Saturday, 18 April 2015

Africa Writes is Back!!!!!

Could it be? After months and months and months of cold, bleak, grey, miserable weather, is summer getting closer? I am trying not to get too excited - the weather has been better the last couple of weeks, and I'm really hoping the winter coat might soon be tucked away (maybe in a month - is that me being a bit optimistic and positive?). While I count down to glorious summer, I'm super excited that Africa Writes - the Royal African Society's African Literature and Book Festival - is back!!!

For the fourth year, authors, poets, publishers and lovers of (African) literature get to experience three glorious days of well ... African literature and books at the British Library.  Taking place from Friday 3 July to Sunday 5 July, Africa Writes 2015 programme includes a conversation with Ben Okrian evening of books and inspiration (chaired by Hannah Pool) and an opportunity for aspiring writers to meet with people in the industry. 

A glimpse at Africa Writes 2014
Last year, my sister and I got to listen to Warsan Shire, Belinda Zhawi and other African women poets reclaim the feminine voice; while my mum and I listened to Chuma Nwokolo read excerpts from his anthology How to Spell Naija; Fatimah Kelleher chair a panel on African and Diaspora Travel writing in the 21st century; and was blessed to be in the audience while Wangui wa Goro was in conversation with Ama Ata Aidoo. Plus, I finally got to meet Ivor Hartmann and Tendai Huchu - and my mum reunited with a friend she hadn't seen for over 30 years. You can see why I'm excited!! 

So definitely check out their blog - it has cool features like 'Five Lists of African Literature [Africa Writes] Loves' - and join the conversation on Twitter (#AfricaWritesto share what you're reading right now.

Friday, 10 April 2015

bookshy on Bakwa: Nameless Narrators in African Fiction

Can I just say that this will never, ever, ever get old!!!!  Well, it won't. Around this time last month, Bakwa Magazine got in touch to see if I was interested in writing a short piece on nameless narrators in African fiction - following The New Yorker piece on "The Rise of the Nameless Narrator". Obviously, I jumped at the opportunity - I love Bakwa. Well, on Monday -  April 6th 2015 -  the article, "Nameless Narrators in African Fiction", was published. I'm so excited!!! 

Hello Bakwa :)

Here's a sneak peak and head over to Bakwa to read the full article
"In the beginning of March, The New Yorker published “The Rise of the Nameless Narrator”, in which Sam Sacks explores how in recent years novelists have not been “naming their creations.” He lists “an epidemic of namelessness” already published in 2015 from Tom McCarthy’s Satin Island to Alejandro Zambra’s My Documents; goes into the world of fairy tales withSleeping Beauty and The Little Mermaid and of course, mentions some of the most memorable unnamed characters in literature— Dostoevsky’s Underground Man and Ellison’s Invisible Man. 
As a lover of African literature, I was extremely excited to see two literary works by African authors mentioned in this article— Teju Cole’s (2007) semi-autobiographical novella Every Day Is for the Thief and Dinaw Mengestu’s (2014) “fiction of exile” All Our Names. Well, if you are curious about what other nameless narrators can be found in African literature, here’s a look at some of them."
Nameless narrators in African fiction. 
PS. Following the publication of the article, Ikhide Ikheola tweeted another novel to add to the list of nameless narrators in African fiction - E C Osundu's The House is Not For Sale. 

PPS. By Night the Mountain Burns was published in 2014 (not 2004 as found in the article).

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Something for the Kids: The Wonderful World of African Children's Literature

Blame it on the wonderful Golden Baobab Prizes, but in the last couple of years I've gotten more and more interested in children's literature. So much so that for a while now, I've been scouring the internet and bookshops (physical and online) learning about the wonderful world of children's literature. 

Initially, this post was going to be a compilation of the many wonderful books I was discovering, such as Margeurite Abouet and Mathieu Sapin's Akissi, but then in my search I came across a number of awesome sites that were doing a much better job than I ever could. Instead I decided to showcase some of them. So if you're curious about African children's literature and want to find out more - here are a few websites and publishers to get you going. 

Mmofra Foundation

Based in Ghana and founded by Ghanaian writer, Efua Sutherland, Mmofra Foundation is "dedicated to enriching the cultural and intellectual lives of all children in Ghana." If you haven't already, check out their Pinterest page - an awesome exploration of African children's literature (amongst many other wonderful things). There are booklists for kidsbooklists for Young AdultsPicture Book Art and even Green Books

Another cool website is Nal'ibali. isiXhosa for "here's the story", Nal'ibali is "a national reading-for-enjoyment campaign to spark children's potential through storytelling and reading." Their bookshelf section features children's books they enjoy and have also shared with children through their reading clubs and newspaper supplement. They have books of the month, featured books and recommended reads.
Another southern African website, PUKU is a weekly online literary newspaper focused specifically on children's literature, education and literacy in southern Africa. PUKU aims to "build up a transparent, regularly updated and accurate database of reviews of recreational and educational books and resources for African parents, teachers and librarians in all South African official languages."

Kio Global
Founded by Chimaechi Ochei, after a trip to Lagos in 2008 where she visited a bookshop which didn't have books with African children in them, Kio Global aim is to provide "schools, governments, charities and families with educational resources that reflect cultures and languages globally." I love that this website sources books in different languages including Arabic, Hausa, Shona and Twi.
A number of publisher's on the continent also publish children's books including Kenyan Storyhippo books, Nigerian Cassava Republic, Tanzanian Mkuki Na Nyota, South African Jacana Media, as well as online bookstores, such as African Books Collective

A look at the many books from Storyhippo. Source: Storymoja

Friday, 6 March 2015

From Matilda to Refilwe: A Celebration of Children's Literature

I've been wanting to do a follow-up to my YA fiction post (which feels like ages ago when I wrote that) for the longest time. One that focuses on children's literature more broadly - so this post is long overdue. I did get inspiration a month or so ago when I (and a few other people) were asked on Twitter what we thought an African children's literature themed landscape would could look like.

I went on about it being an inclusive (not an exclusive) landscape, that lets Black and African kids explore themselves via fiction, but also introduces non-black and African kids to to other perspectives. That it was as much about shared experiences and backgrounds as it was about showing different cultures and experiences. More than anything, I wanted a landscape where there was choice for all kids on a bookshelf - whether in the library, bookstore or online. 

From Matilda to Refilwe: A literary landscape which includes all

Since then I've been doing a lot of research on children's literature (and I cannot lie reading quite a few of them as well) and decided that I would do a series of post showcasing the wonderful world of African children's literature I've been discovering. Hope you enjoy (I know I have).

Friday, 27 February 2015

Meet ... Xanelé Puren

Next up in the 'Meet' Series - my chance to interview anyone I would love to meet that is involved in African literature - is Xanelé Puren. A look at Xanelé's bio reveals what a dynamic young woman she is - illustrator, named one of the Mail & Guardian's 200 Young South Africans in 2012, co-founder of the social enterprise See-Saw-Do (which combines the two things she loves: illustration and the wellbeing of children in South Africa) and winner of the inaugural Golden Baobab Prize for African Illustrators

I am just going to come out and say that I am completely inspired by Xanelé Puren's creative activism - and I am very honoured that she took the time to answer my many questions for the series. Enjoy!!!

About you

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself (where you’re from, what you do, any fun details)?
I'm a 26-year-old Capetonian. Mother to a very large and fluffy cat named Bob. Wife to Jeremy, who is not only my life partner, but my business partner as well. Together, Jeremy and I co-founded and run a “child centred” design company called See-Saw-Do.

Could you describe your journey to becoming an artist?
I've always considered myself to be a “creative being”. My mother studied fine arts, so I guess it runs in the family. Illustration in children's books really made me aspire to want to be in the creative industry. I ended up studying Visual Communication Design at Stellenbosch University where I discovered that I have a great passion for illustration.

Do you remember the first illustration you ever drew?
I can't recall the very first picture I drew. I do however recall that I've always loved drawing. At 6 years of age, on my first day at pre-primary, I was extremely excited over my first drawing. I was busy drawing a horse and my picture covered the entire page. The teacher tapped me on the shoulder and told me not to cover the page and suggested that I use less colours, because it was taking too much time. I was quite set aback by that comment and that's probably why I have a vivid memory of what that particular drawing looked like.

What do you do when you are not illustrating?
See-Saw-Do, our design studio, requires a lot more from me than just illustration. We have to manage projects, do site visits and a whole bunch of other things required of us to make the business run smoothly and have a maximum impact on the children and communities we work in.

Fortunately, when you live in Cape Town there is always so much happening in the city (first thursdays, rooftop movie screenings, gallery openings etc). I love climbing Lion's Head, all the various hiking trails along Table Mountain. Cape Town has loads of food markets, my personal is the Oranjezicht City Farm Market. We're almost at that market every Saturday morning.

On illustrating

How did you become interested in illustrating, and particularly illustrating literature for children?
Growing up, my mother used to expose us to many many illustrated story books. These books definitely cultivated an appreciation for illustration and stories. As mentioned in a previous answer, I discovered my true passion for illustration whilst at University. Our final year brief was "design to make a difference" and I decided to focus on designing for children. During that year I designed two books and we beautified 3 Early Childhood Development Centres with relevant educational murals.

Currently, I don't focus solely on illustrating children's literature. The illustrations I currently produce are done for See-Saw-Do with the goal to enhance and beautify child environments. I do draw in my free-time as well and apart from designing three of my own books I’ve also illustrated a book for the Joy Bracelet initiative.
The JOY Book's vibrant and colourful illustrations by Xanale Puren.
What do you love the most about being an illustrator (and illustrating for children)?
I love investing time and energy into beautifying spaces where children live, learn and play - whether it's through classroom upgrades, and makeovers, illustrations or through an illustrated mural. Being able to create something that will have a positive impact on a child, their play environment, their learning environment or their creativity is extremely rewarding.

Your artwork has been described as having a “‘child-like’ playfulness”, where do you get your ideas for your drawings from?
Sometimes I have to create illustrations according to a brief. In other cases, I have to come up with themes, design solutions. More often than not, the ideas flow onto paper quite effortlessly. I know that my past, present, the crazy information age that we live in obviously has an impact on the creative mind which in turn has an impact on one's work.

Beyond illustrating for children’s literature, you are the co-founder of the social enterprise See-Saw-Do, could you tell us the story behind it?
See-Saw-Do was born out of my final year studying Visual Communication Design at Stellenbosch University. Our brief was “design to make a difference” and I decided to focus my energy and creativity on designing for children. I ended up seeing a great need for beautification at local Early childhood development [ECD] centres as well as a need for educational books. During 2010 I designed 3 English/Xhosa work/image picture books and three relevant themed murals. I entered this idea for the Sappi Ideas that Matter competition and won a grant that funded printing 2000 of my books + running costs to re-paint more ECD centres. This grant gave me the confidence to pursue See-Saw-Do post graduation. My husband (who played a big role in the entire process up to this point) also decided to devote 100% of his time to make this initiative a success and we’ve been running for 4 years.

See-Saw-Do has developed into a company that re-imagines and designs  beautiful, functional and relevant child environments. Our scope of work includes mural makeovers, spatial upgrades, and interior classroom makeovers. 
See-Saw-Do beautifies child environments through beautiful, bright relevant themed murals.
Image courtesy of Xanele Puren
See-Saw-Do's Interior Classroom Makeovers. Image courtesy of Xanele Puren
Interior of a Violence Prevention through Urban Upgrading (VPUU) bus.
Image courtesy of Xanele Puren
This year, we will also start working on designing and installing exterior play spaces. We fund our projects by partnering up with corporate companies, NGO’s and our local government. We’re dreaming big and super amped about what the future holds for See-Saw-Do, the creative possibilities and the impact it can have on children's lives.

On Children’s Literature and Golden Baobab

Do you remember which children’s books were your favourite back when you were a young reader and why?
I still have quite a few books from my childhood library! I love a tale from Liberia called "The Vingananee and the tree toad", a Russian folk tale "Varenka", "Where the Wild things are" by Maurice Sendak, "Moomin" by Tove Jansson to name but a few. All of these books have beautiful illustrations and captivating stories.

Books from Xanele's childhood. Image courtesy of Xanele Puren
How did you hear about the Golden Baobab Prize for Illustrators?
I received a email that was sent out by the Golden Baobab to illustrators and writers who might be interested in participating.

Could you tell us about the piece you submitted and the inspiration behind it?
We had a very strict brief we had to use to base our illustrations on. Brief number one was "A boy and his little brother are lost in a big city market. The older boy is pulling his brother who is distracted by a chicken."  Brief number two: "Jama only had 15 minutes to choose books before the library closed. He could see, out of the corner of his eye, the librarian's foot tapping nearby. But Jama needed to take books his father would believe he was interested in."
Jama is late to borrow a book from the library. Image via Golden Baobab
What was your reaction to winning the inaugural prize?
I was super surprised, super stoked and extremely happy! I definitely threw a few air punches!

On Books and More

What are you reading right now?
“I am Malala: The girl who stood up for education and was shot by the Taliban” by Malala Yousafzai and “The minor adjustment beauty salon: The Nr1 ladies detective agency” by Alexander Mccall Smith, as well as “Parenting beyond pink and blue” by Christina Spears Brown.

As an illustrator, have you ever judged a book by its cover? If so, what are some of your favourite book covers?
I often fall into the trap where I don’t have time to properly browse through books in a bookstore and I end up pick a book with the most aesthetically pleasing cover. I’ve had my fair share of success and failure using this method! A charming book I came across using this method was “In the sea there are crocodiles” by Fabio Geda. One of my personal favourite covers is an illustrated cover by Carson Ellis for a book called “Wildwood”.

Final Question (I promise)

What’s next?
See-Saw-Do will be moving into a new studio space later this month. I hope to make the space cat friendly to accommodate our extremely social and affectionate cat. We have a few exciting projects lined up and if all goes according to plan, we’ll be expanding our services to include designing and installing multi-sensory play spaces. This will add a new dimension to our work and I’m very excited to see where it will lead us! One of our main beneficiaries, Eldene Primary, will hopefully be the first space to benefit from a new play area.

Friday, 20 February 2015

Next in the Meet Series

The 'Meet' Series is my chance to interview anyone I would love to meet that is involved in African literature. 

As someone who hasn't hidden the fact that I love the art associated with books, as much as I do the words in them, I am really happy to announce that next in the series is Xanelé Puren, winner of the inaugural Golden Baobab Prize for African Illustrators

From South Africa, with a love for illustration awakened through the countless number of children's books her mother exposed her too, Xanelé won the Prize with two illustrations: Two lost boys in a big city market and Jama is late to borrow a book from the library
Two lost boys in a big city market. Image via Golden Baobab
American illustrator and writer, Paul Zelinksky - one of the 2014 judges "found the characters in Xanelé’s illustrations to be very attractive and appealing in part because it takes some examining to see them as even human, but once you do see them that way, they are quite amusing. Her illustration are decorative, artistic and charming and I do think she has given us some very lovely work.!"

While early childhood educator, Akua Peprah, finds Xanelé's illustrations are " ... vibrant, textured and playful. There is so much detail in every character and the backgrounds. The illustrations evoke such strong feelings and makes me want to read the books where those pages came from.!"

I love, love, love that one of the judges was 8-year old Ghanaian book lover, Kofi Anyimadu who "really liked discovering the unexpected characters in Xanele’s Illustrations! I liked the men playing cards and the carpet in the middle. The carrots for a nose was also funny!"

Golden Baobab is really changing the work of children's literature on the continent and last year, it launched the Golden Baobab Prize for African Illustrators Prize to 'recognise and celebrate talented African illustrators for children stories.' 

Said to be the biggest and most prestigious prize committed to discovering, nurturing and celebrating talented African illustrators of children’s stories, executive Director, Deborah Ahenkorah, explains the reason behind the launch being that:
"Children deserve to have imaginative and captivating illustrations accompany enthralling stories they read. They deserve to not only see themselves represented in those stories but also in the images they consume."
I couldn't agree more, and in fact I am reminded by a piece I read the other day by Mabel Segun on the importance of illustration in children's literature. In it Segun writes that: "pictorial language is literature in its own right ... [with] art helping a young child to discover [their] own identity and cultural heritage."

The inaugural prize shortlisted 12 finalists, ten of which were recently featured on Okayafrica on 10 African Children's Illustrators to Know. 

If you haven't seen the artists work, you should definitely check them out, and then join me next week for the first Meet Series of the year with Xanelé Puren - who is not just a talented artist, but is transforming the lives of young South Africans through her social enterprise. How cool is that? Xanelé will be sharing her journey to becoming an artist, what she loves about being an illustrator, her social enterprise, and her favourite children's book growing up. 

"Terra Incogonita" Edited by Nerine Dorman

Terra incognita. Uncharted depths. Africa unknowable. Nineteen new short speculative stories from the fringes and hidden worlds of Africa.

Terra Incognita, Short Story Day Africa's latest anthology (edited by Nerine Dorman, published in South Africa by SSDA in association with Hands On Books and available internationally via African Book Collective in partnership with Modjaji Books), contains stories that explore, among other things, the sexual magnetism of tokoloshe, a deadly feud with a troop of baboons, a journey through colonial purgatory, along with ghosts, re-imagined folklore, and the fear of that which lies beneath both land and water. 

The anthology's focus reflects 2014 being Short Story Day Africa's 'year of speculative fiction'. As explained following the announcement of the longlist in August 2014:

"Speculative fiction gives writers a way to discuss issues without wheeling out the tropes and the poverty porn and the Oxfam goats. Earlier this year we sent out a call for all your fantasy, sci-fi, horror, alternative history and magical realism, just about anything that fell into spec fic genre. The them, Terra Incognita, asked writers to take us into unknown places, break moulds, rethink the way we tell our stories."

Short speculative stories from 19 writers
The anthology's writers include South African, Diane Awerbuck, who won the 2004 Commonwealth Writers' Prize best first book (Africa and the Caribbean) and the SSDA competition in 2014. Awerbuck was also shortlisted for the 2014 Caine Prize; Ugandan writer, film maker and social activist Dilman Dila, who was shortlisted for the 2013 Commonwealth Short Story Prize; and Nigerian Brit, Mary Okon Ononokpono, winner of the 2014 Golden Baobab Prize for Children's Literature, whose short story in the anthology, Editöngö, gives a glimpse into an earlier version of the opening chapter of her forthcoming adult debut novel.

If you're curious about the cover of Terra Incognita, as I was, the cover follows-on from the anthology's theme of subversion:
" ... In the four years since inception, the SSDA team has developed a survival ethos: to subvert and reclaim ... To subvert ideas about what it means to be a writer in Africa. To subvert ideas about African stories."
In addition to thinking the cover 'just looks nice', the designer, Nick Mulgrew, explains how 'he took to re-appropraiting old ideas about Africa' in this blog post on SSDA's website:
" ... the design is about subverting colonial cartographic tropes, and as well as undermining ideas of Africa as a dark, impenetrable continent, in order to reclaim and reposition them in a more modern, Afrofutiturist context."
Really loving the theme of subversion for both the stories and the cover for this anthology. I've barely got through books published in 2014 and there's already so much to read. 2015 keeps on looking better and better.