One of Zimbabwe's pre-eminent writers, Yvonne Vera, has died aged 40 of meningitis, her friends said on Saturday.

"It is with great sorrow that Yvonne Vera's family and friends would like to inform you of her death," they said in a statement.

Vera died "peacefully of meningitis in hospital in Toronto, Canada, Thursday in the presence of her mother Ericah Gwetai and her husband John Jose," according to the statement.

"She had so much to give and had already given so much, she will be remembered for a very long time. She will be greatly be missed by many all over the world."

Vera considered one of Zim's most gifted writers

Renowned for her poetical novels dealing with issues her fellow writers would rather skirt, Vera is considered one of the most gifted writers to emerge from Zimbabwe.

She published five novels and a collection of short stories, translated into at least seven languages. She also edited several anthologies of short stories by African woman writers.

Her literary works won her a string of awards including the Commonwealth Writers' Prize (Africa Region, Best Book) for her 1997 novel 'Under The Tongue' and the 2002 Macmillan Writers' Prize for Africa for the novel 'Stone Virgins'.

Last year she was awarded the Swedish PEN Tucholsky Prize "for a corpus of works dealing with taboo subjects."

Her 1998 novel 'Butterfly Burning' was named as one of Africa's best hundred books of the last century.

"A great loss"

"Yvonne was a writer of enormous talent and dedication ... an intellectual of courage and imagination," publisher Irene Staunton told AFP.

"She brought great honour to her country and her death is a great loss to all of us."

Born in September 1964 in Bulawayo, then Southern Rhodesia, Vera grew up in a township in that city, in which a number of her novels are set.

After high school she left Zimbabwe, as the country celebrated its independence on April 18, 1980, for Canada, where she enrolled at York University, Toronto.

She returned from Canada with a doctorate and was appointed director of the National Gallery of Zimbabwe in Bulawayo.

She had been living with her husband in Canada for the past year and was working on her sixth novel.