Lettre Ulysses Award for the art of reportage

Alexandra Fuller, Great Britain

Writer, Journalist, * 1969
Scribbling the Cat. Travels with an African Soldier

“There is, in all my writing, a real desire to take readers where very few of them would go on their own. One way to do that is to not allow them the luxury of a tour guide, if you like. This cold bath of reality is to shake people into the realization that this is not going to be a romantic handholding; this is really what it feels like to be there. This is the shock of reality.”

Alexandra Fuller was born in England and moved to Central Africa at the age of  three with her parents and sister. She grew up in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe since 1980), Malawi and Zambia, where the family had to deal with the harsh physical conditions and a difficult political climate. The ongoing civil war meant her father was continually at war as a soldier on the side of the white government and by the age of four Fuller was already capable of using a weapon. Her three siblings who were born in Africa died due to illness or accidents. In 1994 Fuller left Africa to study in Canada and she now lives in the United States, but regularly returns to visit her family who now live in Zambia.

Fuller described her childhood memories in her successful debut Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight. An African Childhood (Random House, 2001). In 2002 it was chosen as the BookSense Best Non-Fiction Book and as one of the New York Times’ Notable Books and was also nominated for the Guardian First Book Award.

During a Christmas visit to her family in Zambia Fuller met and befriended a neighbouring farmer “K”, a veteran of the white Rhodesian Light Infantry Commando Unit, and despite her father’s warnings that “curiosity scribbled the cat” Fuller persuaded “K” to embark on a journey with her to revisit the scenes of his wartime experiences in Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. She describes this journey in her book Scribbling the Cat. Travels with an African Soldier (Penguin, 2004), a book which deals with love and hate, war and friendship. Fuller is drawn to “K” in the hope that, in understanding this man, she may come close to answering questions about her own chaotic and violent history in this part of the world. As they venture deeper into the countries’ remote bush they encounter other veterans and survivors and Fuller weaves together the political and historical accounts with the personal and psychological reflections of these protagonists. Despite the first-person narrative and the extremely personal approach to her subject, Scribbling the Cat succeeds in providing us with a real insight into the troubled history of Central Africa.

Alexandra Fuller, who describes herself as an African, has had some of her short stories published in the 2003 Anthology Writing Still: New Stories from Zimbabwe. She is currently working on a book about her grandmother, who was born in Scotland and emigrated to Kenya.

Alexandra Fuller lives with her family in Wilson, Wyoming.

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"There is a frustrating lack of narratives, narratives as a body of words that can connect us in this part of the world, in Europe, in the West, in the North, to someone else, somewhere else, to the “other side”."Pedro Rosa Mendes (jury member 2003, 2004, 2005 & 2006)