Friday, May 1, 2015

Launch of Novels of Botswana in English, 1930-2006

On the 29th of April the academic book Novels of Botswana in English, 1930-2006 by Dr Mary Lederer was launched at the University of Botswana Bookstore. The book is the first book length academic look at the fiction writing in English coming from the country making is a seminal work of great importance.

Professor Arua E. Arua of the UB's Department of English was the master of ceremonies.

Dr Arua E. Arua

The author, Dr Mary Lederer, was interviewed by lecturer in the English department, Wazha Lopang. Lederer loosely categorised the novels she covered in the book into three categories: 1930- Sol Plaatje's novel Mhudi, the Bessie Head period, and from 1990 to 2006. In the book, she includes not only books written by Batswana authors but also books written by foreigners who set their books in the country.

Wazha Lopang (left) and Dr Mary Lederer (right)
Lederer said the most difficult part in doing her research was finding the books. So many of the books are out of print. Also, there is little academic research done about Batswana writers and writing set in Botswana outside of Bessie Head, Unity Dow, and Norman Rush (an American who writes books set in the country).  When asked by Lopang which books she read during her research that she most enjoyed she mentioned two less read books by Andrew Sesinyi, an author best known for his iconic Love on the Rocks, Rassie and Carjack. Carjack is about a group of female car hijackers, something Lederer found particularly amusing.

Lederer said since her research, the amount of writing coming from Botswana has increased dramatically, both short stories and novels. She spoke about an upcoming conference in Germany she would be attending where she is meant to speak about the more recent writing from the country. She realised when she got to work on the academic paper that the sheer amount was just too much. She asked the organisers to take her off the programme since she would not be able to cover the topic suitably in the short space of time she was given. The organisers told her that people are desperate to hear about the writing from Botswana since nearly nothing is written about it so asked her to please come anyway with whatever she had.

Well known poet and senior lecturer in UB English Department, Barolong Seboni, gave an overview of the literature in the country and the academic research around that literature. Seboni praised Lederer for taking that first very important step with this book. She is the pioneer and has laid the path for other researchers to build on what she has done. He called her "the go-to girl" for research in this area.

Barolong Seboni

He explained how storytelling has a long history in the country starting with oral storytelling and including books written by missionaries and colonial officials. The earliest literature is in Setswana, of course, not English.

He spoke about the problem of getting a course introduced ten years ago at the University called Botswana Literature in English. The biggest problem was that there was no research done on the literature. Lederer has started to solve that problem. The question still to be decided, according to Seboni, is - "What is Botswana literature?" What is unique about literature coming from the country? Is an Eskimo writing a book set in Botswana in his igloo part of Botswana literature, Seboni asked.

Seboni accepts the importance of fiction in a country's identity. He said, "The stories will define us as Batswana."

In closing, Dr Lederer thanked everyone. She encouraged other researchers to step in and begin to fill in the gap in the research. "There is just so much more to be done," she said.


TJ Dema said...

Thanks for posting on this Lauri, had to earn rent that night :)

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