Young Writers Big Futures, 7 September 2013, Fugard Studio. Launch of multilingual Young Writers' Anthology.
Arthur Attwell, CEO of Paperight and Shuttleworth Foundation Fellow, hosted the launch of the multilingual Young Writers’ Anthology 2013. Alongside him appeared Niq Mhlongo, who wrote the foreword for the anthology, Sarah Rowan, who judged the poetry entries, Hedley Twidle, who judged the essays and Sibabalwe Oscar Masinyana, the editor of the collection.
The event flowed smoothly from conversation with the panel members to intermittent readings from the writers. I am at pains not to express my excitement at the quality of writing which I heard in clichés – there is simply no way one cannot feel inspired by these young minds. Rowan and Twidle explained that the process involved them receiving a short list of works in their respective categories and although it made their work much easier, they were still faced with an enormous challenge in making the final choices. The winner of the short fiction section, Jenna Solomon, is first to read to us, and surprises with her gentle voice as she reads her story about Joseph the “Harbour Child” to loud applause. Attwell says that the topics stretched across the board, from social issues, to the usual teenage angst and poems of love. However, the judges were not looking for content; their focus was on good writing.
This takes the discussion to the process of judging. Attwell explains the magnitude of the project, from sending out the call for submissions to the final product. Masinyana was adamant from the start that there would be no translations, and this required having to trust and rely on others who were equipped to deal with the process. There were thus sixteen readers involved in judging entries in different languages against each other. Masinyana expresses his frustration at our reluctance to turn away from thinking that “Literature means English,” and he says that English readers or speakers do not recognise the dominance of exclusion and cannot identify with monolingual speakers who are always dealing with the feeling of “I don’t know what it means.” His opinion is that all the pieces were fairly judged and “just because it isn’t English doesn’t mean you have to understand it, if you don’t that’s on you”. He perceives English speakers as always “feeling they’re owed a translation,” and Attwell concurs that there is an expectation that there should be parallel columns to explain what the original means. The anthology thus intentionally avoids providing translations.
Hannah then reads her poem “The Window” which eloquently tells us the story of passing time and the circle of life. The smallest collection came from the essay submissions and the panel are in agreement that there seems to be some discourse necessary as essays seems to be misunderstood and as a result very few were received. Subjects covered issues as varied as Marikana, animal rights and queer politics and this made it all the more interesting and challenging in choosing the winners. Twidle talks about the various styles and makes special mention of the essay winner, Triston Liebenberg, who wrote her essay in the second person “you”. Twidle recognises that this is quite tricky but says that Liebenberg managed it “very well”. The judges all seemed to find the variety of styles interesting and Masinyana mentions a collaborative piece by three boys involving illustrations and dramatic dialogue, but which was not genre specific, because it was mostly in English but used combinations of satire and absurd theatre, among other things. When Masinyana says the submission was in an exercise book, Attwell elaborates on how many hand-written submissions were received and the clear distinction between entries from affluent schools which were mostly typed scripts and those from poorer schools which were in exercise books.
Judging the illustration entries was as difficult, but Chad van Heerden’s black and white illustration evoked such strong emotion that he was a clear winner. Attwell, being an established poet himself, admits to being “blown away” by the poetry submissions. Rowan acquiesces that the submissions were diverse and excellent across the board, leaving the judges to struggle with figuring out what worked best. The ideal was, of course, to have all the formal requirements, i.e. form, meaning, imagery, going together without it being obvious to the reader.
Masinyana says they have to acknowledge those who are supportive of our young writers and he commends those teachers who are very committed and would mentor some of the writers. Some of these “amazing” teachers even attended the event. The important thing to teach aspiring young writers is, that “you cannot write if you cannot read” The call for submissions for the 2014 Anthology is currently out and can be found at paperight.com.