Dad’s passion for literacy turns to writing for kids

YOU are a journalist and you write books for adults. What made you venture into children’s fiction with A Kite’s Flight?

I wrote it for my children; to show them my world as a child. One of my favourite things to do when I was a boy was to fly kites. But, as we lived abroad when my children were younger, I also wanted to get them interested in Africa and nurture a love for the continent and its scope for adventure.

As I child, I was fascinated by the pyramids and the rain forests in the Congo. I needed to share my excitement and love of travel with them.

But I also wrote it for children who are growing up the same way I did. I wanted them to be allowed to imagine and dream. That is what books did for me.

How did you discover reading as a child?

I grew up in an informal settlement in very bleak times. One day, one of the boys who lived nearby asked me if I wanted to go to the library with him. I was six. That mobile library changed my life.

I discovered books about people who lived in other parts of the world going through the same things I was and, most importantly, managed to escape their miserable existence. I loved books by James Baldwin, they were familiar to me.

Is this still relevant today?

I think it’s really important for South African children today. I spend a lot of time reading to children and talking to them. I am proof that they too can rise out of their circumstances.

I was exactly like them – same terrible schools, homework by candlelight and barefoot till I was 15.

I realised early that everything starts with reading – that boy who took me to the library went on to do very well in life. He was the only one of my peers I know of who did.

How do we improve literacy in South Africa?

We need to build a culture of reading. Children need to read more than just text books; they need to go beyond their readers. If we are interested in building this nation, then we need to make books cheaper and improve libraries.

The foundation of our nation has to be reading. If we continue the way things are, we will never have a vibrant democracy where informed people can add to the debate.

So, do you think newspapers have a role to play here?

I do. Newspapers played a huge role in my life as a teenager. Newspapers make one inquisitive and give an understanding of the world. They’re also easily accessible. And to make newspapers sustainable for the future, they need to capture potential new readers.

What do you think of the Nal’ibali campaign?

I think we need more of these projects. We often think it is up to government but it is more important for the private sector and individuals to be involved.

It’s heartbreaking that education is still not of a high quality.

We could learn lessons from Asia, where empowerment has been achieved by giving everyone the same quality education. I believe that if people are well educated they will be able to manage on their own.

Do you plan to write any other children’s stories?

My kids are the harshest critics and I have been told they’d like a real book now. I’m under pressure to come up with a detective story! I have just done a baby’s book called That’s Better for Jacana – it is about the fear I used to have of the dark. I’m enjoying telling my own stories.

William Gumede is an associate professor at Wits University and author of a number of books including the recently released best-selling Restless Nation: Making Sense of Troubled Times and A New Introduction and editing of Nelson Mandela – No Easy Walk to Freedom.

WE have three copies of William Gumede’s A Kite’s Flight to give away.

To stand a chance to win, SMS the keyword GUMEDE followed by your contact details and the answer the question: “What sort of story do his children want him to write next?” to 32545.

SMSes cost R1 and the competition ends on May 6.

Send your comments to letters@nalibali.org or go to  www.facebook.com/ nalibaliSA

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