Book fest bridges academy and the public

05 September 2019 | Story Carla Bernardo. Photos Cape Flats Book Festival. Read time 4 min.
Athol Williams reads from his book Invitation.
Athol Williams reads from his book Invitation.

The first-ever Cape Flats Book Festival brought together academics from the University of Cape Town (UCT), renowned local authors and book lovers, both young and old, from across the Mother City.

From 31 August to 1 September, the celebration of literature took place at West End Primary School in Lentegeur, Mitchells Plain. The festival was a partnership between non-profit organisation Read to Rise, which is committed to promoting youth literacy in schools in South Africa’s under-resourced communities, and community newspaper, the Plainsman.

UCT Graduate School of Business (GSB) senior lecturer Athol Williams, in his role as chairperson and co-founder of Read to Rise, said the festival presented opportunities for engaged scholarship.

“I think the difficulty in the academy has been to find bridges from the academy to the public, and I think festivals like this create that space,” he said.

Williams, who specialises in corporate responsibility and ethical leadership, added that the festival presents academics with two more opportunities. The first is that it provides academics who are also creative writers the platform to express themselves. The second is that it exposes academics to a variety of other writers, from those writing about cultural affairs to those who write children’s books.

The senior lecturer is also an award-winning poet and has authored five children’s books and an autobiography. He says that he uses his creative writing to strengthen his academics and vice-versa.

“I feed the dreaming from my creative work into my academic work; the academic work gives my creative writing some grounding, some structure, some insight,” said Williams. “I allow the two to be in tension sometimes but also to speak to each other.”

Platforms, possibilities

Joining Williams from UCT was Associate Professor Barbara Boswell, from the Department of English Literature, and Bertha Scholar Maurisa Moloto.

Boswell read from and discussed her book Grace: A Novel. In her novel, Boswell uses fiction to address important issues around structural violence, such as inter-partner violence.

Moloto’s topics of discussion were “How to motivate learners with literacy challenges” and “How to encourage language and communication through literacy”.

Williams, Boswell and Moloto joined local authors, artists and journalists, such as Zubeida Jaffer, Yusuf Daniels, Diana Ferrus, Emile Jansen, Fatima and Gadija Sydow, Ryland Fisher, Solly Moeng and 13-year-old Amr Salie.

Book fest bridges academy and the public
Athol Williams’ Oaky Series of inspirational books for children was on display and sale at the book festival.

Exposing Cape Flats readers to some of the country’s best authors, artists and journalists was one of the drivers behind the establishment of the book festival. Another was to provide a platform to those Cape Flats authors who don’t have an opportunity to share their writing and ideas elsewhere. With Read to Rise as one of the co-partners, the importance of reading was a foundational driver for the festival.

In addition to its value as an “educational cognitive development act”, Williams said that being exposed to a variety of authors presented readers with the opportunity to dream.

“When you see someone like you who has written a book … you think ‘Wow, I could also write a book,’ ” he said. “And so that is what I hope this will start sparking – far more literature from the Cape Flats because people see the possibility of it.”

Williams and Read to Rise plan on making the festival an annual occurrence on the local literature calendar.

"This is just the start of many to come!”

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