By Bontle Senne
Published August 22, 2014
Every few weeks, I meet people who tell me they want to be writers. Quite often they say they want to write for children or have started writing to give their children something more fun to read. They work in the evenings after long days behind desks and putting little ones to bed. They tell me they have been working on it for six months or six years. All of them want to know how to get published. Many of them imagine it will be much more glamorous and profitable than it’s really likely. Quite a few of them have multiple books they have abandoned half or a quarter way because they could not find inspiration or had run out of ideas. I must have met dozens of people with this story in the last five years or so. There must be thousands of these hopeful storytellers across Africa but where do all their stories go? Very few of them are ever published. To be fair, there are very few strictly trade or children’s book publishers on our continent to begin with.
Stories can be as powerful as bullets. They can shift perspectives and ignite passions. They can keep our history and heritage alive. They can change the future for one child and a whole family.
Writing textbooks or other educational materials would certainly be a more sensible and reliable source of income for those who wish to write professionally for children. We are yet to harness the potential of technology in unleashing our stories into the world. But why haven’t we? I could point to the many institutional roadblocks and structural inequalities of the publishing world. I could lament our odd preference for work from beyond our own shores. But I opt to talk about fear. This is the one thing that all those who have told me they want to be writers have in common. They are afraid they can’t finish writing their book or it won’t be good enough if they do; afraid of the inevitable rejection letters or their book won’t sell.
I am not immune to these fears. For years, my particular brand of fear was that people would think that I couldn’t really write if I chose to write solely for children. My fear fueled my excuses for not doing the only thing that would actually make me a ‘real’ writer: writing. I have a theory that this is why after six years as Africa’s only continental children’s literature prize, the Golden Baobab Prize can’t attract a sizable number of entries.
Yes, that the Golden Baobab that recognises writers and illustrators of children’s literature in Africa only received 180 story submissions for the 5th Golden Baobab Prize contest from across Africa in 2013 is deeply worrying, especially since we have no shortage of writers; just a shortage of opportunities.
The Golden Baobab Prize and its writing and illustration workshops may represent one of the few opportunities for one to become a real writer. The stories submitted are expected to be written by Africans and for African children in settings that are relatable and with characters not so unlike the children themselves. So why aren’t there more entries? Where do all our stories go?
The deadline for entries to the 6th Golden Baobab Prize whose winners shall be announced in November 2014 was on June 29, 2014. So were there more entries from the many writers across the width and breadth of Africa?