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Archive for the ‘Feature’ Category

2018 READ Word Warrior Competition: encouraging creativity, raising literary warriors

Written on behalf of READ Educational Trust

ENCOURAGING CREATIVITY; RAISING LITERARY WARRIORS

A wise man once quipped: Creativity is contagious. Pass it on: Albert Einstein certainly knew what he was speaking about, and when it comes to encouraging creativity and imagination in our youth, just think of the untold treasure waiting to be discovered!

This is one of many reasons why READ Educational Trust is particularly encouraged to talk about the annual READ Word Warrior Competition: a platform used to promote literacy, reading and the art of creative writing among young South Africans.

Open to learners from the ages of nine through sixteen, our 2018 READ Word Warrior Competition requires entrants to write a fiction story incorporating a colourful character, Detective WW Inkomba. (‘Inkomba’ means ‘clue’ in Zulu and Xhosa). Our Word Warriors are required to produce a Fun, Fact-Finding (FFF) mission that draws readers in, and captivates them right up to the very last word!

The entry form is filled with tips and questions aimed at getting those creative juices flowing and bringing out the best in our budding Agatha Christies! All good detectives must be wondering what’s in it for them? Not only will their work be showcased on the READ website; the winner will receive a R1000 cash prize, and their school will receive R5000’s worth of books!

Last year’s Word Warrior Competition drew a host of interesting entries and READ is pleased to announce that the READ Word Warrior of 2017 is Lolo Legoabe from Boskop Primary School! The 2017 Word Warriors had to describe their idea of ‘My Treasure’, and Lolo gave us wonderful insight into her family of five … always there for each other, no matter what they face in life!

2017 Word Warrior winner – Lolo Legoabe

 
READ encourages learners, educators and parents alike to inspire participation in this competition.

“This is one of many vehicles we use, to harness that very weapon our patron the late Nelson Mandela was passionate about: education,” Lizelle Langford, PR and Fundraising Manager at READ Educational Trust, explains.

“Together we can sharpen the literary skills of South Africa’s future leaders. A noble cause and one that is worthy of supporting every step of the way!”

For more information about the 2018 READ Word Warrior Competition, contact READ Educational Trust on 0872377781, or visit www.read.org.za.

Join the conversations on:

Facebook: www.facebook.com/READEduTrust
Twitter: www.twitter.com/READEduTrust
Instagram: www.instagram.com/read_educational_trust


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The box unlocked: there are many similarities in the lives of the author and his main character, writes Michele Magwood of John Hunt’s The Boy Who Could Keep a Swan in His Head

Published in the Sunday Times

The Boy Who Could Keep a Swan in His Head
*****
John Hunt, Umuzi, R260

John Hunt’s second novel is set in Hillbrow and Berea in 1967. Picture: Joanne Olivier

 
Advertising maestro John Hunt could probably walk to Hillbrow from his gracious Westcliff home, but the distance he has come from his childhood in that suburb is immeasurable. The Boy Who Could Keep a Swan in His Head is set in Hillbrow and Berea in 1967, a thronging, multicultural community where streets of tin-roofed houses are being broken down into skips and confident new buildings thrust skywards.

Eleven-year-old Stephen Baxter – known as Phen – lives in a worn Deco block of flats on O’Reilly Road. He’s a watchful, hypervigilant child who is learning “to listen with his eyes”. Phen’s father is dying in his gloomy, book-stuffed bedroom, an erudite and humorous man, looking for all the world like a Spitfire pilot behind his oxygen mask. His thick glasses are held together with sticky tape. “His magnified eyelashes stuck to the lenses like the bent legs of spiders waiting to scurry away.”

As his father slowly deteriorates, Phen must navigate a confusing world where adults speak in riddles and the atmosphere is thick with unspoken meaning. Pre-pubescence is a delicate time. “You can be lost in your Meccano set,” says Hunt, “but you also know that there’s something in the adult world you have to start understanding.”

He has borrowed generously from his childhood for this fine novel, but he prefers to keep the lines between fiction and lived experience blurred. Like Phen, Hunt’s father was terminally ill. Like Phen he would read for hours to his father, classics and adult books like Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood or Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea.

“Even though you could read the words, adult books had secondary meanings,” says Hunt. Phen has a severe stutter, Hunt was dyslexic, both are – or were – highly sensitive and sensitised boys. “I think the situation made a sensitive boy more sensitive, an aware child more aware,” says Hunt. It was a time of such heightened emotion and anxiety that 50 years on he is able to render the boy with crystalline empathy.

“When these things happen as a boy, in order to cope you keep them in a box. I wanted to go back and unlock the box and it just exploded from there. It was as if it was deep-frozen. It hadn’t gone away.”

Going over an old map of Hillbrow in the ’60s, memories came flowing back. Clarendon Circle, Estoril Books, the cafés and movie house. Wilson’s toffees. Mills Special cigarettes. Ford Cortinas. An immigrant from Florence named Romolo: “He was immediately renamed Romeo in acknowledgement of his tight pants and sleek hair, jet black and shaped in the front like the bonnet of Margaret Wallace’s parents’ Pontiac.”

We are reminded that Hillbrow was always a landing ground for immigrants coming to South Africa. Hunt paints this world with assured impressionistic strokes, and his characters leap off the page: Phen’s grandmother, a doughty Scotswoman, given to observations like “When life turns as black as the Earl of Hell’s waistcoat, you don’t want a man who’s all bum and parsley”; the school groundsman with shrapnel in his head from the Korean war; the shoving, mocking, almost-hormonal schoolmates and his just-coping mother.

And then there is Heb Thirteen Two, the character around whom the story revolves, an eccentric homeless man who Phen meets in the park. He might, or might not, exist in Phen’s imagination. He might be an unsavoury old hobo or he may be an angel sent to guide a boy through an unbearable time.

While Hunt received warmth and support in his childhood from the neighbourhood adults, “I’d love to have met someone like Heb in the park.”

Instead he is able to look back over the decades and pour the wisdom he needed then into this figure.

His writing is poignant without being sentimental, moving without being mawkish. This is a perceptive, affectionate view of a splintering world through a child’s wide-open eyes. It’s also a homage to the power of books and words to contain and comfort us.

It would seem that Hunt has made a life out of the words he imbibed at his father’s bedside – first as a copywriter and visionary adman (he was a co-founder of TBWA\Hunt Lascaris) – and now as an award-winning playwright and author of two novels. He is a steadfast believer in the value of reading over watching, of pages over screens.

“When you read you engage your brain differently,” he says. “You release a sort of imaginary serotonin. It’s different from when you’re watching something on an Ipad. Between the written word and the reader there’s something in between. You think not just about the characters but about yourself, where you are in the world.” @michelemagwood

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Becoming Iman: a media personality tells of her religious conversion, before being born again in the light of reason, writes Gillian Anstey

Published in the Sunday Times

Becoming Iman ****
Iman Rappetti, Pan Macmillan, R285

Iman Rappetti an award-winning journalist who has been involved in print, radio and television. She worked as a young journalist in South Africa and then abandoned it (along with all her worldly possessions) when she became Muslim. She lived in the Islamic Republic of Iran for two years, where she also worked on a current affairs TV show for the state broadcaster before returning to South Africa and resuming her life here. Now In her memoir, Iman shares stories and what she has learned from her colourful journey through life. Pic: Moeletsi Mabe. ©Sunday Times.

Iman Rappetti is likable. Convivial, affable, charming – describe it as you wish, she’s all of those and more. She engages with people as if they are the only other being in her universe. Combine that with supreme eloquence and it’s no wonder she is such a hit on TV (she recently left eNCA after 11 years) and her morning radio show on Power FM.

So the idea of Rappetti publishing a memoir is appealing, a chance to find out what helped create her effervescent personality.

Except nothing prepared me for Becoming Iman. Within a few pages, I was gasping with shock, and though that intensity became mild surprise at times and, at others, disbelief tinged with sadness, it also provoked much raucous laughter – all in all, a most satisfying read.

Her publishers were similarly taken aback. Rappetti says when she approached Terry Morris of Pan Macmillan, hopeful she’d be interested in a book compilation of the popular philosophical introductions to her radio show, Morris and her colleague said they made them want to discover more about Rappetti. They knew her career, of course, and “they know my background, a little bit, but they didn’t know (she pauses for a second) My Story. And then afterwards they were like ‘What?’”

It is this “story” that makes Rappetti’s memoir so extraordinary. Though even without its crucial elements, her life has not been mundane. There have been dramas aplenty, such as two siblings appearing from nowhere during the course of her childhood; another she barely knew because he lived with their affluent paternal grandparents; and the father she adored who found the Lord and transformed from an abuser to a loving husband.

Rappetti’s “story” is revealed in her memoir’s title; she literally became Iman. She was born Vanessa, a name her family still uses, and chose Iman, which means “faith” in Arabic, when she became Muslim, which she describes as “the descent into obsessive observance”. She says she was “an extremist Muslim, and for me extreme means following it 100%, not the negativity associated with extremism”.

Her husband, whom she never names, also converted and they followed the same “journey of discovery and adventure” to Iran to study their new religion further, a devotion which often saw her fast for an extra month of Ramadan, “to make up for the years I had lost in unbelief”.

So orthodox, she even shaved off her hair to not have to worry about tendrils escaping from her headscarf. “I wanted nothing to take my eyes off the book that was my oxygen and my reason for living,” she writes.

Rappetti lived like this for about six years. Then she found herself pretending to pray. Feeling suffocated, she writes: “As the laws began to have a material impact on how I was able to live, progress and aspire in society, as I began to live in a lesson, I realised that despite my best hopes, the truth was that I would never be an equal citizen in that construct and that it is the fragility of men it seeks to scaffold and muscularise.”

Today she declares: “I do not believe that God exists, I don’t.” And she is raising her three children without formal religion.

“My children have always grown up in a house where we strive for moral consciousness … for employing our ability to reason. It’s up to them to make the decision whether they want faith one day,” she says.

And her ex-husband? He is a “virulent atheist” also living back in South Africa.

Perhaps her daily inspirational radio message is a type of sermon but she doesn’t believe she has substituted faith with something else. If anything, “it’s the ritual of cooking, the ritual of self-indulgence and of having fun. I always joke and say my true north is joy. So whatever takes us there, if it is a good pot of curry, if it’s horsing around with the kids or eating something delicious or being with people, that’s what I have, if you want to say, replaced things with.”

At the time of her conversion she signed a paper written as a contract, titled “Reasons why you should not drive”. Her turnaround is that she is now a self-confessed speed demon. “Give me a Bugatti Veyron, give me a Lamborghini Aventador, give me a BMW i8 and, by the way, Rolls-Royce have just come out with a brilliant new SUV! Can I please have one of those? Apparently it hauls ass… I love speed, I do. It makes me feel free!”

Becoming Iman

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A fun and fiery fest featuring local and global authors alike – Kate Sidley gives us a sneak peek into FLF 2018…

Published in the Sunday Times

Across the land, writers are rummaging through their wardrobes, looking for a jacket. Because this time next week they’ll be shedding their coffee-stained hoodies, blinking into the sun, and heading to show their wares — books and brains — at the Franschhoek Literary Festival brought to you by Porcupine Ridge and Sunday Times.

Now in its 12th year, FLF is South Africa’s biggest get-together of writers and readers. There are more than 123 events, featuring over 200 writers. And it takes place in one of the prettiest, winiest, foodiest spots in the country. So what can you expect from this year?

It’s going to be fiery

Festival director Shelagh Foster says the nonfiction panels will push people’s buttons. “We’ll be talking about politics and leadership, climate change and drought, feminism. There’s a sense of urgency and impatience, of strong voices and new ideas.” Some top picks: Jacques Rousseau’s session on the scourge of institutional patriarchy and corruption with Prince Mashele, Pallo Jordan, and Ronnie Kasrils; and Richard Poplak discusses the riotous politics of our nation with General Bantu Holomisa and journalist Eric Naki.

It’s going to be fun

Pops Mohamed and Dave Reynolds will be telling magical stories through their music using steelpans, a 10-string harp guitar and African instruments.

It’s going to be global

Foster says that there are more overseas authors this year than ever. The mega popular Kate Mosse and Kate Furnivall are both in the lineup with new historical novels guaranteed to delight your book club. British spy writer Mick Herron — described as “between John Le Carré and Ian Fleming” — and Gregg Hurwitz, author of the Orphan X series.

Our faves will be there

Homegrown crowd-pleasers Redi Tlhabi, Jacques Pauw, Sisonke Msimang, Glynnis Breytenbach, Mandy Wiener, Niq Mhlongo, Deon Meyer, the list goes on, will all be at FLF.

You can write too!

Writers talk about their process. I’ll be talking to international authors Kate Mosse, Orly Castel-Bloom and Maya Fowler about what it actually takes to write for a living. There are workshops on writing for stage and screen with Vaya director Akin Omotoso and others; poetry-writing with Karin Schimke and Jolyn Phillips; essay writing with Hedley Twidle; writing for social media with Gus Silber; and memoir writing with Dianne Stewart.

There will be hidden gems

Stories of coelacanths and lions. Moving personal stories, like the man who was told he would never walk again, but fulfilled his dream of finishing the Dakar Rally. Stories of adoption, and surviving cancer and abuse and heartache. Stories of overcoming. Stories that stay with you.


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Savagely funny but serious, cynical and sanguine and whippingly plotted – Michele Magwood reviews Mick Herron’s fifth novel featuring the greedy gaseous lunk, Jackson Lamb

Published in the Sunday Times

London Rules
*****
Mick Herron, John Murray, R295

One of the authors I’m most looking forward to meeting at the Franschhoek Literary Festival next week is Mick Herron. The British writer has been quietly turning out a series of spy novels that have built something of a cult following. With London Rules, his fifth, it looks like he’s reached the tipping point onto the mainstream radar.

The plain cover of the book obscures a rare combination of wit, plot, affecting writing and vivid characterisation. It is savagely funny but serious, cynical and sanguine and whippingly plotted, veering from small human vignettes to huge public events.

Jackson Lamb is the axis of the series, a great greedy gaseous lunk who lives on Chinese takeaways and tumblers of Scotch. He’s a washed up Cold War operative who has been shut out of MI5 and put in charge of a band of disgraced spies, the so-called “slow horses”. They are stabled in a decaying building called Slough House where they eke out their days sifting through statistics and drinking weak tea.

There’s Catherine Standish, a recovering alcoholic, who Lamb teases by pouring her drinks; River Cartwright, scion of a legendary MI5 family who screwed up spectacularly; Shirley Dander is a cokehead with anger problems; Louisa Guy is paralysed by grief for her dead partner; and JK Coe is a psychologist with post-traumatic stress disorder, who hides under a hoodie with buds in his ears. And then there is the deliciously awful Roddy Ho, genius hacker and delusional narcissist.

When a terrorist cell erupts into a string of attacks, evidence points to Ho having unwittingly passed information to his girlfriend. And so the slow horses are dragged reluctantly into the action, because the first of the London Rules, as everybody knows, is Cover Your Arse.

Herron presents a sharply contemporary view of the UK that at times borders on libel: the populist Brexiteer politician (and secret cross-dresser) Dennis Gimball and his harpy columnist wife, Dodie; the Muslim politician Zafar Jaffrey, in the running to be mayor of the West Midlands, who has some worrying cohorts, and a vain and weak prime minister concerned only with his image.

As the terrorists strike again and again, the intelligence services get help – almost by accident – from the farcically inept Slough Housers.

Their bickering is blistering but it’s Lamb who gets the best lines. He asks Louisa for an educated guess; when she replies he barks, “I said educated. That guess left school at 15 for a job at Asda.”

Lamb turns to Coe: “You’re the one who gets panic attacks, right? Behind you! Just kidding.” He compares ethical behaviour to “a vajazzle on a nun. Pretty to picture, but who really benefits?”

Padding through the action, and lifting the book to another plane is some arresting description of the hours of the day passing.

“In some parts of the world dawn arrives with rosy fingers, to smooth away the creases left by night. But on Aldersgate Street … it comes wearing safe-cracker’s gloves, so as not to leave prints on windowsills and doorknobs; it squints through keyholes, sizes up locks, and generally cases the joint ahead of approaching day.”

Herron has, of course, been compared to John le Carré and Graham Greene but he is entirely, subversively, unique. @michelemagwood

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Play it forward: win and donate books!

Via TimesLive

When you read to your children, you invest in their future. Image: Rico

 
Many stories for children have been adapted over time from stories that were originally created for adults. In fact, translators have often been responsible for crafting and reshaping stories across time and space to suit their different audiences.

Think of Aesop’s fables. Aesop was a slave and storyteller in Ancient Greece in the 5th Century BCE. For centuries his stories moved across continents and were told and heard in many languages. They first appeared in print in 1484 – as stories for children, and in English. Even today, new versions of these stories continue to be created.

Many famous fairy tales have different versions around the world. For example, across Africa and Europe, in Russia, Appalachia, India and Japan, versions of the Grimm’s fairy tale, Hansel and Gretel, are told and read. So, the history of children’s literature is a history of translation. Through translation, stories from Greek, Latin, Hebrew, French, Italian and Asian languages have found their way into English. In South Africa, Pinocchio, originally written in Italian, has become Pinokiyo ngesiXhosa and is now appreciated by children who do not necessarily know that the story came from Italy.

‘Pinnocchio’ can now be enjoyed in isiXhosa, as ‘Pinokiyo’. Image: Rico.

 
Stories that originated in Africa have been retold in many languages too. All over the world people read the popular trickster tales featuring Hare, Tortoise or Spider. These stories use animals with human qualities to entertain and teach, and to share wisdom and understanding about human nature and human behaviour.

At the moment there are not enough children’s storybooks in African languages, either as original writing or as translations. But the numbers will grow as people get to know, choose, read and talk about storybooks with their children, and request storybooks in their languages of choice.

As citizens of the world, we are curious about each other and learn about each other as we tell and retell our stories.

Nal’ibali is growing a collection of stories in a range of South African languages. You can find them on the Nal’ibali website or mobisite.

Reading aloud to your children:

  • shows them that you value books and reading;
  • gives you things to talk about together;
  • builds a bond with them;
  • allows them to experience reading as a satisfying activity;
  • motivates them to learn to read for themselves and then to keep reading;
  • shows them how we read and how books work;
  • lets them enjoy stories that are beyond their current reading ability; and
  • develops their vocabulary and language abilities.
  • Try reading this story to your children

    Expand your children’s world! Read them the story of Neo’s imaginary adventure in Neo and the big, wide world by Vianne Venter, then do the Get creative! activity at the end of the story with them.

    Get your Nal’ibali supplement

    Sunday Times Express (Western Cape) – English and isiXhosa – Sunday, April 29

    Sunday World (North West Province) – English and Setswana – Sunday 29 April

    Sunday World (KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng) – English and isiZulu – Sunday 29 April

    Sunday World (Free State) – English and Sesotho – Sunday 29 April

    Sunday World (Limpopo) – English and Sepedi– Sunday 29 April

    • English and Xitsonga supplements will be available at selected SA Post Offices and reading clubs in Limpopo

    The Herald (Thursday 3 May) and Daily Dispatch (Tuesday 1 May) (Eastern Cape) – English and isiXhosa.

    Play it forward: WIN and donate books

    Two lucky readers can win 10 books each week and donate them to a school, reading club or library of their choice.

    The third runner-up will win a Nal’ibali reading-at-home starter pack.

    Books are donated by Tiso Blackstar Group and Jacana Media.

    To enter, contact patti.mcdonald@tisoblackstar.co.za before 5pm on Thursday, May 10 and give one reason why we need to read to children in their mother tongue. Include your name, cellphone number and physical address.

    Winners will be announced on Friday, May 11. Terms and conditions apply.


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“It really should be a no brainer that people should have access to books in their languages.” A Q&A with African language translator and literary activist, Lorato Trok

Published in the Sunday World, Daily Dispatch and Herald

By Carla Lever

Lorato Trok

 
You have worked for nearly every literacy promotion organisation in South Africa! How did you become a translator?

When I was a student at North West University I majored in Setswana and our class was the only one that barely had access to good reading material. I was determined to do something to change that. When I saw the kind of translated material that children were reading, I was deeply disappointed. The quality was so bad, but no one seemed to care as long as it was in an African language. That’s where my activism started.

Nal’ibali are expanding the number of languages their newspaper supplements are now available in. Can you tell us a little about that?

Nal’ibali has now added Setswana and Xitsonga to their supplements. This is so, so exciting: it means that more children will be accessing good reading material in their home languages.

Did you have access to books and stories in your mother tongue when you were young?

If in 2018 we still talk about there not being enough books in African languages, can you imagine the 80s and 90s? There was absolutely no reading material, except for schoolbooks of course. Luckily, my mom and my aunt were master storytellers and we sat around the fire in our household to hear great African folktales, all in Setswana. My aunt was also an actress in local small town showbiz, so we used to enjoy those shows! The story-telling and township dramatic arts saved the day for us. So even though I had no access to reading material, my experiences in literature were rich and rewarding.

Why is it important for people to have access to books and reading material in all of our South African languages?

It really should be a no brainer that people should have access to books in their languages. It affirms the importance of their identity: for most people here, language is their identity.

Have you ever had anyone tell you what it meant to them to be able to read a story you have translated into their mother tongue?

I get that all the time and it gives me so much pleasure. Whenever I travel back to the Northern Cape I meet teachers I translated and wrote stories for many years ago and they are still grateful. I meet young people who thank me for writing in Setswana and translating stories in their home language. It’s my greatest joy.

Officially, South Africa has eleven national languages, but in reality people’s everyday experience of any form of written language is often only in English and Afrikaans. Why does that need to change?

Official forms are still only available in English and Afrikaans and it gets worse as you travel further from cities to small towns. I was in a shop in a small town called Kuruman and all the shop signs about the listeriosis crisis were in Afrikaans. It’s like the Setswana speaking people – who are the majority in that town – did not exist. We are still bringing up generations of divided children in this country. We can’t just talk about it: the government needs to open their eyes and realise that this is negatively affecting the country’s future development.

Many people say that publishing books and resources in all South African languages is simply too expensive. What would you say to those who argue it is not a practical solution?

How is it not practical? In a country where more than 80% of the population identify African languages as their home languages? Why is it possible for publishers to publish school readers in African languages and not for pleasure reading? For those of us who work in this space, we know what people really want. It’s assumed that only English and Afrikaans speaking people want to buy and read books, but platforms like Abantu Book Festival and book fairs popping up in townships across the country are proving that that was never the case. There’s a level of consciousness in young black people across the country reclaiming and appreciating their identities. Discussions around decolonisation are getting louder – publishers can no longer stick to the same tired narrative. The country has changed, now minds need to change to embrace that.

From Sunday April 15, Nal’ibali will be publishing its supplements in two new languages. An English-Setswana edition will be published in the Sunday World in the North West, and an English-Xitsonga edition will be donated to reading clubs in Limpopo. Clubs in both provinces will collect their copies from select post offices. The post offices (10 in each province) will also have 50 additional editions each to give away to member of the public.


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The Killing of Butterfly Joe is a tale of violence, guns and greed – and the process of storytelling – told from a prison cell, writes Anna Stroud

Published in the Sunday Times


Rhidian Brook’s protagonist sells butterflies in glass cases – a job he once had. Pic: Nikki Gibbs. © Unknown
 
The Killing of Butterfly Joe
****
Rhidian Brook, Picador, R285

The Killing of Butterfly Joe is a fast-paced, neo-gothic thriller that starts in the Catskills Mountains of New York and takes the protagonists on a whirlwind adventure across America. The provocative set-up of the title adds to the sense of dread as the story unfolds, while cutaway scenes reveal the narrator is telling the tale from his prison cell. From the start we know that the narrator, Welsh wannabe-writer Llew Jones, is in for a wild ride when he becomes entangled in the Bosco clan and their butterfly business.

Rhidian Brook is like his main character – a Welsh novelist, except he is successful and living in London with his wife and two children. This year readers can look forward to a film based on his 2013 novel The Aftermath, starring Keira Knightley.

Brook explains where this latest novel comes from: “When I was 23 I had a job selling butterflies in glass cases in America. I worked for a guy who, as well as being a butterfly salesman, had ambitions to be America’s first Pope (an ambition he ditched on account of wanting to marry). I drove all over the US and sold in 32 states. It was 1987 and was pre-internet and pre-mobile phone, which increased the sensation of having an adventure in a land far, far away. I was not a novelist at the time but I told myself that I had to write about these butterflying days if I could. And so I did – 30 years later.”

The characters are well-rounded and entertaining. There’s Joe Bosco, the charismatic, dynamic oldest son; Edith, the powerful, terrifying matriarch; Isabelle, the sensible sister; Mary, the sensual sister; and Clay, Elijah and Celeste who, like the narrator, come to the business in unorthodox ways.

Brook says the characters’ interaction is vital to the story: “Llew is coming into an established, albeit eccentric, family in which there are different temperaments and different histories all clashing. Part of Llew’s journey is working out who is true and trustworthy. The characters also bring out the best and the worst in our narrator.”

Llew and Joe’s relationship reminds the reader of Nick Carraway and Jay Gatsby; Llew is enthralled by the sheer magnitude of Joe’s personality and despite his affection for both sisters, it is Joe he loves.

Joe was inspired by two “untameable, creative/destructive mavericks” in literature, The Cat in the Hat and Zorba the Greek. There are echoes of Kerouac and F Scott Fitzgerald in the story, and Brook unpacks the notion of the American Dream in a new and refreshing way.

“The American Dream is a chimera. And yet, the sense of possibility – the idea – of America is so powerful it gives you the feeling that you can do and be anything. And sometimes that happens. Joe actually despises the idea of it – for him it stems from the constitution’s attempt to encode happiness in law. He also thinks it’s a kind of idolatry. In his view America is a religious country but its real religion is money, backed by violence and guns. True religion has been lost.”

Writing is a central theme as elements of storytelling appear throughout the book. Joe tells Llew, “If it’s your story, you can do what you like with it”, Joe makes up his own words and Llew admits he’s an unreliable narrator. Brook says: “I was interested in the tension between experiencing versus imagining, but also how we can sometimes stumble into being writers via the most unexpected roads. Llew gets to write his ‘Great Welsh-American Novel;’ just not in the way he expected.” @annawriter_

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Nal’ibali adds two more South African languages to their literacy newspaper supplements

Via Nal’ibali

Nal’ibali – South Africa’s national reading-for-enjoyment campaign – is proud to be adding two more South African languages to their literacy newspaper supplements. Setswana and Xitsonga readers can now enjoy the Nal’ibali supplements in their mother languages from mid-April 2018. This latest addition brings the total number of languages to eight, for Nal’ibali’s bilingual supplements. It is a significant milestone for Nal’ibali, who fully promotes reading and writing in mother languages.

The supplements are made possible through a media partnership with Tiso Blackstar (formerly Times Media Group), who produce the bilingual newspaper supplements every two weeks, during term time. The print rich material includes stories, literacy activities, reading and reading club tips and support, to inspire and guide parents, caregivers, teachers, librarians and reading clubs, to make reading and storytelling meaningful, enjoyable and accessible.

“The importance of mother language preservation and promotion is critical and should be addressed as such,” explains Nal’ibali Xitsonga language editor, Mr Gezani Chabalala, who believes language, culture and identity are inseparable and complement each other. Language assists in shaping one’s culture. It is important to preserve and promote mother tongue for the language’s continued existence, and as a minority language in SA, Xitsonga speakers will benefit from this milestone. People learn and understand better when lessons are conducted in a language they know and understand well, concludes Chabalala.

Nal’ibali places value on the power of language and cultural relevance in literacy development. To cultivate a reading culture and a nation that prides itself on high-level literacy, all children and adults need to understand what they are listening to and reading. Real understanding makes it meaningful and enjoyable which is significant for raising readers.

“I would like to commend Nal’ibali for giving the Batswana children, and children of other languages, an opportunity to read interesting stories in their own language! It is a great effort towards ensuring we cultivate a culture of reading in our children, at the same time preserving our language. In my opinion, children who can write and read in their language can easily learn other languages. Through storytelling, with special reference to Setswana, our language and culture will be hugely promoted, as Nal’ibali urges children to interact with others, to use their imagination and to learn from these stories” says Opelo Thole, Nal’ibali Setswana language editor.

Several Tiso Blackstar titles distribute 147,600 reading-for-enjoyment supplements fortnightly in the following language combinations, available during school term time only:

• Sunday World (North West Province) – English and Setswana – Sundays
• English and Xitsonga supplements will be available at selected SA Post Offices and reading clubs in Limpopo
• Sunday Times Express (Western Cape) – English and isiXhosa – Sundays
• Sunday World (KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng) – English and isiZulu – Sundays
• Sunday World (Free State) – English and Sesotho – Sundays
• Sunday World (Limpopo) – English and Sepedi – Sundays
• The Herald (Thursdays) and Daily Dispatch (Tuesdays) (Eastern Cape) – English and isiXhosa.

Each week, 53 000 supplements are also distributed free of charge through Tiso Blackstar Education directly to reading clubs, community organisations, libraries, schools and other partners in the Eastern Cape, Western Cape, Gauteng, Free State, Limpopo, North West and KwaZulu-Natal. A limited number of free supplements will be available at select post offices in Limpopo and North West. Visit Nal’ibali’s website to see a list of these post offices.

To download digital copies of the supplements and more information about the Nal’ibali reading-for-enjoyment campaign, free children’s stories in a range of SA languages, tips on reading and writing with children, details on how to set up a reading club or to request training, visit www.nalibali.org, www.nalibali.mobi, or find them on Facebook and Twitter..


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Almost unknown at home, Musa Ngqungwana has sung in the world’s opera capitals, writes Claire Keeton

Published in the Sunday Times

Musa Ngqungwana’s memoir talks about the man behind the voice. Pic: Simphiwe Nkwali. © Sunday Times

 
Odyssey of an African Opera Singer
***
Musa Ngqungwana, Penguin Books, R250

Performing the title role of Porgy in New York last year, PE-born opera star Musa Ngqungwana looked out into the dark behind the conductor and saw rows of people crying. “Then the curtain came down. We got a standing ovation. We came out for four bows,” he says, his eyes misty. “It was a surreal moment.”

From his early days in a church choir bass-baritone Ngqungwana has performed in the US, Canada, UK, Norway and Italy and won critical acclaim internationally.

When he turned 16 he applied for a passport. As a teenager scraping by in Zwide, he told no one about standing in line for a passport. “A classmate once told me I was a dreamer when I said that one day I would travel the world,” he wrote in his new memoir, Odyssey of an African Opera Singer.

This expands on his first self-published memoir with revealing insights about his life, including how hard he found the absence of his father while growing up.

The first black man he saw singing opera in a video, bass-baritone Willard White, inspired him as a schoolboy to follow his voice. Now at age 35, he has never looked back.

In Joburg for an interview, Ngqungwana says: “I know 10 guys who can outsing me or act better but only 5% of opera is about singing. Your brain is 95%.”

Ngqungwana lives in Philadelphia, US, where he moved to study at the acclaimed Academy of Vocal Arts after graduating from UCT magna cum laude. His immersion into the academy was a shock.

French pianist Laurent Philippe was brutal in his first coaching session. “He arrived late on purpose and said hello to me in French. As I started singing he said: ‘I hear this remarkable voice but it does not match what I’m seeing.’ He was very rude about my weight and called me a black rhino.”

But they formed a good relationship and Philippe even accompanied Ngqungwana to South Africa as his pianist when he entered the Standard Bank Young Artists competition at the Grahamstown Arts Festival in 2015.

The night that Ngqungwana triumphed in Grahamstown was one of the highlights of his career. Growing up he couldn’t afford to go to the SA Music Awards (Samas) when they were held in PE.

Ngqungwana said: “This is why performing there was a big deal for me, it was our (classical) version of the Samas.”

He wondered whether people would come from his childhood home 120km away because it was raining that night and opera was seen as Eurocentric. He said: “Philippe said to me: ‘I thought we were coming to Africa but we have done two concerts and hardly seen any black people.’”

Ngqungwana’s first choirmaster, Makhaya Msizi, was in the audience though his mother was not. He has struggled with his absent father and estrangement from most of his family most of his life, yet seems to have made peace with this, and helps his mother. “I do not cling to the past,” he said.

Ngqungwana’s vulnerability and vision shine through in this account of his inspiring life. He is meticulous, even pedantic, about paying tribute to the many people who helped him at every stage of his life. His honesty gives a glimpse of his life offstage, of the man behind the costumes and the face paint.

Book details


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