By Carla Lever
Via Nal’ibali: Column 24, term
People can tell stories in many ways. You’ve told them through writing with your novel and short stories, through images with your comic and film work and through music as the artist Black Porcelain. Why is storytelling important for you and what kind of stories do you think it’s important to tell?
Storytelling is a way for me to make sense of the world. It keeps me sane. I feel like people should tell the kinds of stories that matter to them. All stories matter!
You’ve previously said that it wasn’t until you read The Color Purple that you finally found a book with back characters. Can you tell us a little about why we owe our children and ourselves more women, more people of colour in films, books, television, advertising?
It’s so important to see yourself in the world. It’s easy to take for granted that people who look like you have always been heroes, villains, stars or models. I want little girls (like me) to know that they are worth imagining and writing stories about. It’s affirming – especially a in a world that is quite happy to make us secondary characters or people.
You first became a recognised author all the way back in school, writing fan fiction for your classmates. Do you think our communities, families and friends can play a powerful role in creating a reading culture in South Africa, by helping children to learn to love reading and writing for pleasure, not just for schoolwork?
There’s a huge storytelling culture in homes, we just need to translate that into a reading culture. Let’s take the kids to libraries, buy second hand books, give our friends books once our children have outgrown them. The quality of the stories matter as well. Let’s write stories that our kids will be excited about.
You write for the comic Kwezi, which provides South Africa with its own Jozi-based superhero. Can you tell us a little about Kwezi and where people can get their hands on copies?
Kwezi is a regular teen who suddenly discovers he has powers. Instead of becoming a “super good guy”, he uses his powers to gain popularity. It’s a story about learning how to use your powers for good. The comic books are in all book shops.
Writing for a comic seems like it would be a much more collaborative experience than writing a novel. What is the process like?
Comic books are definitely more collaborative. I’ve had to learn to be a team player and accept that stories can change at any given time. Writing a novel is lonely, but I get to be the boss!
Sure, we need South African heroes represented in books, but we also need heroes caring about books. You’ve done some heroic work to make sure that people have access to libraries. What inspires you to bring books to people?
Books changed my life and helped get through many lonely years as a weird kid. I just want kids to know that the world is bigger than their current circumstances.
How can people join in with you to help?
People can contact me on Twitter and Facebook if they have gently loved books they would like to give away. I’ll send them to a school in need of books. I also accept new books, but second-hand ones work just as well.
You’re speaking in six panel discussions at the Cape Town Open Book Festival from 5-9 September. That has to be some kind of record! What role do you think Book Festivals can and should play in South Africa right now?
Book Festivals are a place for book readers and writers to meet. Ideally we should all walk away knowing more local authors than we did before.
What kind of South African heroes would you like to see and celebrate?
I want regular people to be celebrated. There are so many regular people who do a lot to save those around them. I’d like to know their names so we can celebrate (and support) them together.
Nal’ibali’s annual multilingual storytelling competition is running this September for Literacy and Heritage Month. Aimed at reviving a love of storytelling amongst adults and children, and connecting South Africans to their rich and vibrant heritage, the theme of this year’s contest is South African Heroes. Enter by telling the story of your favourite SA icon, your personal hero, or a fictional hero in your language, and you could be crowned this year’s Story Bosso! To find out more about Nal’ibali and Story Bosso, visit www.nalibali.org, www.nalibli.mobi, or find find them on Facebook and Twitter.