Jo’burg festival shines literary light on the youth 



“We are trying to create a culture of, not just reading, but also writing in our communities,” says Dr Zaheera Jina, the founder and director of the Jozi’s Books and Blogs Festival, a community-based literary festival that takes place annually in the southern Johannesburg suburb of Lenasia.

Jina is passionate about books and, frustrated at the lack of book festivals and literary events in her area, she approached local schools, writers and businesses to help create a local event. The festival was launched in 2016 and will host its fourth edition on 28 July.

READ MORE: Festival to bookend all festivals

The festival is unusual in that its focus is not exclusively on books and authors. “We also want to empower people to tell their stories in many different ways, using diverse platforms,” Jina says.

This is why Jozi’s Books and Blogs Festival includes workshops that teach both children and adults how to write and communicate using blogging, photography, short stories, poetry and the stage. Would-be authors are given advice on how to navigate the publishing process. The message that festivalgoers leave with is that the pen is powerful and words are important tools for personal and social change.

Although book festivals are generally perceived as adult events, this one is family-centred and includes specific programmes for preschoolers, pre-teens, teenagers and adults. This year’s festival will feature child authors Christian Fatouros, Ngcali Metu, Relebogile Mothema and Daniel Nyamgero. Young writers Michelle Nkamankeng and Stacey Fru shared their writing secrets with other children at previous festivals.

READ MORE: Why reading aloud means the world to children

Author Shafinaaz Hassim will be grilled by the young readers of her Nisa Qamar series. Fred Khumalo will be in conversation with high school readers about his acclaimed book Dancing the Death Drill.

The aim, according to Jina, is to allow young readers to get into the mind of the creators of the books that they’ve read.

Jina is particularly excited about the participation of the uTyala Stem Institute in the pre-teen session which will feature coding and sensory electronics. Khadija Patel, editor of the Mail & Guardian, together with young journalists Nelisiwe Msomi, Ahmed Kajee, Azhar Vadi and veteran broadcasters Ashraf Garda, Aslam Khota, Mahendra Raghunath and Hasina Kathrada will introduce teenagers to the world of journalism.

Although a large part of the festivals’s focus is on encouraging new writers, it also celebrates established authors who have made important contributions to South Africa’s literature landscape. Don Mattera, Achmat Dangor and the now late Ahmed Essop, were honoured in 2016, 2017 and 2018 respectively.

This year, Fred Khumalo’s vast contribution to literature in South Africa and beyond will be recognised, and literary and human rights activist Elinor Sisulu is delivering the keynote address.

Jozi’s Books and Blogs Festival has also featured some of South Africa’s most successful writers, including Nozizwe Cynthia Jele, Pamela Power, Fiona Snyckers, Bontle Senne, Yewande Omotoso, Hamilton Wende and Jayne Bauling.

Previous sessions at Jozi’s Books and Blogs Festival have tackled issues of representation and diversity in literature, as well as understanding the role that literature plays in personal and social development. These themes, Jina, says, will continue to feature at this year’s festival through a theatre production of Whistle Stop! After the play, audiences will be able to talk to actors Ameera Patel and Jaques De Silva about their professional journeys.

The festival has grown massively since its launch, and is fast becoming an important fixture on the literary scene in the south of Johannesburg. Schools, teachers, nongovernmental organisations, community media and businesses are now involved and Jina is confident that the festival will continue to grow. The attendance figures are also growing each year.

One of the most important gains of the festival, says Jina, is that it has made reading and writing more accessible to residents of Johannesburg’s less affluent southern suburbs. “Literary festivals and celebrations of books were previously seen as elite gatherings, and [ the Jozi’s Books and Blogs Festival] has certainly changed that perception,” she says.

The fourth annual Jozi’s Books and Blogs Festival will take place on Sunday, July 28 at SBSM School, 24 Salvia Street, Lenasia. General admission is R10 per person. For more inofrmation and to see the full programme, go to their website.

Suraya Dadoo is an independent writer and author who has been involved with JozisBBF since its inception

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Suraya Dadoo
Suraya Dadoo
Suraya Dadoo is a freelance writer based in Johannesburg.

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