Thursday, August 15, 2013

16 Aug: Twitter debate on African kid lit

I've always been a big fan of the work of Golden Baobab so I'm really please that they have scheduled a Twitter conference of sorts to discuss the issues of African children's literature. Realistically, there's no real other forum to take up the conversation and someone has to ask why a great opportunity like Golden Baobab only received 180 submissions this year. Where are all the writers at? And why didn't they submit they stories?

In the context of my own life, moving out of my career in African children's literature because of a systematic lack of investment and support in the sector, I definitely have a vested interest in this discussion. And I really really wish that just one of the people I see on Twitter asking for books in Zulu or Sesotho or Xhosa for their kids could use this as a platform to explain why they care enough to ask but seemingly don't care enough to buy these books or support the organisations that do. I'm not even being facetious. Seriously. I want to know.

On July 26 2013, there was a press release from Golden Baobab announcing the end of its call for submissions for the 2013 Golden Baobab Prize. Golden Baobab has undoubtedly established itself in the literary sphere as the voice of African children’s literature. As the Executive Director, Deborah Ahenkorah says, “African children deserve to grow up surrounded by stories that reflect their cultures and experiences.” This statement has been the driving force in the Golden Baobab key objective of pushing African stories to the forefront of the literary world.

Considering the number of stories received this year, 180 stories from 13 African countries, is it untoward to ask, “Does Africa not care for the intellectual growth of its future citizens?” A continent with 54 countries and 1 billion people (as at 2009) and only 180 stories from 13 countries! Stories are the repositories of culture. In my opinion, I think we can do better than this. It is true that all the 1 billion people cannot write stories for children and are doing other worthy things but I still think we can expect more.

True, our continent has been beleaguered with circumstances (low literacy rate, coups, etc )hat have stunted our growth and development but how long are we going to pull up this card anytime the issue of not doing enough is raised? The Golden Baobab Prize was established to inspire the creation of enthralling African children’s stories by gifted African writers. Currently In its 5th year, the Prize has received a little over a thousand submitted stories. A little over a thousand stories in 5 years, in the world’s second largest continent with its over 1 billion people scattered all over the world. This is not good enough.

I am not in anyway discounting the invaluable contribution to African Children’s Literature other organizations have made. The Junior African Writers Series (JAWS) by Heinnemann and the Pacesetters books by Macmillan may be mentioned as the stimulant of African writing for children. The bustling publishing industry of South Africa and Nigeria is something to be proud of. However, Africa is more than just these 2 countries ; there is so much we can do.

It is about time we had a serious conversation about the African children’s literature industry and space that Golden Baobab occupies with other well-meaning organizations on our continent. The children’s book publishing in India is estimated to be worth $1.15 billion growing at the rate of 25% per annum.

According to IBIS World’s Market Research on the Children’s Book Publishing Industry over a period of 5 years (2007 to 2012), the industry (in the US) accounted for:

487 businesses
$3 billion in revenue
9, 307 people employed and
An annual growth of 0.7%
These are positive statistics that should set investors on a scrambling spree yet you and I know that is not the case. This is a billion dollar industry waiting to be taken over by writers, illustrators, publishers, marketers and anyone you can think of within this space. South Africa may be considered as the hub of African children’s literature. To paraphrase the title of NoViolet Bulawayo’s famous book, “We need new countries.” We need new countries to be known for African children’s literature so that Africa can have a fair representation in the sphere of children’s literature. We need new names, new authors, new illustrators, new readers.

So why aren’t our African writers writing for children?

Read more about tomorrow's virtual meetup or just follow @GoldenBaobab or tomorrow at 16:00 GMT.

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