Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Pitso ya Ngwao ko Tonota

I've just returned from the cultural pitso in Tonota. In Botswana, the president has instructed various ministries to hold community meetings called pitso, to find out what Batswana need from their government.

The Cultural Pitso (Pitso ya Ngwao) has been quite vague in the past with anyone who is part of culture (artists, musicians, writers etc) coming together in one meeting to discuss their problems. Each sector has quite diverse needs so such meetings in the past have been too vague to accomplish much.

 But this year things are different. The theme for the pitso was: "Go bala ke lesedi- Developing a culture of reading in Botswana". The theme was specific and the participants, on the most part, were focused. The pitso is being held twice this year, once in the north and once in the south to try and get the widest participation.

The one in the north was on the 22nd held in Tonota. I attended and chaired the discussion group on technology and reading. I was very keen on this because I'm currently trying to get cellphone providers in the country to use cellphones to distribute our stories and books. Last week I was asked to go to Gaborone to make a presentation on my idea to one of our cellphone companies BeMobile. They said they'd get back to me. So I was happy to be part of the technology group. (below is the beautiful new library in Tonota where the Pitso was held)

Next Monday I'll be attending the pitso in the south, to be held in Jwaneng. There I'll again chair the technology discussion group but I'll also present the writer's perspective on the problem of reading in the country. I'm looking forward to it.

The pitso was put on by three departments: the Department of Arts and Culture, Botswana National Library Services and Botswana National Archives and Records Services. The photo below is a display from the Archives folks. The government publishes a national magazine called Kutlwano, a magazine I used to freelance for when I first started writing. These were old copies from the 1960s and 1970s. They were fantastic! I could have spent the entire day reading them.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Orange Prize Saved by Authors

Some months ago the world was saddened to hear that Orange would be withdrawing their sponsorship for the Orange Prize, a literary prize for full lengthnovels written in English by women writers anywhere in the world. The hope was someone would step in and take up the prize but time was passing and no news was forthcoming until now. It seems a group of private donors  led by Cherie Blair and bestselling writers Joanna Trollope and Elizabeth Buchan have stepped in to save the prize for 2013. There are numerous companies wanting to step into Orange's shoes but nothing had been finalised in time for the 2013 prize so best selling women authors stepped up to the plate. How great is that??

The prize was re-launched last week and has taken back it's former name, The Women's Prize for Fiction. I, for one, am thankful. I find novels on the shortlist to be exceptional usually. It is a prize that recognises women authors from around the globe and pulls them into the light of stardom.

I always find the criticism of the Orange Prize confusing. It is a known and quantifiable fact that books written by women get less attention. The prize was organised by women to rectify that situation. How is that a bad thing? Most famously AS Byatt called it a "sexist prize".

What do you think? Do you think the prize does more harm than good?

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Chicken Thief by Fiona Leonard

The Chicken Thief is the story of Allois, an innovative young man who left his job in the civil service to become a chicken thief and along the way gets pulled into a complicated mystery which involves saving one of the country's most celebrated war heroes. The book is set in a mythical African country that seems very much like Zimbabwe to me. It is a wonderfully plotted tale with characters you won't easily forget. I recently read an interview where the author said that she is working on a sequel which made me very happy. I really enjoyed this book and look forward to the next one. I read it in just a few days because the mystery in the plot is very compelling.

And one thing I liked even more about this book, is that it is self-published. You wouldn't know it was self-published though. It is well edited and very well written. It is indication of the new definition of self-published books. Too often people dismiss self published books assuming they will not be up to standard.  I'm actually quite surprised this book was not grabbed up by a traditional publisher. It is better than a few books I've read recently that were published traditionally. Perhaps the author never gave them the option, this is what I suspect.