Award-winning playwright Mufaro Makubika to adapt NoViolet Bulawayo’s Man Booker prize shortlisted novel ‘We Need New Names’

This new commission follows Alfred Fagon Award Winner Makubika’s critically acclaimed 2018 play Shebeen.

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

Fifth Word and Mufaro Makubika are looking to interact with communities across the UK, particularly Black communities, as they adapt the novel into a play. Events in March to engage with Mufaro and the novel include a readers group, a focus group and an In Conversation event all in conjunction with Nottingham City Library. Free books are also available to those with Black Caribbean and African heritage who wish to take part in the focus group.

We Need New Names follows Darling and her friends in a shantytown called Paradise. They spend their days stealing guavas and singing Lady Gaga, all while grasping at memories of life before and dreaming of escape – a dream that one day comes true for Darling. But, as Darling discovers, her new life is a far cry from what she imagined, and this new world brings with it dangers of its own…

Playwright Mufaro 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 is a recognition of self and there is 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 will be many more immigrants from Zimbabwe moving to different parts of the world and I want to make audiences more conscious of that journey.

Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize (2013), the Guardian First Book Award and a Barnes & Noble Discover Award finalist, We Need New Names was the winner of the inaugural Etisalat Prize for Literature, and won the prestigious Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award for debut work of fiction. It also won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction

Angharad Jones (Joint Artistic Director Fifth Word) said: “We are 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.”

Jones continued: “Collaborating together 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. All Fifth Word’s work addresses the inequality that exists in access to the arts by directly paying and enabling artists to make work; nurturing artists that reflect and are representative of the diversity of the East Midlands; engaging with audiences and local communities to reclaim theatre & the arts as a relevant space for them and their stories.”

Rachel Williams from Nottingham City Library said: “We are tremendously excited about the opportunity to link with such an innovative theatre company and playwright and connecting people in the community directly to the playwriting process and the opportunity to engage with a book in a different way; especially how the novel form can be adapted for stage.“

How to engage with the project:

Join a focus group
On 22 March, a focus group will be held with anyone who has read We Need New Names, hosted by Fifth Word and Nottingham City Libraries via Zoom. This will help Mufaro gain insight into what people connect with and take away from reading the book and help shape the next draft of the play. Please send an email to by Wednesday 17 March.

Free books
Fifth Word will gift a copy of the book to anyone in the East Midlands who has Black African or Caribbean heritage who would like to take part in the focus group. Please get in touch or Twitter – @fifthword

In conversation
Fifth Word and Nottingham City library will also host a special online event “In Conversation’ with Mufaro Makubika’ where Muafro will talk about his journey as a playwright and the process of adapting this novel for the stage. Find out when here.


Latest articles

Related articles