bear life with grace.”

The Book Cafe was launched in July 1997, transforming the original Grassroots Bookshop founded in 1981 into a performing arts centre.

Since then, Book Cafe, Pamberi Trust and African Synergy have organised, staged and implemented thousands of performances, events, meetings, workshops, discussions, film shows, book launches, including public discussions.

The Book Cafe had its roots in the liberation struggle.

The decision to start a bookshop, called Grassroots Books, dedicated to freedom of expression in the new Zimbabwe was taken shortly before independence by a small group of young people from the liberation struggle.

War veterans donated from one of their first pay packets in the new integrated army to start Grassroots Books, in the midst of the cooperative movement era in the early 1980s, which at one time consisted of 300 cooperatives in the country, started by cadres as a new form of mobilisation towards nation-building.

Paul believed Book Cafe was one of a handful or probably the sole remaining survivor of these cooperatives.

“The stated goal of the bookshop was to challenge the history of Rhodesian propaganda and censorship,” he said then.

“From inception, the principle was ‘emancipation through freedom of expression within an African-centred world viewpoint.’

“For more than 30 years, Grassroots Books and then Book Cafe has remained resolute in this. It has suffered many hardships as a consequence, but remaining true to the principle of freedom of expression is the very reason it has survived.”

Paul used to say the Book Cafe was inspired by a simple idea.

“We began to realise that in terms of freedom of expression and African centred viewpoint  that a great wealth of stories and narratives in the culture of the people was contained in music, live poetry, theatre, storytelling, comedy, in public discussion and other transient, verbalised arts forms, of which published books was only one part,” he said in his last interview with this paper.

“Public discussion as well as performing arts was part of Book Cafe from the start. Every Thursday was devoted to public discussion. The speakers that shared the stage to engage in public dialogue and freedom of expression, and the results of those discussions, would amaze people today.

“There was no topic that captured the interest of the people that we failed to discuss: the land  question,   democracy, religion, witchcraft, science, nationalism, capitalism, socialism, books, art, politics, corruption, Africa, the police, the struggle, the future, political parties, trade unions, civil society, media.

“The public discussions were effectively banned under Posa in 2002, and Book Cafe closed for three months.”

Like the proverbial phoenix it rose again. Today it mourns the loss of a passionate proprietor.

Rest in peace, Paul.

Requiem of a creative director

Paul Brickhill: 1958-2014

Comments (3)

A great loss to the Arts Industry-what an insightful visionary who provided a platform for many in the performing arts.May your soul rest in peace and your vision live on!!

Tafchi - 5 October 2014

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