By Thato Magano (@ThatoMagano)
Two Sundays ago, I found myself in a part of this province I had not cared to visit since my days as a student at the University of Pretoria many moons ago. As we drove through the renamed and ‘A re Yeng’ rapid transit modernised streets, I marvelled at how much the city, and by extension the notorious locale of Sunnyside had changed. Driving along, I pointed out to Panashe the various spaces and places that had remained the same, the block of flats I communed with friends for a year and the Jacaranda trees that always threatened to overshadow the whitest pair of All Stars with their purple and lavender charm.
Unsure of where we were going but ever trustful of the voice echoing from the GPS, we found ourselves at ‘U-The Space’ in the heart of old Sunnyside. It was the monthly get together for the brain child of Kgauhelo Dube’s “Long Story SHORT – African Literature goes digital”. A monthly get together of an African literature reading by a media personality or author of African Literature, this particular Sunday, it was actress and performer Renate Stuurman who would have us spellbound with her reading of an excerpt from Zukiswa Wanner’s 2014 release “London – Cape Town – Joburg”, titled “The F Word”.
Walking into the space, we were met by an array of African literature that is sold at African Flavour Books, an independent bookstore run by Ntate Fortiscue Helepi in Vanderbijlpark. If one had ever wondered what walking into an African literature heaven would feel like, seeing all those titles from African authors that are not available in mainstream outlets, felt like an eternity in the twilight zone of what a decolonised Exclusive Books should look like. But I digress because AFB exists and so we have no excuses anymore 🙂
It was after hobnobbing with the likes of BlackBird publisher Thabiso Mahlape, book reviewer Siyamthanda Skota, and writers Yewande Omotoso and Zukiswa Wanner over wine, chocolate and popcorn that call time was announced and we all made our way into the vegan, no shoes allowed sitting area and waited for Renate to start her reading while sitting Aladdin style.
The monthly readings, hosted by the ever spirited and high priestess of poetry, funk and alternative sound, Masello Motana, we knew we were in for a treat when Motana had us cracking as she ran us through a list of all the F-words that were verbode in the space. Renate, using her masterful training in performance, delivered the excerpt with artistic flair. Capturing the whirlwind and nuance of tension, innocence, guilt and frustration in her eight minute delivery, she was resplendent and more. Mesmerised and completely focused on Renate, I imagine that the thrill I felt is akin to what a young child might feel when a great tale of adventure is told in the oral traditional style of ditshomotshomane around the fire, back home in the village with boKoko, boRakgadi le boMalome.
Under the curatorial guardianship of Yewande Omotoso, the Long Story SHORT is an innovative digital project that seeks to showcase African literature through a combination of reading and recordings that are then packaged as free downloads on both online and mobile platforms to be accessed by the general public.
An interesting juxtaposition came at the end of the reading when Motana facilitated a Q&A with Stuurman and Wanner as the two engaged on how the author appreciated Stuurman’s interpretation of her writing voice, Wanner’s fascination with F-related words in her work and how to deal with characters that refuse to give an author a break, insisting that they be written into the narrative.
After a momentary break, Motana facilitated a special discussion with publisher Mahlape, Wanner, Swedish publisher Svante Wayler and AFB’s Helepi around Access to literature. Over wine, hard questions and recollections of the Open Book Fair in Cape Town, the panel discussed new ways of making literature accessible and what mechanisms needed to be in place in order to effect the mass reach. The nugget for the day came from Ntate Helepi who dropped this wisdom “Why is it that people can layby clothes but they can’t layby books? We allow people to layby books and they keep returning for more. We have studied our market and we have gotten to understand what works for them and what doesn’t. That is why we are not located at the big mall but at the smaller mall next to the taxi rank.”
On her motivation for the work that Long Story SHORT does through her media company, Kajeno Media, Dube says “As an African, I cannot amplify European culture in media. That would be spurious – I work with what I’ve got.” And she does, through partnership and a passion-filled mindset to take African literature digital and creating new ways of engaging with literature.
On our drive home, I mentioned to Panashe that it was the most affirming experience to have spent an afternoon around Blackness where I did not feel the need to critique, explain or make excuses for anyone. It was a triumph of an afternoon. Well worth a restorative self care visit in future.
The next reading will be at Afrikan Freedom Station in Westdene. Actor and self proclaimed ‘prince of theatre’ Atandwa Kani will read from Sello K Duiker’s “The Quiet Violence of Dreams”. Previous readings have featured Hlubi Mboya, Lindiwe Matshikiza, Cynthia Jele, Natalia Molebatsi and Omotoso herself.
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