Beaven Tapureta Bookshelf
Zimbabwe, like other African countries, is endowed with a rich storytelling tradition which particularly targeted children and which in this modern era has induced another energetic culture of writing and publishing in various forms for the young.
With all this cultural wealth, we can do well with a stand-alone, annual and national children’s literary festival or conference that celebrates the young audience and discusses issues affecting the sector.
The evening fireside stories told by old people to an attentive, participative audience of children and young adults are a shared African cultural pride even though today the creative writer has taken the place of the traditional storyteller to continue the legacy.
There is no doubt that children’s textbooks are essential but it is also true textbooks alone cannot fulfil the appetite for general and supplementary reading in the young people.
Events for children such as the ZIBF Children’s Reading Tent and the recognition or celebration of children’s books at the NAMA Awards must be applauded but still, sadly, these events fail to give a larger space for children to completely enjoy their imagined worlds. The Children’s Reading Tent only runs for a few days and as its name says, it is a tent erected in the middle of huge book exhibitions, thus it is overshadowed by the mingled adults’ literature outside it. Some other years at the NAMA Awards, although nominations would be there, there is no winner for the Outstanding Children’s Book award!
A children’s literary festival will surely motivate writers and publishers to seriously consider this important sector. Catching them young is a collective effort we cannot ignore as we drive towards resuscitating the dwindling reading culture.
Try to picture a huge gathering of children, and oh! how interesting to hear echoes here of book titled “Gather The Children” by poet Batsirai Chigama and just having the poet reading her meditative poems to children will arouse a permanent desire to read. A conference or festival where there is a Stephen Alumenda award for the children’s book of the year complementing the NAMA Awards’ outstanding children’s book prize.
The Alumenda award, presented in the presence of children, would uplift children, encourage writing for children and above all, honour the legacy of Alumenda, the late Zimbabwean author who published twenty children’s books at the time of his death in a car accident in June 2004. Alumenda also received many accolades for his works. His contribution to the children’s books sector is very huge and worth remembering.
A festival where there will be theatre-like readings and interactive literary activities for children from different backgrounds. In our country, there is a wealthy store of performers, readers and writers for children. There is the experienced leading generation without which the festival in mind would be “un-amusing.” This generation is led by writers like Ignitius T Mabasa, Memory Chirere and many others. Although they write fiction for adults as well, they write or read for children in such a way that their presence at any children’s party ignites their creative imagination. Do you think there would be not enough laughter at such a gathering with Chirere reading from either “Baba VaRudo” or “Tudikidiki”!
At such a festival, which may take few or more days depending on the logistics on the ground, opportunities will be opened for the stakeholder. While the children take a large stake, the adults benefit in many ways as well. For instance, upcoming generation of writers and performers for children get to learn current needs of their target audience and therefore, align their works to contemporary themes.
This new team of authors has been operating in the background and they need to regularly interact with their readers. One thinks of writers such as Aleck Kaposa and Tatenda Charles Munyuki who both have been to the NAMAs as nominees with their titles “The Magician” and “The Mystery of the Waterfalls’ Thief” respectively. Mutare-based Simbarashe C Kavenga and Edwin Muketiwa Msipa have written and published in Shona languages, thus they will enrich the festival with their stories although they will come out of it enriched also by workshops facilitated by experienced writers.
What’s more, other children will be inspired to write when they meet talented child authors and realise anything is possible! Imagine young Aasia Sial from Harare reading her story “A Vampire as a Sister” or talking to other children about why she writes. The late young Tinotenda S Sai, who was born with a condition known as muscular dystrophy in 1990, will smile in his grave to hear voices reading his three stories at such a festival of his friends. Tinotenda, who died three years ago, left us captivating poems and stories and may his soul rest in peace.