Fonds F0697 - Yvonne Vera fonds

Title and statement of responsibility area

Title proper

Yvonne Vera fonds

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  • Textual record
  • Graphic material
  • Moving images
  • Sound recording
  • Object

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Issuing jurisdiction and denomination (philatelic)

Dates of creation area


  • 1971-2015, predominant 1985-2005 (Creation)
    Vera, Yvonne

Physical description area

Physical description

1 m of textual records
ca. 800 photographs : b&w and col. ; 28 x 36 cm or smaller
ca. 150 photographs : col. negatives ; 35 mm
1 photograph : b&w tintype ; 18 x 13 cm
1 film reel ; 8 mm
1 computer disk
1 watercolour painting : col. ; 21 x 30 cm
1 compact disc
2 audio cassettes
2 videocassettes : VHS
1 USB memory stick

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Archival description area

Name of creator


Biographical history

Yvonne Vera (1964-2005) was born in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. A prominent African writer of English fiction, Vera published five novels and a collection of short stories during her short career. Her award-winning works have been translated into several languages. Vera graduated from Hillside Teacher's College in 1984, and taught English literature at Njube High School. In 1987, she immigrated to Canada and married John Jose, a Canadian teacher whom she had met while he was teaching at Njube.

Vera attended York University in Toronto, Canada, completing an Hons. BA (English) in 1990, an MA (English) in 1991, and a PhD (English) in 1995. While working on her PhD she taught literature courses at York and a summer creative writing course at Trent University in 1995. Vera’s career as a fiction writer began in earnest while she was still a student at York: she wrote a collection of short stories, entitled “Why Don't You Carve Other Animals?”, as well as the novels “Nehanda” (shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writer's Prize), “Without a Name” and “Under the Tongue.” Her novel “Butterfly Burning” was awarded the German Literature Prize and chosen as one of Africa's 100 Best Books of the 20th Century, both in 2002. “The Stone Virgins” was published in 2002, and was awarded the MacMillan Writers' Prize for Africa. She also edited “Opening Spaces: An Anthology of Contemporary Writing by African Women.” Vera was a keynote speaker and participant at numerous national and international literary festivals.

In the late 1980s Vera was diagnosed HIV­-positive, but did not disclose this publicly during her lifetime. Jose and Vera separated in 1995, and she moved back to Zimbabwe. In 1997, Vera became director of the National Gallery of Zimbabwe in Bulawayo. She returned to Canada in 2004, accompanied by Jose, to seek treatment for her worsening condition. She continued to work on her novel “Obedience” during this time, and was awarded the Swedish PEN Tucholsky Prize in 2004. Vera passed away at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto on April 7, 2005.

Ericah Gwetai published her daughter's biography, “Petal Thoughts,” in 2008 with Mambo Press in Zimbabwe. “Obedience,” the novel Yvonne Vera was working on at the time of her death, remains unpublished.

Custodial history

After her death in 2005, Vera’s literary papers and other memorabilia were stored in loose order in a large bin kept at the home of her husband, John Jose, in Richmond Hill, Ontario. When Jose later sold his house, he left the bin with a mutual friend. Mary Polito, Vera’s Literary Executor, acquired the materials from John Jose in 2010 and placed them on deposit with the Public Texts MA program (English) at Trent University where they remained until they were acquired by CTASC in 2016.

Scope and content

Fonds consists of records pertaining to Yvonne Vera’s activities as a prominent African writer of English fiction and as a student and teacher of English literature while in Canada. Records include finished copies, typescripts and drafts of published and unpublished works; copies of articles written by and about Vera; personal and professional correspondence; personal memorabilia. Fonds includes a selection of books both by and belonging to Vera and a copy of the Vera biography, “Petal Thoughts,” by Ericah Gwetai. The fonds consists of items created and accumulated together by Vera and Jose, as well as mementos brought from Zimbabwe by Vera.

Notes area

Physical condition

Immediate source of acquisition

Accession 2016-034 was acquired from Ericah Gwetai and Tafadzwa Gwetai in 2016.


The materials in accession 2016-034 was maintained in received order to coincide as much as possible with an inventory created by Trent University MA student Sarah Kastner (see General Note) and provide consistency for researchers who have already examined and cited materials from the fonds. Records were refoldered into archival boxes and folders for preservation purposes and given call numbers conforming to CTASC’s system. Larger files were re-foldered into smaller ones where necessary, and noted accordingly (file 1 of 3, and so on). When received at Trent, the materials were in various bags, binders and albums which were organized by Kastner into numbered files and boxes, detailed in her inventory. Colour photocopies of labels found on containers that previously housed the material, were created by the archivist and can be found at the beginning of the relevant file.

Language of material

  • English
  • French
  • German

Script of material

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Restrictions on access

There are no restrictions on access for most files, with the exception of 2016-034/007(01) and 2016-034/007(02), which are closed until the death of John Jose.

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Generated finding aid

Associated materials

Archival materials relating to Yvonne Vera can be found in the Charles R. Lawson collection at the Harry Ransom Centre, University of Texas and at the National English Literary Museum in Grahamstown, South Africa.

Related materials


The fonds comprises the following accessions: 2016-034. No further accruals are expected.

General note

CTASC acknowledges the initial work performed by Sarah Kastner who, as part of her MA program at Trent University (under the direction of Catherine Hobbs, Literary Archivist, Library and Archives Canada) prepared a detailed listing of the accession’s contents and performed interviews that provide additional context. That preliminary inventory and additional documents are in file 2016-034/001(01), added by the archivist. Similar materials can also be found in file 2016-034/007(07), presumably added by Kastner.

Copies of Vera’s books have been catalogued separately within York University Libraries' Special Collections, and can be located using the online catalogue by performing a keyword search using the phrase, "Yvonne Vera fonds."

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Dates of creation, revision and deletion

2018/08/16 L. Curtis: (Creation)
2020/03/26 KCP, N. Somerset. Added subject access points.
2023/03/14 J. Grant. Updated access restriction note.

Language of description

  • English


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