GBF Trust & University of East Anglia collaborate on creative writing programme for local writers

Gaborone Book Festival (GBF) recently hosted a creative writing workshop in collaboration with University of East Anglia (UEA), the first university in the United Kingdom to introduce creative writing as a course. As part of its effort to support creative writing among Africans and improve the rich African Literature landscape, the university funded writing programmes in Botswana, Namibia, Uganda and Kenya. The writing programme is curated by acclaimed author, writer, educator and human rights activist Tsitsi Dangremgba while the Botswana facilitator is author and cultural activist Botumile 'Bonty' Bontekanye.

In Botswana, there were 80 applications and only 25 were selected. The Maun workshop held last week had 6 writers. The Gaborone edition, held at Regent Hotel, attracted 15 writers, who went through insightful and vigorous facilitation on creative writing for children as an audience.

Co-founder of GBF Trust, Kenanao Phele, said that they chose a programme on creative writing for children because as custodians of books and reading culture, they had noticed that there are not many Batswana writers who write books for children.

She explained that as part of the GBF outreach programme, they through the support of some corporate entities including MasterCard and Orange, had carried out read aloud events and book donations drives and observed that many young people have a voracious hunger to read books and embrace literature but the barrier challenges were the cost of books and the few number of books written by Batswana targeted at youth and children.

"We observed that there isn't enough literary content that speaks to young Batswana from a localised perspective. She expressed hope that being part of this programme would inspire and empower local writers to generate content for young people in their writing journey.

Bontekanye said that it is important to preserve Botswana's unique culture and lifestyle by documenting it through literature. She said that some African writers adapt a Western voice and perspective instead of celebrating their original culture and history, which erodes the cultural fibre of Africa including Botswana. She encouraged writers to give localised perspective in their work and tell interesting and relatable stories that audiences can relate to and identify with.

"People want to see themselves in stories and read on experiences that resonate with them. It is important for local writers to have pride in telling our stories that reflect our culture and history, instead of waiting for other people to tell them," she said. Bontekanye through her writing, explores mythologies taboos, superstitions, values and beliefs that are unique to African and Botswana societies.

She is the self-published author of several books including Tlou the elephant story and the Seed Children, among others.

The selected writers in the programme will go through a series of virtual workshops, and a Masterclass to be held during the GBF main event, where they will also read the stories that they wrote.