On Sunday September 18, News Café in Gaborone was abuzz with excitement over the short story. We gathered to celebrate the winner of the Bessie Head Short Story contest, Caiphus Mangenela, as well as Bessie Head and some of our local short story writers. It was an event organised by the Bessie Head Heritage Trust (BHHT).
Mangenela read an excerpt of his very touching story, “A Mother Amongst The Stars”. He told me afterwards that he’s just starting out as a writer. I think it’s obvious he has talent, now we must wait and see if he will have the stamina. This writing business is tough and my hope is he won’t let the conditions defeat him. I’m looking forward to much more from him.
Tiro Sebina of the University of Botswana English Department and BHHT member attempted to define what a short story is in his speech titled on the programme ‘Remarks on the Short Story’. It’s difficult to peg this animal down, but he made an important point—something must happen. If you read widely, especially American MFA-produced stories, you begin to believe that it’s fine to describe everything in beautiful language while nothing actually takes place. I agree with Sebina—something must happen, your main character, your protagonist, must be changed during the story. It might be a small change but a change must occur. Otherwise you’re just giving us a nicely described picture.
Next on the programme was Dr Leloba Molema, also of the UB English Department and a BHHT member, reading some excerpts of letters written by Bessie Head. I particularly loved the one written during Botswana’s independence where Bessie was trying to teach some Rhodesians why she liked Botswana, in particular our flag and our first President, were so special. Priceless; especially her remarks about President Seretse Khama, and how being quiet too is an important characteristic of a leader.
A recording was played of Bessie being interviewed and asked about becoming a writer. She spoke about her love of books and reading. I’m always pleasantly surprised to hear recordings of Bessie’s sweet voice and her articulate manner of speech. It’s one of the things I love most about attending Bessie Head Heritage Trust events, when they play recordings of Bessie speaking.
Then the programme had a list of some of our writers reading excerpts of their work. What was
I read my story The Colour of Love, about a magical stranger who brings a new sort of love to the village. Priscillah Matara read an excerpt of a story about a mentally ill woman and her daughter who must cope with the consequences. Wame Molefhe read from her work in progress, Moon Over Marico, a conversation between a mother and daughter about love. Donald Molosi read an excerpt about a Motswana woman who recently arrived in America.
My favourite reading of the day was Cheryl Ntumy’s gorgeous speculative story about a man and a woman joined together by a string. For reasons I cannot understand, Cheryl Ntumy seems to operate quietly under the radar but she is one of the best writers we have in this country. She’s published widely, has books published with established, traditional publishers in South Africa as well as overseas. She was recently interviewed on the BBC, and yet in Botswana she gets nowhere near enough attention. I guess that old adage, the squeaky wheel gets the grease applies, Cheryl is surely the quietest wheel in Botswana. But the squeaky wheel is not always the most talented, only the squeakiest.
And finally we had a humorous story from Sharon Tshipa told from the point of view of a gecko. It was a lovely, mad collection of readings that I thoroughly enjoyed.
The proceedings ended with an open mic that allowed some of the inspired audience members to share their words with the gathering. It was great to see so many young people in the audience who seem to be really excited about words, reading and writing. The event was sponsored by Diamond Educational Publishers and Peermont Mondior-Gaborone.