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Archive for the ‘Feature’ Category

“I think a child without anyone to tell them stories is an abandoned child” – a Q&A with author and JRB City Editor, Niq Mhlongo

Nal’ibali Column 6, published in the Sunday World (18/02/2018), Daily Dispatch (19/02/2018), Herald (22/02/2018)

By Carla Lever

Niq Mhlongo, author and City Editor of the Johannesburg Review of Books

How do you think storytelling helps us understand place – can it make sense of where we are from?

It’s really fundamental. If Joseph Conrad didn’t write Heart of Darkness I don’t think people like Donald Trump would have had the audacity to call African countries ‘sh*tholes’. Perhaps is he had been forced to read Emecheta, Laye, Mphahlele, Ngugi and others he would have had a clear understanding of Africa.

So much of our cultural geography is imported – TV shows and novels glamorise places like New York or Paris. At the same time, African cities tend to be written about, often in negative terms, by outsiders. Why is it important that we write about African places and cities and create our own literary maps?

Someone once told me that the biggest commodity that America was able to sell to Africa was its culture. I agree. Cultural geography, as you call it, is a very powerful tool that powerful countries have used to dominate other countries. When South Africans today talk about ‘decolonization’ I think it is a legitimate appeal to break away from, among other things, the shackles of cultural dominance. So when authors write about African places and cities they contribute a lot in creating our own literary maps that have been disregarded by the imposed colonial narratives of places and spaces that we live in.

Your upcoming book Soweto, Under the Apricot Tree, takes us into the places you were born and raised in. Can you tell us a little about why you wrote the book and how it felt to be making a place meaningful to people through your writing?

I wrote Soweto, Under the Apricot Tree because I could not find a good written story about Soweto that I could read and actually identify with. I was tired of the meaning of Soweto always being confined to Vilakazi Street and the Twin Towers. I decided to write that story I was searching for myself – in fact, as an insider, it made perfect sense that I do it!

You have weaved African oral traditions, cultural practices and storytelling traditions into your previous novels, too – I’m thinking here particularly of your novel Way Back Home. What does it mean to you to be called an African author? Is that a useful description or one you find unnecessary?

There is no problem being called an African author. It all depends on the context in the context in which the name is used. If it means that my writing is inferior compared to the so-called ‘European author’ or ‘American author’, then such a name is already loaded with negativity.

I know you write adult fiction, but you have written for children too! Can you tell us a little about writing for the TV series Magic Cellar and why projects that get young people excited about stories are so important?

Ah, let me not exaggerate my involvement with Magic Cellar. In fact, I only wrote one script for them. But the project trained me as a children’s story writer. During the same period I actually wrote a script for children based on African folktales. It was animated for a children’s program on SABC 2…so I suppose I learned something!

I think a child without anyone to tell them stories is an abandoned child. Stories make all of us happy, and give us a sense of belonging in society. They guide us and give us hope in the world. Any project that give young people that kind of wholeness deserves full support from everyone.

What changes would you like to see in the South African literary scene? Are there things (maybe organisations, new spaces for writers or publishing initiatives) that you find exciting?

I would like to see a full government involvement in the South African literary scene by supporting any literary project, especially projects that make children read. I would like to see government officials and schools reading and prescribing more South African literature. I would like to see more political leaders at the ABANTU Book Festival this year and years to come. The JRB, ABANTU, Nal’ibali, Longstory Short are some of the most important literary projects in South Africa today which give me a right to write.

How can we get more children excited about reading, particularly proud of our own, rich African literary heritage?

We need to prescribe more South African books and make things like Shakespeare optional in our school curriculum. In that way we can show them our rich African literary heritage.

Reading and telling stories with your children is a powerful gift to them. It builds knowledge, language, imagination and school success! For more information about the Nal’ibali campaign, or to access children’s stories in a range of South African languages, visit:

Book details
Soweto, Under the Apricot Tree


Way Back Home

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Reading revolution reaches deep rural schools

By Michael Cekiso, Story Powered Schools Project Manager

What’s the best way to improve a child’s school results across the board? What if there could be one magical intervention that could skyrocket a child’s progress in every area of their lives? What a dream it would be for funders. What a gamechanger it would be for learners! As it turns out, there is a gamechanger: books.

Policy experts, educational specialists, and statisticians all agree: a child who reads and is read aloud to, is a child who learns. In fact, reading proficiency is the number one indicator of future academic success greater even than a child’s economic background or school choice. But what does this mean for South African children? The short answer is: a challenge.

Books are expensive and disposable income is tight. What’s published depends on what makes publishers the most profit and how many children’s stories have you seen in isiZulu or isiXhosa recently?

These are predominantly the mother tongues of children living in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal who are now well into the swing of 2018 and have either just started or are back at school. What that looks like for millions of children across SA is peak hour traffic jams, homework, and lost lunch boxes. But for children living in the rural areas of these provinces – it looks radically different.

In the Eastern Cape, for example, the lack of basic facilities is heart-breaking. Only 26% of schools in the province have a library, and only 10% of learners may borrow books. It will be no surprise then to discover that school results are just as poor and compounded by poor economic circumstances. Many children are attending school on an empty tummy, do not live with their parents, and live in homes without toilets. South African children simply aren’t getting the basic tools they need to make the leap out of poverty.

If access to books makes the difference between a child who can and can’t read, in one generation it makes the difference between a country that is economically thriving and one which is caught in a poverty trap. But rather than feeling overwhelmed, it’s important to remember that small actions can have big results, if they are sustained.

2017 was the first year of our pilot project, Story Powered Schools, which introduced the Nal’ibali reading-for-enjoyment campaign’s proven approach to literacy development to 240 rural schools in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. These are schools that have been given a powerful injection to move progress forward, schools that have been given books and literacy support.

Based in areas that would otherwise receive almost no developmental opportunities, these schools were identified by the Department of Basic Education who brought District Education officials on board to help with a roll-out that included principals, teachers, and community members. We employed 48 ‘Story Sparkers’ and eight Literacy Mentors from local communities to keep fanning the flames of our big idea.

How did it work? Every school that participated received five hanging libraries, one suited for each grade from R to 4. These mobile units each housed 150 exciting storybooks for children in their mother tongue as well as English. And, every fortnight, schools received copies of the Nal’ibali reading-for-enjoyment supplement packed with bilingual stories and activities to keep any reading club motivated.

Although supplements are available in newspapers across the provinces, they often don’t reach deep rural areas, but, putting story power back in to the hands of communities, we made a commitment to take supplements to them and well over half a million were donated and delivered last year.

It doesn’t end there. Through continued face-to-face support, we made sure that each school received weekly visits from our Story Sparkers, who in turn were paid a stipend. Not a huge amount, but in many cases, it made a significant difference in their lives. Some financed studies through UNISA, others were finally able to purchase that two-bedroom house for their families. It’s a project that has knock-on benefits for the whole community.

And, although it’s hard to benchmark direct benefits – that depends on schools having the time to participate in far more monitoring and evaluation activities than they have resources for – what we have seen has been encouraging. Not one school we approached opted out.

Close to 100 000 children were reached last year and 799 reading clubs were launched by school children, parents, and community members. Schools reported a significant decrease in absenteeism and late-coming, and children became excited to attend schools where there were steady streams of new stories to feed their minds and imaginations. Teachers also noticed an increase in confidence with children telling stories and discussing ideas in class. Stories, it surprises none of us to hear, make children excited.

And that was just our first year! 2018 sees the graduation of our 2017 school group, and the intake of 244 new schools across the Umgungundlovu and iLembe districts of KZN and the Bizana, Lusikisiki, Mount Ayliff and Maluti districts in the Eastern Cape where we aim to keep changing the narrative of our schools, communities, and nation one story at a time.

Story Powered Schools is a Nal’ibali initiative endorsed by the Department of Basic Education and made possible by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). For more information about the campaign or the power of reading and storytelling, visit: and

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Asymptote’s Winter 2018 issue celebrates the journal’s seventh year and 100th language!

Via Asymptote

Asymptote’s Winter 2018 issue celebrates the journal’s 7th year and 100th language! This edition includes a Microfiction Special Feature full of glittering allegory, along with uncompromising fiction confronting today’s grim realities.

Winner of the 2015 London Book Fair’s International Literary Translation Initiative Award, Asymptote is the premier site for world literature in translation. We take our name from the dotted line on a graph that a mathematical function may tend toward, but never reach. Similarly, a translated text may never fully replicate the effect of the original; it is its own creative act.

Our mission is simple: to unlock the literary treasures of the world. (Watch a video introduction of Asymptote here.) To date, our magazine has featured work from 105 countries and 84 languages, all never-before-published poetry, fiction, nonfiction, drama, and interviews by writers and translators such as J. M. Coetzee, Patrick Modiano, Herta Müller, Can Xue, Junot Díaz, Ismail Kadare, David Mitchell, Anne Carson, Haruki Murakami, Lydia Davis, Ann Goldstein, and Deborah Smith.

In our five years, we have expanded our offerings to include a daily-updated blog, a fortnightly newsletter, a monthly podcast, and educational guides accompanying each quarterly issue; we’ve also organized more than thirty events on five continents. In 2015, Asymptote became a founding member of The Guardian’s Books Network with “Translation Tuesdays”, a weekly showcase of new literary translations that can be read by the newspaper’s 5 million followers. This means that Asymptote is the only translation-centered journal that can boast of a genuinely international readership – reaching beyond niche communities of literary translators and world literature enthusiasts.

Always interested in facilitating encounters between languages, Asymptote presents work in translation alongside the original texts, as well as audio recordings of those original texts whenever possible. Each issue is illustrated by a guest artist and includes Writers on Writers essays introducing overlooked voices that deserve to be better-known in the English speaking world, as well as a wildcard Special Feature that spotlights literature from certain regions or cutting-edge genres such as Multilingual Writing and Experimental Translation. To catalyze the transmission of literature even further, Asymptote also commissions translations of texts into languages other than English, thereby engaging other linguistic communities and disrupting the English-centered flow of information. All the work we publish is then disseminated for free via eight social media platforms in three languages, through a dedicated social media team as well as our ever-expanding network of editors-at-large in six continents.

George Bernard Shaw famously said, “If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange those ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.” It is in this spirit of sharing ideas that Asymptote invites readers to explore work from across the globe.

Incorporated neither in America nor in Europe, unaffiliated with any university or government body, Asymptote does not qualify for many grants that other like institutions receive. If you enjoy our magazine, help us continue our mission by becoming a sustaining member at just $10 a month. In return for pledging at least a year’s support, you’ll receive an Asymptote Moleskine notebook!

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Kim Scott’s Aborigine novels are about recovery – in the sense of healing and of regaining what was lost, writes Bron Sibree

Published in the Sunday Times

Kim Scott, Picador Australia

Kim Scott writes tales about Australia’s indigenous history that resonate so deeply in the marrow you’re never the same after reading them. Tales that beguile as deftly as they overturn preconceptions about his nation’s frontier history.

Scott, 60, often called Australia’s most important novelist, is the only indigenous author to win the Miles Franklin Award (Australia’s most prestigious literary prize) twice. Most recently he won it for his 2010 novel That Deadman Dance, which proffered a form of hope, as one reviewer put it, not “based on platitude, but as a mechanism to build a better world”.

Notions of hope and possibility are seamed, too, into his new novel, Taboo, his fifth, which is contemporary to its bootstraps yet soars on mysterious ancient resonances. It’s a novel of heart-aching sadness, wry humour and incalculable beauty that revolves around a group of Wirlomin Noongar people who accept an invitation to visit a 19th-century Aboriginal massacre site on a property in Western Australia owned by elderly white farmer Dan Horton. A site where Horton’s ancestors once massacred theirs.

Among the Noongar characters who make the journey is teenager Tilly Coolman, who was briefly fostered by the Hortons as a child, and whose sad history gradually unfolds, exemplifying the harsh contemporary realities for many indigenous people.

This is a book, says Scott, “about damaged people at the interface of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal societies, our history …” He breaks off at the word “recovering”. “That’s a very important word for me for this book – recovering through connection to precolonial heritage and a transformation occurring because of that. And in the case of Tilly, it’s recovering or healing through connection to community as well as place and language.”

Indeed, all the Aboriginal characters in Taboo cling to the belief that reconnecting with ancestral land and language will heal a devastating legacy of loss and damage, and it remains, says Scott, “a preoccupation of many of us. I have worked in prisons with language, I’ve heard people talking in these terms. So that’s what I’m exploring, recovery and transformation.”

Indeed, this soft-spoken professor of writing at Perth’s Curtin University has witnessed transformation aplenty during his two-decade long involvement with the Wirlomin Noongar Language and Stories Project, a language and culture recovery project which has “deeply informed” the novel. Drawing on various genres in magical and daring ways, Taboo reflects his desire to shift archetypal indigenous stories into the wider, global literary canon.

“There’s deep mythos potentially available to us in them,” says Scott. “I’ve talked often about the notion of anchoring a shimmering nation state to its continent through its indigenous heritages, and language is part of that; but it’s not just Noongar, it is many, many languages. And I wanted to signal the significance of these languages vis a vis Greek and Latin. There was a renaissance of those languages, and here we have even more ancient languages and a landscape that is truly ancient in which those languages are embedded.”

He speaks too of “the paradox of empowerment through giving”, citing an incident during the project’s early years when key Noongar elders invited a member of one of the old pioneering farming family’s along. “I remember saying, ‘No, they stole our country, we’re not giving them this as well,’ but they insisted. And when the elders called this particular individual to the front and gave him these [Noongar-language] books, he was crying. That made me realise there’s a transformation of power relationships in the storytelling situation.”

Scott was a schoolteacher who turned to writing poetry out of embarrassment to be teaching literature without writing it himself. Now, several books and a swag of awards later, he remains a passionate believer in the transformative power of storytelling. “I’ve been transformed through reading,” says Scott. “It’s one of the most exciting potentials of writing stories, that possibility. It’s the immersion, the dwelling inside the story that’s transformative.” – @BronSibree

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World Read Aloud Day – why reading aloud matters

Via the Read Educational Trust

On World Read Aloud Day, the 1st of February 2018, it is well worth our while to ponder on the countless benefits of such a simple activity.

While children whose parents frequently spend time conversing with them, already have a head start, it’s only in books, newspapers and magazines that enriching vocabulary is seen.

A child who hears these types of words has a giant advantage. Reading aloud also increases a child’s attention span, and when you read aloud, you’re whetting a child’s appetite for reading.

Expecting your child to grow into being an avid reader is wishful thinking if they see no one reading at home.

In an age where the average teen spends 90 minutes a day, sending text messages, it is absolutely vital to keep the habit of reading aloud, alive. There is evidence that we don’t remember information as well when we read it on a screen, so parents and caregivers have a huge responsibility to encourage a love of books and be that priceless reading role model.

READ Educational Trust has a lifelong focus of promoting literacy in a country where 78% of Grade 4 learners cannot read for meaning in any language, according to the recently released PIRLS Study (Progress In International Reading Literacy, 2016). In this context, the ‘Read Aloud Magic’ sets, launched alongside Reading Matters, is a vital tool in encouraging reading aloud, at home and at school.

‘READ ALOUD MAGIC’ Sets Available Online!

Each of three box sets contains 12 beautifully designed books filled with enchanting, adventure-filled stories set in Africa.

These stories are all set in Africa, and revolve around children and animals discovering the world in which they live. Set A is suitable for children aged 4 to 7, while 5-to-8-year-olds will enjoy set B. Set C is aimed at children aged 6 to 9.

These sets are a priceless investment, not only in terms of serving to build your child’s vocabulary, but as far as spending quality time with your little ones goes.

Each set retails for R1500, and may be purchased via, on or directly from Reading Matters. Phone 087 237 7781, or 0800 11 65 35. Alternatively, feel free to e-mail for further information or to order.

Visit to find out more and join the conversations on:


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“Their legacy endures because of the intellectual and emotional potential they unlocked for us to recognise” – Karina M. Szczurek on Outsiders: Five Women Writers Who Changed the World

Published in the Sunday Times

By Karina M. Szczurek

Clockwise from top left: Virginia Woolf, Emily Brontë, George Eliot, Olive Schreiner, Mary Shelley.


Outsiders: Five Women Writers Who Changed the World
Lyndall Gordon
Little Brown, R315

In 1915, Virginia Woolf emerged from a mental breakdown only to witness the madness of the Great War’s slaughter. Opposed to violence, she felt she had no country to call her own. Disillusioned, she encouraged women to form “the outsiders society”. Woolf is one of the women Lyndall Gordon includes in Outsiders: Five Women Writers Who Changed the World.

The inspiration came to her in 1975 on a train journey to Reading, where Gordon was to give a talk on DH Lawrence. “It was early morning, a beautiful day,” she remembers. “I suddenly thought I wanted to write a book about women through the generations, and the kind of ideas they had about how the world could be.” The seed for Outsiders was planted, but Gordon went on to write six individual biographies – of TS Eliot, Woolf, Charlotte Brontë, Henry James, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and Emily Dickinson – as well as two memoirs before embarking on the project.

Gordon’s oeuvre makes it clear that the vision on the train did not remain dormant. Even when writing the two men’s biographies, she focused on the women who shaped their creative consciousness. She is drawn to women who, like James’s Isabel Archer, “affront their destiny”.

It is late morning when we meet in her flat in Sea Point. Her permanent home is overseas but she always returns to the Cape with longing. In person a compelling storyteller, she enriches the conversation with luminous literary quotes and insights.

Looking out to sea from where we sit, it is easy to picture Woolf’s “fin of a submerged form lurking in the waves”. Much is at risk. Outsiders, a “dispersed biography”, is unlike Gordon’s other work. She recalls her apprehension before it went to print. A culmination of four decades of meticulous consideration, the book is a record of revolutionary outlooks.

Interweaving the intellectual and creative work of Shelley the “prodigy”, Emily Brontë the “visionary”, George Eliot the “outlaw”, Olive Schreiner the “orator” and Woolf the “explorer”, Gordon shows how they imagined a new world order into existence. By staying true to themselves, the five defied norms and expectations.

“I wanted to show how these women looked at what is crude, ugly, abusive, dismaying in human nature, but then found a voice that was a different strain in civilised men and women: Mary Wollstonecraft spoke of ‘tenderness’ and George Eliot of ‘sympathy’.” Each rebelled against inequality and misogyny.

“Power is rotten,” Gordon says, appalled at the hunger for it, in men and women alike. “I feel like an outsider as a feminist because I don’t think power is a good thing.”

At the core of this book is what Gordon refers to as “an alternative to power”. The Brontë sisters were criticised as “brutal, unwomanly” for exposing domestic violence in their novels, she points out. “This speaks right to this time when there is a tsunami of public opinion sweeping everywhere with the #MeToo campaign.” The challenge of silence surrounding victims of power persists.

Gordon quotes the young Jane Eyre: “Speak, I must.” For the five writers speaking was a “creative and moral act”. Gordon herself believes in “being a moral being”.

“The moral being inside me is responding in a small way to the gigantic moral being in all these writers,” she says.

They wanted to be seen for who they believed themselves to be. Their legacy endures because of the intellectual and emotional potential they unlocked for us to recognise. It dazzles in Outsiders.

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Get set up to read with your children and Nal’ibali in 2018

To help set caregivers up to read with their children in the new year, Nal’ibali – the national reading-for-enjoyment campaign, has compiled a special calendar highlighting some of the major literacy activities taking place in 2018. Complete with instructions on how to collect the cut-out-and-keep storybooks included in each edition of the campaign’s multilingual supplement, it will also assist young or new readers to collect and build their own mini-libraries over the course of the year.

“We’re excited about this resource which we hope will help to promote a culture of reading-for-enjoyment in our country. Most South African families live beyond easy reach of a public library and very few households have their own collection of storybooks for children to read or choose from,” says Jade Jacobsohn, Managing Director at Nal’ibali. “By using the calendar as a guide, caregivers and teachers can help children collect 30 stories this year and create their own personalised story-powered book boxes to keep them in.”

Research shows that children who are exposed to books and stories in their home languages, and who are read to regularly and right from birth, do better than their peers in the classroom, regardless of their social standing or economic circumstances.

To increase access to stories and literacy materials in different SA languages, Nal’ibali donates and delivers over 100 000 copies of its supplement to schools, libraries, reading clubs and fellow literacy organisations every second week during school term time. Members of the public can find copies in selected newspaper titles, or download them directly from the Nal’ibali website.

Created in partnership with the award-winning literacy organisation, PRAESA (the Project for the Study of Alternative Education in South Africa), the stories carried in the supplement are selected to promote and support South African authors and illustrators, and to expose children to a variety of different language and drawing styles. Stories are reproduced free of charge with special permission from the publishers and translated by PRAESA.

Currently the supplement is published in six different language combinations including English-isiZulu, English-isiXhosa, English-Afrikaans and English-Sepedi, and this year the campaign is excited to be adding Xitsonga and Setswana to this list from April.

“There is a need for collective action in motivating SA children to read, and it needs to be consistent. However small adults and caregivers may think this simple activity is, regularly spending time reading and sharing stories with children can have a massive and cumulative impact – helping them to reach their life potential,” concludes Jacobson.

To encourage continued reading throughout the year, Nal’ibali will be awarding spot prizes of additional books in a range of SA languages to readers who share pictures of their growing libraries on its Facebook page and Twitter feed (@NalibaliSA).

Nal’ibali supplements can be found in the Tiso Blackstar newspapers listed below, or downloaded directly from the Nal’ibali website ( where copies of the calendar can also be accessed.

• KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng: Sunday World – Sunday (English/isiZulu)
• Free State: Sunday World – Sunday (English/Sesotho)
• Limpopo: Sunday World – Sunday (English/Sepedi)
• Western Cape – Sunday Times Express – Sunday (English/isiXhosa)
• Eastern Cape – Daily Dispatch – Tuesday (English/isiXhosa)
• Eastern Cape – The Herald – Thursday (English/isiXhosa)

For 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,, or find them on Facebook and Twitter: nalibaliSA.

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Sam Wilson on the importance of reading to your children, the power of words, and the value of storytelling

Nal’bali column No 1, Term 1: Published in the Daily Dispatch, 15 January 2018; Herald, 18 January 2018

By Carla Lever

Scriptwriter, director and Zodiac novelist, Sam Wilson. ©Matthew Brown

Your output is amazingly varied – you’ve penned everything from a conceptual thriller to a comic book series commissioned by the Welsh Rugby Union. Your knack for storytelling has spanned different ages, genres and media. What’s the secret ingredient?

Honestly, it’s poor self control. I can’t say ‘no’ to a project if it sounds interesting, no matter what it is or how much I’m already doing. Occasionally it’s a disaster and I won’t sleep, but at least I tried something new.

You have a lot of fun with words, whether it’s for work or play. For instance, there’s your @genrestories Twitter account, where you pepper us with 140-character short stories in wildly varying styles. What is it about stories and language that gets you excited?

Words are incredibly powerful. You can create thoughts and emotions and ideas out of nothing. Who wouldn’t want to do that?

You’ve written four children’s stories for the charity Book Dash, volunteering with other writers, editors, illustrators and designers for a day of intense work to create open access stories for children that are also printed and distributed locally. What makes you so passionate about this cause?

Literacy is a huge issue in South Africa. Book Dash creates books that are free online, and can be printed and sold by anyone. It’s an amazing way to give every child in South Africa their own books. And I get to do something I love for a great cause.

What was your most recent 2017 Book Dash experience like?

Every Book Dash is great. A large group of people makes new books in a 12-hour sprint. It’s a highly creative environment, and as you can imagine, the kind of people who would do it are the kind of people worth spending time with. It’s a blast, and this year the quality of the final books was extremely high.

A recent PIRLS global report put literacy in SA at crisis levels – 8 out of 10 grade fours currently cannot read for meaning in any language. Where on earth do we start as regular citizens?

The simple answer is, read to your children. It takes time, but nothing will have a bigger impact on their enthusiasm for reading.

You’ve created several children’s books that are entirely wordless. What inherent value do you feel storytelling has for children and adults everywhere?

Wordless story books teach something more fundamental than reading: That if you look at them in the right way, a bunch of flat pieces of paper can become a world full of emotions and surprises and things worth knowing. If kids don’t understand this then they won’t want to learn the squiggly symbols we call words. But once children love books, they’re hooked.

What value is there to always playing with words and ideas?

Play looks messy, but it’s a great way to understand things on a deep level. And if you get really good at play, it becomes indistinguishable from work. People pay you to do it. It happens in an office. It can be really, really hard, and it can take years. The difference is that it’s fun.

You have a young daughter. Can you tell us a little about how you are introducing her to imaginative worlds through books and storytelling?

Matilda has just turned one, and we read to her every day. As soon as she can talk I’ll make up stories for her. I’m looking forward to it, but not as much as I’m looking forward to the stories she’ll be telling me.

Help Nal’ibali read aloud to one million children this World Read Aloud Day, Thursday 01 February! Visit the Nal’ibali webpage at to sign up and download the brand-new story by acclaimed South African author, Zukiswa Wanner, in any official South African language. You’ll be joining a wave of adults across the country reading to children and raising awareness of the importance of this simple yet effective activity.


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A new year, a new pile of books to read…

Published in the Sunday Times

A new year, a new pile of books to read. Here are some highlights to look forward to in 2018, as compiled by Michele Magwood.

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin (Headline)

Four siblings are told the exact date of their death by a psychic. The novel traces their lives over four decades in a story described as “a moving meditation on fate, faith, and the family ties that alternately hurt and heal”.

Under Glass by Claire Robertson (Umuzi)

The much-anticipated third novel from the award-winning author, set on a sugar estate in 19th-century Natal and chronicling the lives of the Chetwyn family. A deeply researched historical novel and an intriguing mystery, it is described as “a high-stakes narrative of deception and disguise”.

What Are We Doing Here? by Marilynne Robinson (Little Brown)

A new essay collection from the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist that examines the political climate and the mysteries of faith. She offers hope and a call to action.

Michael K by Nthikeng Mohlele (Picador Africa)

A brilliant take on JM Coetzee’s classic that explores the weight of history and of conscience, by one of South Africa’s most compelling young authors.

Knucklebone by NR Brodie (Pan Macmillan)

Nechama Brodie is a welcome new voice on the krimi scene. This is a disturbing story set in Johannesburg that wrangles sangomas, disillusioned cops and animal poaching.

Macbeth by Jo Nesbo (Hogarth Shakespeare)

Setting aside his popular detective Harry Hole, Nesbo takes on Shakespeare’s immortal story. “It’s a thriller about the struggle for power, set both in a gloomy, stormy crime noir-like setting and in a dark, paranoid human mind,” he says.

Heads of the Colored People: Stories by Nafissa Thompson-Spires (Simon & Schuster)

Timely and darkly funny stories examining black identity in a supposedly post-racial era.

A Spy in Time by Imraan Coovadia (Umuzi)

A new novel from the award-winning Coovadia always creates a buzz. Here he imagines a futuristic South Africa, where Johannesburg has survived the end of the world because of the mining tunnels that run beneath it.

The Winds of Winter by George R.R. Martin (HarperCollins)

Has a book ever been as eagerly awaited as this? The sixth novel in the fantasy series on which the TV show Game of Thrones is based is due for release this year. But then, it was due last year too.

Tsk-Tsk: The story of a child at large by Suzan Hackney (Jonathan Ball Publishers)

In a style reminiscent of Alexandra Fuller’s Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, Hackney writes of a childhood on the run, fighting to survive in a world of abandoned and abused children.

The Boy Who Could Keep a Swan in His Head by John Hunt (Umuzi)

Surely one of the best titles of the year, it’s the story of a boy growing up in Hillbrow in the ’60s and his friendship with an eccentric homeless person.

The Shepherd’s Hut by Tim Winton (Pan Macmillan)

The acclaimed Australian author leaves his familiar coastland settings and heads for the interior to the saltland next to the desert. A young runaway is on a desperate quest to find the only person who understands him. Described as “a rifle-shot of a novel – crisp, fast, shocking – an urgent masterpiece”.

Transcription by Kate Atkinson (Transworld)

The popular author’s new novel is based on the life of a female former Secret Service worker. Sure to be another runaway bestseller.

A Short History of Mozambique by Malyn Newitt (Jonathan Ball Publishers)

A comprehensive overview of 500 years of turbulent history, from its modern origins in the Indian Ocean trading system to the 15-year civil war that followed independence and its lingering after-effects.

Toy Boy by Leon van Nierop (Penguin)

Billed as an erotic coming-of-age tale and based on the life of a real person, this is the story of Tristan, a mysterious Johannesburg gigolo.

Homeland by Karin Brynard (Penguin)

The much-awaited English translation of Karin Brynard’s bestseller Tuisland. Captain Albertus Beeslaar is about to hand in his resignation when he is sent on one final assignment to Witdraai.

Brutal Legacy by Tracy Going (MF Books Joburg)

The shocking story of TV star Tracy Going’s abusive relationship that emerged when her battered face was splashed across the media in the late ’90s. She writes of her decline into depression and the healing she has finally found.

The Broken River Tent by Mphuthumi Ntabeni (Blackbird)

An entrancing novel that marries imagination with history, set in the time of Maqoma, the Xhosa chief at the forefront of fighting British colonialism in the Eastern Cape in the 19th century.

The Fatuous State Of Severity by Phumlani Pikoli (Pan Macmillan)

A fresh collection of short stories and illustrations that explore the experiences of a generation of young, urban South Africans coping with the tensions of social media, language and relationships of various kinds.

Born in Chains: the diary of an angry ‘born-free’ by Clinton Chauke (Jonathan Ball Publishers)

Debut author Chauke shows how his generation is still affected by apartheid policies but writes with wit and a unique sense of humour about his life. It’s a story of hope and perseverance, and of succeeding against all the odds.

The Golddiggers: A Novel by Sue Nyathi (Pan Macmillan)

The Zimbabwean author recounts the experiences of her fellow compatriots trying to make a life in Jozi. The stories of these desperate immigrants is both heart-breaking and heartwarming.

Cringeworthy by Melissa Dahl (Penguin UK)

Subtitled “How to Make the Most of Uncomfortable Situations” New York Magazine’s Dahl offers a thoughtful, original take on what it really means to feel awkward, relating all sorts of mortifying moments and how to turn them to your advantage.

Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi (Grove Press)

One of the most talked-about books coming in 2018. Described as unsettling and powerful, it is an extraordinary debut novel about a young Nigerian woman, Ada, who develops separate selves within her as a result of being born “with one foot on the other side.”

The Madiba Appreciation Club: A Chef’s Story by Brett Ladds (Jonathan Ball Publishers)

A delightful memoir by Mandela’s former chef, spilling stories about meeting kings and queens, presidents, rock stars and even the Pope, as well as sharing Mandela’s favourite foods. – Michele Magwood, @michelemagwood

The Immortalists

Book details


Under Glass


What Are We Doing Here?



Heads of the Colored People

The Winds of Winter

The Shepherd's Hut



A Short History of Mozambique

The Broken River Tent



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Exclusive Books grants grandmother’s birthday wish – to lock her up (in style!) in a bookshop for the night

South Africa’s leading bookseller has rung in the new year on a particularly joyful note by fulfilling the life-long dream of Mrs Carina Greyling of Kempton Park, Johannesburg, who had, according to her four children, listed being “locked inside an Exclusive Books for the night” as her top birthday wish.

Greyling turned 60 on Sunday 7 January and saw her wish granted at Exclusive Books’ Hyde Park store, where she was surprised with a pop-up bedroom, snacks and drinks, and the freedom to roam the store all night, browsing and reading to her heart’s content.

“How could we resist obliging Mrs Greyling’s birthday wish, especially given that she and I share the same birth date?” said Benjamin Trisk, CEO of Exclusive Books. “We supplied all the creature comforts necessary for spending a night in a bookshop, and trust that her stay was everything she hoped for.”

Trisk received the request from Greyling’s daughter, Leeanne Jonsson, via email in early December 2017. The email asked for the booksellers’ help in “planning an epic birthday surprise”.

“My mom is turning 60 on the 7th Jan 2018. When we asked her what she wants for her EPIC birthday – she said that she just wants to be locked in an Exclusive Books for the evening, with a flask of coffee, a blanket and unlimited access to read as many books as possible,” Jonsson wrote. “Probably the weirdest birthday wish ever – but that’s what makes her unique!”

“Exclusive Books is known for pulling stunts like this on occasion for special customers,” said Trisk. “We’ve assisted with a number of in-store marriage proposals, for instance, and feel that accommodating Mrs Greyling – literally – was very much was in keeping with the overall spirit of our brand.”.

Mrs Greyling was escorted to the Exclusive Books store by her children at 9pm, unaware of the surprise that lay in wait. She was delighted by the final twist that her birthday celebration had taken.

“I’ve always said that when it’s my time to go I hope heaven has a book shop – and I think it might look a bit like this,” said Mrs Greyling.

Her bed and pillows were supplied by Exclusive Books’ fellow Hyde Park tenant, Vencasa, which also included a R2000 voucher toward a sleep consultation and a special Tempur therapeutic pillow.

The birthday grandmother also received a R1000 Exclusive Books voucher to spend on her favourite reads.

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