Recently a went on a mini-FB rant about the state of African language children's writing in South Africa. My concern wasn't about the quality - it was about the accessibility. And not even the usual 'where can I find these books??' #thirdworldproblem. My query is about where I could find the authors.
For a project for my day job, I was looking for writers in all 10 official indigenous languages, previously published and preferably highly respected in their languages of expertise. Zulu, Xhosa and Afrikaans were literally a Google search or a phone call away. Off the top of my head, I could think of four or five of the usual suspects, authors of international renown and success. Easy McSteamy. But then it got to the Tsonga, Venda, Ndebele, Sepedi and whoa. Not so much as a FB page to find these guys. After my rant, my FB friends suggested the same authors I had already signed up. One friend suggested I put out a general ad looking for authors: which granted was a good idea and actually the most practical thing to do but with one three days to find someone, time was not on my side. I sent out emails to every notable SA writing organisation that I could think of - some went unanswered but other were super helpful. Many of the names provided write in Zulu or Xhosa though so, again, bit of a problem.
I was frustrated. Where were these people hiding? Why aren't they writing articles or reviews or blogs online? There was not one list available online of say Setswana books and their authors but parents are always asking for them. No contact details or info anywhere either. But I knew they were out there somewhere. I've walked the floors at Biblionef and seen their books. They couldn't just be a figment of my imagination.
And I was right. I did find them eventually, mostly through friends of friends and looking at the lists of past MER Prize or MML Award winners and then stalking the shit out of them. It shouldn't have been this difficult though. So next week, a week before the new puku.co.za goes live, I'm adding a list of our children's writers and illustrators to the site. The next step (budget eventually permitting) will be adding a database for writers and illustrators where you can search by name or languages - find their work, their contact details and keep them in the business of the arts.
So, how does one find a writer of Tsonga picture books? Come end of Feb, maybe check puku.co.za.