ADI Spotlight: Lawrence Chamunorwa

March 13, 2023
Lawrence Chamunorwa opening a text.

Lawrence Chamunorwa (He/Him/His)                    

Department: Comparative Literature

Program Year: G3

Undergraduate/Other Institutions:

University of Zimbabwe (BA in Classics and Philosophy, BA first-class honors in Classics)

Texas Tech University (MA in Languages and Cultures-Classics)

Hometowns: Bulawayo and Harare, Zimbabwe

ADI Affiliations:

Tell us about your background.

I am an international student that hails from Zimbabwe. Oddity is a word that comes to mind when I think of describing my background. Not necessarily in a negative/positive sense. I use oddity because it was never predicted or imagined by most people– both in my family and those around me during my high school years– that I would be slated for academic success. Hence, it always came as an incredible surprise when I accomplished certain milestones– for instance, passing the Zimbabwean national examinations, attending a premier university in Zimbabwe, my acceptance in US institutions for my master’s degree and finally into the Comparative Literature PhD program here at Princeton. It would be dishonest, therefore, if I would say all these academic trajectories and achievements always appeared obvious to most people that were around me. And this was for one reason or another–for instance, the fact that no one ever went beyond high school in my family, and that I had been orphaned during my high school years and even if I were to succeed, still my relatives could not afford to pay for my college education. As a result, sometimes I had to do odd jobs just to get by until I got to apply for competitive scholarships to sail me through my academic journey. 

What are your research interests?  What excites you about it?

I am interested in so many things! Now, where to start? Perhaps, since I am in the Comparative Literature Department, my default position is that of literature. But for me, literature is an excuse to study across disciplines that I am passionate about. I mean I get to study philosophy, the environment, philology, architecture, film, history, sport and spectacle inter alia. And usually, the follow-up question I get when I tell people about my home department is: What literature/s are you comparing? I work on African and Black diaspora intellection through literature, and sometimes comparatively with Ancient Greco-Roman literature--- a passion born out of watching so many epic movies growing up.

What does your family think you do in grad school?

Well, they just think I am an eternal student! And this often reminds me of Trofimov, a character in Russian playwright Anton Chekov’s play, The Cherry Orchard (1903).

How has ADI programming impacted you? 

ADI programming has worked tremendously well for me! I have managed to have friends both within and beyond my areas of study. Through ADI, I was able to discover other affiliate groups on campus that I am now a part of– for instance, the Black Graduate Caucus and Princeton African Graduate Students Association. I would especially like to point out my former GSP peer mentor, Themba Mbatha, who was always supportive during my first year and we have since become good friends! Being a part of GSP, I found not only community but friends across the four university divisions. 

What's been most helpful to you in acclimating to Princeton?

As a Princeton graduate student, one has a lot to acclimate to, especially in my case as an international student from Africa. It can be daunting when one goes on without community, I mean I sometimes felt not only extremely isolated, but somehow literally losing my mind. But what has worked well for me is reaching out to supportive people, not only attending ADI events, but also other affiliated groups such as the Princeton African Graduate Students Association and the Black Graduate Caucus.

What advice would you give prospective, incoming, and/or first year underrepresented Princeton graduate students?

In applying to Princeton, one of my former professors told me that I was not “Ivy League pedigree.” But I took the chance anyway and got in! Sometimes what it takes is to dare to take that bold step, and to trust one's abilities, no matter what people say. Now, my experience at Princeton has been so enriching, especially through ADI, that I have found no better place to belong!

What should the ADI community know about you?

I enjoy community building events and connecting with peers across academic disciplines.

What do you know now that you wish you’d known before?

There are so many resources available on campus, some which I would have utilized much earlier, but it’s never too late! For instance, had I known enough to join some of the community groups on campus that I now belong to much earlier, my transition to Princeton might have been far better.

What activities do you engage in beyond research?

When I am not painstakingly mulling over my research, I often like to play soccer or volunteer at events across campus like GSG (Graduate Student Government) events, e.g. the Bloom Party doing pre-set up as well as clearing up afterward, African American Studies events, a symposium in the English department last fall (2022) which hosted one of the most prominent African writers, Patrice Nganang, some SIFP (Scholars Institute Fellows Program) events, and of course the January 2023 Museum Sip n’ See with GSP. I also like to cook, especially some Zimbabwean cuisines.

What’s on your mind?

Developing professional skills beyond academia.

What is, or would be, your super power?

The ability to speak multiple languages! (Ndebele, Shona, Zulu, Kalanga, a bit of seTswana and Xhosa and I read Latin and ancient Greek).

What would you be doing if you weren’t in grad school?

I would probably be teaching at a high school.

What’s your perfect day?

When my research is going so well!

How would your friends describe you?

A reserved/introverted person, I guess.

What’s the most interesting thing about you?

This is a good question. I am not sure how to answer this, but I would guess it is my ability to always provide a listening ear to those that would need to have one.

What book, show, podcast, game, song, play, or movie best reflects your grad school experience?

Grad school can be intense! But thinking about this question, I am going to go ahead, shamelessly biased, and say soccer is a sport that mirrors my grad school experience. I mean for me, it’s about confronting obstacles through resilience, diligence, and adapting to situations with the ultimate aim: to get in that much desired goal!