Q&A with the #WritingMyCity book anthology team

Christelle Lubbe, head professional services and programmes at library and information services, and Frankie Murrey, festival co-ordinator Open Book, chat prose and all things Cape Town with Carla Lever

12 August 2019 - 14:47 By Carla Lever and nal'ibali
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A diverse group of Capetonians has written their stories for an anthology put together in a collaboration between the Open Book Festival and the city of Cape Town.
Image: Mak1one

Nal’ibali Column 5 Term 3 2019

Tell us about the fantastic project 'Writing My City' that you're working on in collaboration with Open Book Festival and the City of Cape Town?

CL: There are so many people with wonderful stories but rarely a vehicle to share them. To help people do this, Cape Town libraries offered creative-writing workshops for all ages earlier this year. Library services partnered the Open Book Festival to ensure  the stories that came out of this were shared, read and appreciated. Now we’re launching a collection of everyday Capetonians’ stories about living in the city.

Why is it important for us to take time to reflect on what Cape Town means to us, in all its different - and often difficult - ways?

CL: Cape Town is a reflection of her people in all walks of life, but we mostly hear the "tourist" perspective when talking about it. It’s time we share our own sometimes gritty stories and our real experiences of living and being here — what it means to us individually and also collectively. It’s important that we read about the city that we all know, love and understand, with not just the glamorous version pushed in the mass media.

Refilwe Moloto (English), André Trantraal (Afrikaans and Kaaps) and Oscar Masinyana (Xhosa) have been given the difficult task of making the final selection of 40 contributions for the anthology. What was their feedback about the experience of reading so many heartfelt and diverse submissions?

FM: As with anything you do for the first time, you are faced with a steep learning curve. Informal feedback so far is that we do more to pull content in languages other than English - by far the most entries we received were written in English. There have also been suggestions that we focus our theme in future. On the whole, though, the feedback has been positive and enthusiastic about this being something that should be ongoing.

I think it's particularly significant that you included Kaaps as one of the four official languages for submission. So often, Kaaps is considered an oral form of communication but there's a rich and important history of writers and artists working to challenge that assumption. Can you tell us about your decision?

CL: This unique language of Kaaps is what makes our city different from any other city in the world, so we have to embrace our differences and ensure the voices can be heard.

The project is an incredible collaboration with local libraries across the city. What is your experience of connecting with these very diverse community hubs? What have you learnt about our city's librarians and book network?

CL: I was so impressed with the librarians who took on this challenge. A large number of the librarians jumped on board and were excited about the project as they felt it was long overdue. We have interesting storytellers in our communities and we can’t wait to get the real stories of our community out there. It was heart-warming that each participating library had passionate teachers, writers and poets who freely gave their time and expertise to facilitate the workshops and to help would-be writers pull their stories together.

This project shows that libraries are - or can be - much more than places to borrow books. What do you think libraries mean to people in this country, and what do they have the potential to be in the future?

CL: Libraries have always been more than books, but old perceptions are sometimes hard to shake. Libraries provide spaces and are community hubs. They should be the go-to for every child with a question, for every parent with a concern, for every student with a dream. They are the place where you find answers, inspiration, culture and each other.

It must have been exciting getting such diverse perspectives on Cape Town. What kinds of submissions really moved you?

CL: As part of the workshops, the Women for Change group had a chance to share their stories with each other. I cried when I heard of mothers talking about losing their children, abuse and dependencies. I also embraced how they helped each other through these experiences as one big family.

The collection is going to be launched at the Open Book Festival in the first week of September. What can we expect from the launch and how can people attend?

FM: The event is happening on September 7 from 4pm-5pm. We’ve made it a free event so we're doing everything we can to make it easily accessible. To attend, people will have to book their spot through Webtickets. Africa Melane will be chatting to two of the judges and selected contributors, and hopefully we will hear some material read. We hope to see the Fugard Theatre packed to the brim.

What have been the reactions from people, many of whom might be first-time authors, who learn they will be featured in the anthology?

CL: People were mostly shocked, but also excited and humbled that they are going to be published and that their words will be available in every library in the city.

How does one festival manage such a huge and exciting side project?

CL: This was a collaboration of librarians and book lovers. We could not have done it without the passionate librarians, the volunteers in the communities and the expertise of the Open Book Festival organisers. Also the grant that was made available by the city to aid this project. We also found people want more projects like this and asked for more workshops in the libraries.

How can people get their hands on a copy of this fantastic anthology?

CL: The anthology will be available in all the more than 100 libraries across the city, and  copies will be sold at the Open Book Festival in September.

Reading and telling stories with your children is a powerful gift to them. It builds knowledge, language, imagination and school success. For more information about the Nal’ibali campaign or to access stories in a range of South African languages, visit www.nalibali.org.

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