Just two short months ago three brand new books were launched by Book Dash. The occasion of Mandela Day was made more special by giving some 250 children at the Jireh Educare Centre their very own (in many cases very first) books. Book Dash is an utterly inspiring initiative, the brainchild of a remarkable trio, comprising Tarryn-Anne Anderson, Michelle Matthews and Arthur Attwell. “On a single Book Dash day, teams work fast to make beautiful children’s books that anyone can translate, print and distribute,” Anderson says.
The second Book Dash took place on the last Saturday of August, with nearly 40 women in the publishing industry joining hands. Their creative endeavours were volunteered in service of paying tribute to some of the women who have led South Africa in sports, medicine, arts and politics.
The writers, artists and illustrators, book designers and editors donated 12 hours of their time on that day to make 10 new titles available to the young readers who need to hear these stories, the book lovers of tomorrow who yearn to hold amazing books in their own hands. Present at the event were a number of young girls who were part of the Rock Girl Resilient Girls programme.
Human rights lawyer and founder of Rock Girl SA India Baird expressed her delight at the synergy taking place in this project. “Strong, independent women are the inspiration for Rock Girl. The collaboration with the creative community telling these stories is a genuine way to show support for women and girls facing violence in their lives every day. I have wanted to see this happen for a very long time.”
The women whose life stories were told included: Basetsana Kumalo, Graça Machel, Zanele Situ, Phyllis Spira, Miriam Makeba, Wangari Maathai, Sindiwe Magona, Helen Martins, Dr James Barry and Albertina Sisulu. Baird said that the girls would distribute biographies to children around the Western Cape during the month of September. “This encourages them both to read and to follow in these heroines’ footsteps. The books will also be available online as part of the Rock Girl Wonder Women project, a World Design Capital initiative that will see statues of some of the women featured in biographies installed around Cape Town.
This Book Dash provided the writers with a substantial challenge. During National Book Week, Melissa Fagan posted a fascinating account of the anxiety she encountered going into the process and what she learned about relinquishing perfection. She articulates the experience in her blog post, “I made a Creative Commons kids book in 12 hours. Here’s why …”. She said, “There’s something about an almost impossible time limit for a task to motivate action. Write, illustrate and design a print-ready book in 12 hours – it sounds difficult, right? It was actually easy.”
As the author of this article I had the remarkable experience of writing children’s books at both events. The first time I participated in Book Dash, the narrative that arrived from the depths of my imagination was inspired by a series of photos. Created with Jesse Breytenbach and Andy Thesen, it became the children’s storybook A Fish and a Gift, one of the books that was handed out on Mandela Day. It was a scene I could imagine and I felt I had a handle on the story, was able to direct it wherever it needed to go.
The second time I wrote for Book Dash, I was aware of the enormous responsibility of portraying Albertina Sisulu’s life accurately and with a poetic sensibility that would resonate for children. It is well understood that children want to hear stories about children. The business of adults holds minimal interest for the young reader. So how does one narrate the heroine’s childhood, create the interest of what motivated and drove her to achieve success, and still represent their adult life in a way that remains fascinating? For me, that was hard.
Another tricky dimension were the difficult questions: Whose stories are we telling? Whose voices are we hearing? How do I sit with the tensions that the story needs to be told and children need books, but as a white woman I am now telling a black woman’s story?
Those involved in the second Book Dash were predominantly women, though a few guys joined in the fun. Those who arrived bearing printers and paints, sketchbooks and laptops included: Mia du Plessis, Marli Fourie, Melissa Fagan, Karlien de Villiers, Marike le Roux, Alice Toich, Nazli Jacobs, Liz Sparg, Jesse Breytenbach, Andy Thesen, Jade Mathieson, Louwrisa Blaauw, Bianca de Jong, Thea Nicole de Klerk, Samantha Cutler, Roberto Pita, Nicola Rijsdijk, Maya Marshak, Karen Lilje, Cheréne Pienaar, Jano Strydom, Tess Gadd, Jacqui L’Ange, Wendy Morison, Nadene Kriel, Michelle Matthews, Jean de Wet and Bridgette Potton. Editorial expertise came from Lisa Treffry-Goatley, Glynis Lloyd and Tracy Blues.
The entire team was supported by by Tarryn-Anne Anderson, India Baird and Arthur Attwell. Open access activist Kelsey Wiens, of Creative Commons South Africa, informed participants how the Creative Commons license works. She explained and answered questions about this process, which enables the rapid and cost effective dissemination of children’s books to the schools and homes where they are most needed.
Rock Girl participants tried their hands as journalists, interviewing the women making the books. This aspect was done in collaboration with the Children’s Radio Foundation and in due course a report on the day will be forthcoming.
Although the concept of Book Dash aims at providing books for children up to the age of five years, these titles have a broader appeal and older readers will delight in the books. Sidney Hendricks, a grade five teacher at Red River School in Manenberg, expressed her excitement at the prospect of using these autobiographies in her classroom. “There are very few books that share the stories of South African heroes, and even fewer that are about women. It is especially important to inspire our young girls to reach for their dreams, and to give them role models who come from similar backgrounds and families.”
The event was sponsored by the African Storybook Project, and co-hosted with Rock Girl. With smaller in-kind donations from Spier (wine), Hemelhuijs (sweet treats), Green Home (crockery), and the City of Cape Town’s Central Library (venue).
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Liesl Jobson (@LieslJobson) and others tweeted live from the event using the hashtag #bookdash
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Ainehi Edoro has shared ‘”He Would Tweet His Death” – On the Road to Fame’, a short story by Williams Magunga, on Brittle Paper.
Edoro says Magunga “writes about Nairobi like no one I know”.
In the story, a young hip-hop artist makes his way to his first radio interview – although his girlfriend is not convinced it’s a worthwhile trip. While traveling to the studio, however, disaster strikes.
“He Would Tweet His Death” — On the Road to Fame by Williams Magunga | A Nairobi Story
Sunday is the day God takes the roll call.
On this day of the week, when all creations show off themselves to the Almighty, the sun becomes a sadist. It smiles its blistering heat upon the world as if looking to pick a fight with earthlings.
Man brings out his best garments, bulls dust their hides with their tails, hyenas polish their table manners- they say please and thank you when asking slugs to pass the table salt. Pigs brush their teeth, and flowers open up their petals like a drunk virgin opens her legs on her eighteenth birthday.
This Sunday, Philip walks across Nairobi CBD in a black velvet jacket. This is the jacket he wears once in a while when he wants to make a statement. It has a double slit at the back, two silver buttons, and patches at the elbow. It exudes class and accomplishment.
His girlfriend, Wangeci had told him to take it off. That it is foolish to put on a jacket when the sun baked the universe like that. If she squinted her eyes just right, she could see heat waves floating around the air. She said he was trying too hard to impress.
“But that is the point, Tanya,” he had said. He always called her by her first name every time they were in an argument. In most cases, when they disagreed about anything, they would compromise. This always translated to following Wangeci’s lead. But this time it was different. He wanted to look pristine.
Image courtesy of Matatu Travels
Karen Jennings will be launching a new collection of short stories, Away from the Dead, at the Open Book Festival in Cape Town.
At the event, titled Genius of the Short Story, Jennings, Felicitas Hoppe and Billy Kahora will talk about their writing and read from their stories. Rachel Zadok will chair the discussion.
The launch will be on 17 September between 4 PM and 5 PM at the Annexe 1 at the Fugard Theatre. Entrance costs R40, and bookings can be made at the Open Book Festival website.
Don’t miss it!
- Date: Wednesday, 17 September 2014
- Time: 4 to 5 PM
- Venue: Fugard Theatre Annexe 1
23 Harrington Street
Cape Town | Map
- Chair: Rachel Zadok
- Cover charge: R40
- Booking: Open Book
About the book
Karen Jennings is a wonderful story writer. In just a few sentences she is able to paint a picture of a community, frame a life, and to make you see and even almost smell a place.
Together the stories highlight facets of African society and in particular South Africa. Jennings has a touching way of writing about the lives of the underdogs. The distinctions between the different layers in society are beautifully captured.
Many of the stories have been published in magazines or anthologies. From Dark won the Africa Region prize in the Commonwealth Short Story Competition 2010 and The Shark won the English section of the Maskew Miller Longman short story competition in 2009.
About the author
Karen Jennings was born in Cape Town in 1982. She holds Master’s degrees in both English Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Cape Town. Jennings’ stories and poetry have been published in journals across the globe, in countries as diverse as Nigeria, Australia and Greece. Her debut novel Finding Soutbek was published by Holland Park Press in 2012, and was shortlisted for the inaugural Etisalat Prize for Literature 2013. Karen was one of the featured authors in the South African Sunday Times Lifestyle magazine The Future Fiction Edition to mark the 20th anniversary of South Africa’s democracy. Jennings is currently writing her second novel and close to finishing a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of KwaZulu-Natal under the supervision of Kobus Moolman.
Die titel van Danie Botha se bundel outobiografiese verhale, rubrieke en essays is ’n boeiende keuse.
Enersyds omdat dit (saam met die verweerde kiekie op die voorblad van die skrywer as plaasklong op ’n driewiel) die verwagting skep van nostalgiese terugskouing, dalk selfs ’n sonskyn-vertelling van “die goeie ou dae”; andersyds omdat dit geensins net die “mooi” wil verpak nie.
Joanne Hichens – editor of the Adults Only, the second annual Short.Sharp.Stories Awards anthology – interviews Alex Smith. Her story “The Big Toad” was Highly Commended by the competition judges.
Alex Smith is the author of Algeria’s Way, Four Drunk Beauties, Agency Blue and Drinking From The Dragon’s Well. Her writing has been shortlisted for the PEN/Studzinski Literary Award and the Caine Prize for African Writing, and has won a Sanlam Prize for Youth Literature and a Nielsen Booksellers’ Choice Award. Her new novel Devilskein & Dearlove has just hit the book stores in South Africa. She lives in Cape Town with her partner Andrew, their book-loving baby boy and their dogs.
Follow Alex at alexsmith.bookslive.co.za and on Twitter @africa_alex.
Your story “The Big Toad”, Highly Commended as ‘an imaginative tour de force’, is a delight. What inspired you to write this hilarious Madam and Eve take?
Andrew and I love taking our two-year-old son Elias to the library, in particular the Cape Town library, which has a most wonderful collection, for Elias and for us. So usually Elias (who has his own library card) selects his 7 books and then we also choose some, always one or two from the art books section. One weekend, we got a brilliant book about Frida, and in it was a quote something along the lines of: “Surrealism is when you look in the cupboard and expect to see linen, but find a lion instead.” We had just heard about the Adults Only story competition and I thought I’d like to try it, and when I saw this quote I had the idea of doing something surreal, along the lines of what you might see if you looked in the cupboard…
I reckon your story just had to be a winner as in the cupboard are those quintessential SA brands such as Joko and Jungle Oats. Do those items conjure up ‘home’ for you?
Pretty much, yes, they conjure up my kitchen cupboard and since they are household names, I assumed they would be in kitchen cupboards around the country. And there is a peculiar fondness one has for favourite brands, like the oats brand and the tea brand. And also those brands are advertised in such a squeaky clean, prim-almost, fashion, the perfect advert world they exist in doesn’t at all reflect the ‘kitchen sink drama’ of the households the products actually inhabit. I rather enjoyed being smutty with them, using magic realism to reflect some dirty realism, if you will!
And it seems that the ‘doek’ has not gone out of fashion either… did you think that it might be ‘Old SA’ to write about a madam and maid?
Their relationship is a reality of South Africa today. It’s not like there are no maids, nanny’s, au pairs, ironing ladies, gardeners in the ‘New SA’ or most other parts of the world for that matter. It’s a social reality the world over (has been for a couple of millenniums probably) – the worker in a domestic situation; the worker who sees into the heart (and cupboards) of his or her boss’s home, knows so much, can get so close and yet, at the end of the workday, is still an employee like anyone else. Yet, in all work situations, special relationships can form; not all workers hate their jobs and their bosses (though a fair number do, and understandably so); rare friendships can grow in the workplace.
Your characters certainly have plenty common ground! How did the story evolve?
I just had fun with taking Frida’s surreal lion and turning him into something a little more saucy. And I was laughing as I wrote about it. Since having a baby, life has become far more domestic. I mean I used to have nothing in my fridge but ice blocks, but now we have a proper home with Jungle Oats, toaster bread and laundry detergent and all that. So I thought well, instead of opening linen cupboards for my surreal lion, I’d go to the pantry and play with the idea there.
The final frontier of common ground is a very natural delight with sex (which neither would have admitted until the arrival of the surreal).
Generally, what are your interests as a writer? What themes do you like to explore?
Usually themes don’t excite me into writing. It’s a concept, a place, a character, a particular injustice… so in this story it was the concept of Frida’s interpretation of ‘surreal’. In my new novel Devilskein&Dearlove the whole thing evolved from an obsession with keys and the doors they might unlock. It’s out in July in the UK and in SA (with Penguin Random House/ Umuzi) – it’s a YA fantasy.
Was there a reason you’ve tackled more YA?
My novel that got the Sanlam award, Agency Blue was YA. Some of my fondest reading memories are those of fantasy novels, like The Never Ending Story read as a teenager. I started writing Devilskein & Dearlove about two and half years ago when I was pregnant with my son and I really was driven to wanting to write a story that he might love reading someday when he becomes an independent reader of novels.
Can you give us a taste?
“Six secret doors. Infinite magical worlds… When thirteen-year-old Erin Dearlove has to move in with her aunt on Cape Town’s bustling Long Street, she struggles to adapt to her new life, harbouring a dark secret. But her friendship with their upstairs neighbour, Mr Devilskein, soon helps her to adjust. Like Erin, Mr Devilskein has something to hide: he is the keeper of six mysterious doors…” It’s a tale of friendship, adventure and magic.
As is “The Big Toad” which makes it such a popular choice amongst readers. Thanks for a delightful (and sexy) read, Alex.
Adults Only is available in stores for R190.
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
The Short.Sharp.Stories Awards is sponsored by the National Arts Festival.
Bontle Senne considers the immeasurable value of South African stories for South African children, and shares some upcoming projects that aim to reinvigorate African oral storytelling for the next generation.
I wish my grandmother had told me stories.
I was often left in the care of my paternal grandmother while both my parents worked full-time jobs. A former domestic worker, she was the kind of granny you see in movies and read about in books, down to her incredible homemade ginger biscuits. As a child, I was obsessed with reading. My parents did not buy me many books but I devoured the fiction section of my primary school library. After I had tired of Babysitters’ Club, Choose Your Own Adventure and Goosebumps, I made my way through Dickens, Austen and other authors who I’m not sure I would have the time or inclination to read now as an adult.
A book was a preferable companion to me than any person or pet but I don’t remember ever reading a South African book outside of school setworks. And even then, our exposure to South African English fiction was limited Maru by Bessie Head who, though born in South Africa, perhaps belongs more fairly to Botswana. My school offered only Afrikaans as an additional language and we read many interesting, complex works in the language. While I enjoyed many of these books immensely, I could not do so without a bit of black middle-class guilt. My father had been among the children who risked their lives in the Soweto Uprising of 1976 protesting against Afrikaans as a language of instruction in their schools and there I was, some 25 years later, happily tucking into Skilpoppe and Vlerkdans. South Africa can be a weird place sometimes.
Had I had the option of taking another indigenous language as a subject, I would certainly have taken it. Had I had any South African or Africa children’s books in my school library, I am sure I read them as enthusiastically as I read Roald Dahl or Jacqueline Wilson. And had my grandmother or mother told me the stories of her grandmother or mother, I think I would have had an even richer relationship with the written word.
The invalidation of oral African storytelling
I understand now why they did not. My work at the Puku Children’s Literature Foundation exposed me to many realities that had never occurred to me as a child. One such reality was that the reason my grandmother did not tell me stories was likely because of the systematic invalidation of African oral storytelling during apartheid and after it.
As my former colleague and current chairperson of the Puku Children’s Literature Foundation, Elinor Sisulu, put it:
“The denial of our own stories was perfectly logical in the education system of a racist settler society but I find it difficult to understand why we remain in the same grey area of confusion in post-colonial societies.
Throughout Southern Africa there is little conscious investment in ensuring that African folklore and traditions are reflected in the literature that our children consume in classrooms.” (Quoted from an article that originally appeared in The Times, 22 January 2013, as part of the of the Nal’ibali ‘Here’s the Story’ series of columns)
The education system that I am a product of did not believe that oral storytelling had a place in our curriculum or as a tool to unlock a love of the written word. My grandmother did not believe that she would add value to my education or literacy with her stories and so she did not tell me any. She encouraged me to read everything I could get my hands on but was never concerned about the Eurocentric nature of everything I had access to. And so, with her passing, I lost the stories that my granny had grown up listening to and loving. I will never be able to tell my future children her stories and history of the Senne family. That link to my heritage and my identity is forever severed.
Bringing our stories back
Today, there is a growing recognition of the role that oral storytelling plays in literacy and the acquisition of complex concepts in home and additional languages. In South Africa, PRAESA and Nal’ibali have done much to stimulate more appreciation for the value of our indigenous stories, sharing their multilingual stories online as well as tips for parents trying to share their own.
Early next year, Puku will host its third annual isiXhosa Children’s Story Festival organised in association with the National Arts Festival and Rhodes University and sponsored by Redisa. SAIDE’s African Storybook Project is working with teachers and parents in South Africa, Lesotho, Kenya and Uganda to turn oral stories into digital ones in print or video format. I could list a half a dozen other organisations involved in similar work across the continent but the real tipping point will be in the home. When someone else’s grandmother starts to believe that her stories are valid and in telling them, she is changing the educational outcomes of her grandchildren forever, that will be the signal that we are really making progress on reviving oral storytelling for both urban and rural African children. Until then, I’ve already made it very clear to my future children’s grandmothers that they should start collecting their stories now because there is no way my children will lose the stories of their grandmothers the way I lost the stories of mine.
Bontle Senne is a Golden Baobab Media Fellow who produces articles on behalf of the organisation to promote and highlight the African children literary scene and Golden Baobab’s work. Golden Baobab is an organisation with a dream of seeing a world filled with wonder and possibility one children book at a time. Bontle is a blogger, web editor, speaker and literary activist on the board of NPO Puku Children’s Literature Foundation and NPO READ Educational Trust. She writes stories for FunDza Literary Trust and regularly speaks on social media and children’s literature at international literary festivals and conferences.
Image courtesy of Golden Baobab