The highly anticipated Long Story SHORT project was launched on Friday, 27 March, at the Olievenhoutbosch Community Library in Tshwane. Legendary actress and Aids activist Hlubi Mboya kicked off the first of a series of public readings with her performance of “Tender”, a story by author Nozizwe Cyntha Jele.
Long Story SHORT – produced by the Pretoria-based art consultancy Kajeno Media under the leadership of Kgauhelo Dube and funded by the Department of Arts and Culture – is an innovative project that aims to bring African literature into the digital sphere. Five more remarkable African stories, collected by author Yewande Omotso, will be read at community spaces where the team from The Academy of Television and Screen Arts will turn the readings into podcasts.
On Friday MC Masello Motana welcomed the crowd of children and adults and said that literature can be found across many mediums. She said that Long Story SHORT aims to take literature beyond libraries and books so that no matter where you go you can have access to African stories. Beki Golimpi, representing the City of Tshwane, welcomed everyone to the launch and said: “Writing a book isn’t child’s play, it takes courage. I hope more authors will write stories for our children.”
Mboya’s performance had the young children in stitches. Her facial expressions and disapproving sounds as she embodied the voice of the narrator had the kids giggling up a storm. “Tender” tells the story of the nouveau riche Kunene-family and their endless quest to accumulate more wealth and power.
Following the reading Mboya and Jele spoke about the story and answered questions from the audience. Mboya shared her passion for the project, saying that it is the young generation that will listen to podcasts and benefit from the digital space. She said that as an artist and a storyteller she was inspired to join the initiative and to be part of the digital revolution of African literature.
The Happiness is a Four-Letter Word author wrote “Tender” last year after listening to a conversation on the radio about the extreme measures people will take to get tenders. She said that “Tender” is about looking back as people at where we are and asking: “Is this what freedom was meant to be? Have we lost our moral fibre? How far will we go to get ahead?”
Jele said that Long Story SHORT is an excellent platform to make books accessible to a broader audience. “At the moment most of our books are at libraries or in bookstores but they’re not available in audio.” The author said that not everyone has access to books and that by exposing kids to stories audio books broaden the community of readers.
Responding to a question from the audience about whether audio books won’t detract from the act of reading Jele said: “As a child I didn’t have any books.” She listened to the radio which sparked her love of storytelling. “Stories exposed me to so many things,” she said and emphasised that it does not only have to be in print.
Jele told the little ones in the audience: “You don’t have to be old; you can write stories even at your age.” Sharing her writing tips Jele said that the first step to writing is to read as widely as possible. “From reading you learn to put together a story.” Then you must take your story to someone you know who will be objective and give you honest feedback. Thirdly you must visit the library or bookstores to find books that are similar to yours and see who published them. Then you can approach the publisher with your manuscript.
An audience member said that he had travelled all the way from the Vaal to attend the launch and his advice to young people from a bookseller’s perspective is to read and write in the language that makes you fee comfortable, to use your creativity and not to worry whether the story has a moral or not.
The executive director of Culture and Libraries in the City of Tshwane, Ntuthu Sipambo, closed the proceedings and said that it is important to inspire a love of reading and learning at the foundation level. After the formal discussion the audience moved to the Library Hall where delicious refreshments were served and the Malcolm Jiyan TreeO provided light music.
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