A group of academics in Gaborone have put together an exciting book, Women, Writing Botswana, an anthology covering the writing of women in Botswana.
The academics involved are Maitseo Bolaane, Mary Lederer, Leloba Molema and Connie Rapoo. The project was partly funded by CIPA (Companies and Intellectual Property Authority).
The book includes 91 authors, with works going as far back as 1924. It encompasses an incredible diversity of writing including poems, short stories, essays, songs, court judgements written by women (i.e. Unity Dow’s judgement on the CKGR case), newspaper articles and opinion pieces, speeches, and reports from Emang Basadi about the status of women.
I asked Lederer what prompted the group to start such an ambitious project. “In 2003, the Feminist Press published the first volume of its four-volume series Women Writing Africa (WWA),” she said. “That volume focused on Southern Africa. At that point, there wasn’t much from Botswana except for Bessie Head and Unity Dow, but by the time selection was complete (around 2000), much more was starting to come out. So the three of us (that is Leloba, who was country editor; Nobantu Rasebotsa of the English department, who was regional editor for the volume; and me, who was associate country editor) decided that we needed to start work on a volume dedicated to Botswana.”
“Since 2005-2006, especially, there has been an explosion of writing from Botswana, much of it by women,” Lederer continued. “We decided to include some of the stuff that had been cut from the original WWA, and also to include other stuff that had been published since. As always happens with these things, time passed, and suddenly it was 2010 and we needed to get moving. We agreed that we would look through the entries for the BH Lit competition, scroll through some newspapers, etc, and see what we could find.”
I asked Lederer why she thought a book like this was so important. “There are so many reasons. Batswana women are often overlooked in more ‘literary’ anthologies, I think because they don’t write about many of the same things that more conventional African writers do. Botswana’s famed ‘exceptionalism’ may be fading, but I think that
It is less about post- and neo-colonialism than it is about problems that are peculiar to women living in a society that was not colonised or racially segregated in the same way that most other African countries were. Botswana experienced an economic boom, but women still had to get male relatives to sign things for them… In general, of course, male authors still get more exposure.”
It could be too, because of the quite different experience in Botswana, the writing produced by Batswana women is often outside of the so-called ‘African experience’ so might be overlooked by many such continent-wide anthologies.
I also asked Lederer who they thought the market for this book would be, the general public or academics? “Both,” she said. “We are hoping to interest social scientists, historians, and literary types in the material that we have collected.
We also want to interest more general readers. We have deliberately kept the introductions to the volume and sections somewhat short and un-theoretical so that people will be able to draw their own conclusions from what they read.
All the material in this book was written by women, and we tried to avoid in any way speaking for them, since we believe they can speak for themselves.”
On Saturday, August 26, some of the contributors gathered in Gaborone for a contract signing party. At that event, Lederer saw yet another outcome from the book.
“I think it’s also important for reasons that we saw on Saturday,” she said. “One of the younger women came up to me and said, ‘This is so amazing.
I didn’t know there were so many Batswana women writers.’ In other words, it’s one way to make people realise that Batswana women’s writing could be significant, if only they knew about each other.”
The anthologists are now looking for a publisher for this important book. Publishers from outside the country have already showed interest, I’m crossing fingers the book has fantastic success; it deserves every bit of it.