The Zulus of New York and The Madonna of Excelsior Script

In 1880 William Leonard Hunt, known as The Great Farini after his trapeze act with a  troupe called The Flying Farinis, a well-known Canadian funambulist and impresario, imported a group of Zulus to England and later to the United States to perform as part of the “human curiosities” or “freak shows” in his popular circus. It was at the height of Zulu popularity in both London and New York, after their victory at the Battle of Isandlwana. The Zulus performed their “savage” dances, illustrating how they butchered the Red Coats, at some of the important venues in those cities, including The Aq in London and Madison Square Gardens in New York. This novel is centered on the life of one of these Zulu performers, tracing it from Ondini in KwaZulu where he was one of the two highly-esteemed warriors who ritually bathed King Cetshwayo in his sacred Inkatha hut, to his escape after a botched tryst with one of the harem women, to his sojourn in Cape Town where he is recruited by The Great Farini, to his performances in London, and finally to New York where he falls in love with a Dinka woman, a caged  exhibit that he discovered at the Madison Square Park. The rest of the novel is on his unrequited love. The novel is almost complete. All it need now the final chapter, a few re-writes and some fine-tuning.

Should the novel be completed at STIAS, work will commence on the film script of the novel, The Madonna of Excelsior, set in the Free State town of that name and dealing with the Immorality Act during the apartheid days, and its ripple effects  in the post-apartheid era. The novel has been optioned by a Free State film producer and will be made into a movie in that province towards the end of 2018.

Project leader(s):
  • Zakes Mda (Department of English, Ohio University)

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