Fifth Word secures rights to Man Booker-shortlisted novel

Published: 19 February 2021
Reporter: Steve Orme

Recognition of self: Mufaro Makubika
“Beautifully crafted novel”: NoViolet Bulawayo

Nottingham-based playwright Mufaro Makubika is to adapt NoViolet Bulawayo's Man Booker Prize-shortlisted We Need New Names for the stage in a world première commissioned by East Midlands theatre company Fifth Word.

Fifth Word and Makubika are looking to interact with communities across the UK, particularly black communities, as they adapt the novel into a play.

We Need New Names follows a woman called Darling and her friends in a shanty town, Paradise. They dream of escape—a dream that one day comes true for Darling. But, as she discovers, her new life is a far cry from what she imagined, and this new world brings dangers of its own.

Makubika said, "arriving in the UK as an immigrant from Zimbabwe at the age of 16, I identify strongly with the story of Darling and her journey. When I first read We Need New Names, it felt as though someone was writing my life down on the page; there’s a recognition of self and there’s a beauty in seeing that being expressed.

"For me, bringing We Need New Names to live audiences in the theatre is part of me still trying to figure out who I am, how to understand my place and what to call myself here in the United Kingdom. With Zimbabwe and other countries still in the midst of a long and seemingly unending turmoil, there’ll be many more immigrants from Zimbabwe moving to different parts of the world and I want to make audiences more conscious of that journey."

Angharad Jones, joint artistic director of Fifth Word, commented, "we’re delighted to have secured the rights to create a new play based on NoViolet Bulawayo's beautifully crafted novel.

“This moving, funny, devastating and playful coming-of-age story moves across continents and cultures, speaks to the experience of migration, the politics of the female body and to younger audiences.

"Collaborating with our local community is a vital part of sharing and creating this new play. Running through all Fifth Word's commissions, productions and community projects is the commitment to engage audiences and communities with work that is relevant, accessible and meaningful to them.”

Events to engage with Makubika and the novel include a readers group, a focus group and an In Conversation event, all of them in conjunction with Nottingham City Library. Free books are also available to people with black, Caribbean and African heritage who want to take part in the focus group.

Further details are available at the Fifth Word web site.