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For Lovers of Books, and Lovers of Animals: Stray, Edited by Diane Awerbuck and Helen Moffett, Launched at Kalk Bay Books

Tracy Gilpin, Helen Moffett and Diane Awerbuck

The latest act of literary generosity by South African authors and publishers was celebrated with much mirth, hilarity and, quite literally, the wagging of tails at Kalk Bay Books last month.

An evening of stories and poems celebrated the launch of Modjaji Books’ latest publication, Stray: An Anthology of Animal Stories and Poems. Edited by Diane Awerbuck and Helen Moffett, the stories, artwork and editing were all donated by the contributors so that all royalties will go to TEARS Animal Rescue.

Moffett welcomed those gathered – lovers of books, lovers of animals, lovers of books about animals, and the animals in the audience. She invited Tracy Gilpin to the podium, who spoke most eloquently on behalf of TEARS.
ThuliStray“As we all know, stories do not begin with well-polished sentences, but with a thought or sometimes a simple wish. Then come words. The vehicle for our thoughts, they can inspire people to act, or to change their way of thinking,” she said.

She described how TEARS’ story began with a young woman’s simple wish to relieve the suffering of animals in Masiphumelele. “But in every story, heroines and wishes are always tested. Emma [Geary-Cooke] was killed in a car crash just as her wish began to take form. But Emma’s wish was a powerful one and it was carried forward by two of her friends,” Gilpin said. She acknowledged the presence of Marilyn Hoole, who chose the organisation’s name.

“The Emma Animal Rescue Society (TEARS) was born of Emma’s simple wish – to turn tears of sadness into tears of joy. It lives on in the treatment, rescue and rehabilitation of thousands of dogs in low-income households,” she said.

Gilpin said it was fitting for TEARS to benefit from the Stray, project and expressed her gratitude for the endorsement by Helen Macdonald (author of the bestselling H is for Hawk) who said that Stray “ripples and shines with scales and fur and feathers, a collection of stories and poems whose words give voice and form to the existence of animals that so closely share our lives”.

John and JetMany of the contributors were present in the audience and they each took a turn to read their contribution aloud. Liesl Jobson read “Petting”, a short short story about a parrot who acts like a jealous wife. Mike Cope followed with his epic poem, “Dawn”, which features a rabbit and the moon, the wind rattling and a car door slamming in the dark.

“One of the things that makes this anthology different than others of a similar nature is that it also includes poems,” Moffett said, rather than fiction or essays only. She expressed her delight that this had received the support of her co-editor, Awerbuck, and paid tribute to the award-winning author who had been the driving force behind the completion of the anthology. Stray was originally the brainchild of Moffett and Sarah Lotz, which they conceived over cappuccinos at The Food Barn Deli.

Moffett read a number of poems, including Rustum Kozain’s “The Adoration of Cats”, Colleen Higgs’ “Ode to Perry”, as well as her own poem, “Falling”:

Falling in love at 49
is like finding a salamander
among the spinach and spring onions
while weeding the vegetable patch –
or the mingled horror and wonder of
sliding a trowel into innocent soil
and uncovering a milky albino toad
topaz eyes and throat pulsing.
I fed this soil compost and mulch,
expecting no more than carrots and tomatoes.
Not this amphibian enchantment;
not this stinging sweetness.

After initiating the project and calling for submissions, it had got shelved behind other more urgent and substantial challenges. The files languished untended on various harddrives until Awerbuck’s tenacity and persistence, organisational skills and editorial nous ensured that the project came to fruition. She read “After the Jazz” by Makhosazana Xaba, a sensual piece combining some most unlikely elements.

Moffett said she had hoped to find a unicorn amongst the submissions to the collection, so was entirely delighted when Nerine Dorman sent in her fabulous story about a magical cat woman. She read her hilarious story, ‘Riddle Me This’ about a man who gets entangled with a creature he will have a hard time explaining to his wife.

Next up was Julia Martin who observed that as she drove to the event she’d realised she was covered in cat hair – a fitting outfit considering the event. She read her tender “Letter to the Management”, which explores the remarkable relationship an elderly woman in an old age home develops with the doves she feeds and names as she faces the loneliness of ageing.

Moffett read the swansong for the evening on behalf of the poet, Margaret Clough:

It’s Difficult to Explain

Why was my car standing as though abandoned in Waterford
road, you ask?
It is difficult to explain; it’s a long story –
because my grandson drove it home,
because he took it to his work
because it had to be repaired
because it had a nasty dent
because I ran into the gate
because the gate began to close
because its motor didn’t work,
because the remote was bust,
because it got wet in my jeans,
because I fell into a pond,
because I tried to catch the dog,
because she tried to catch a duck.
(At least the duck survived.)

The authors who donated their words to help raise funds for TEARS Animal Rescue are Arthur Attwell, Diane Awerbuck, Gabeba Baderoon, Robert Berold, Margaret Clough, Mike Cope, Colleen Crawford-Cousins, Gail Dendy, Richard de Nooy, Isobel Dixon, Nerine Dorman, Finuala Dowling, Tom Eaton, Justin Fox, Damon Galgut, Robyn Goss, Michiel Heyns, Colleen Higgs, Jenny Hobbs, Liesl Jobson, Rustum Kozain, Jacqui L’Ange, Sarah Lotz, Sindiwe Magona, Siphiwo Mahala, Julia Martin, Joan Metelerkamp, Niq Mhlongo, Thando Mgqolozana, Helen Moffett, Mmatshilo Motsei, Paige Nick, SA Partridge, Henrietta Rose-Innes, Beverly Rycroft, Alex Smith, Fiona Snyckers, Ivan Vladislavić, Zukiswa Wanner, James Whyle and Makhosazana Xaba. The delightful cover was designed by Joey Hi-Fi.


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Liesl Jobson (@LieslJobson) live tweeted the event using #livebooks:



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