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Festival opens the way for a love of reading

The Open Book Festival is an innovative and exciting event that hopes to build a love of reading among South African youth. Ahead of 2012's Festival, where Nal'ibali participated in a panel on reading-for-enjoyment, we caught up with festival co-ordinator Frankie Murrey to talk literacy, libraries and growing a love of books and reading among young people. Join Nal’ibali for a panel discussion about the importance of reading clubs to promote literacy at the Festival between 2-3pm, 20 September, Central Library in Cape Town.

Q: The Open Book Festival is an annual event which aims to ignite a passion for literacy amongst youth. This sounds very exciting! Can you tell us more about it?

A: Open Book is a young festival (2011 saw the first edition of the festival) and already weve started several programmes aimed at increasing levels of literacy. All the programmes are sustainable and practical. They are designed in consultation with our partners, schools, teachers and students. We have seen some success already and feel we have a strong base from which to grow.

Q: What are the main aims of the festival?

A: The festival’s three objectives are:

  1. To put on a world class international festival that attracts significant authors from around the world
  2. To promote young South African authors to an international audience through profile building events in Cape Town as well as through exchange programmes with other festivals
  3. To build a love of books and reading amongst the youth of Cape Town

Key to the success of the festival is the Youth Festival where we organise events designed to build excitement around all things book related and the ongoing projects we’ve started. The Youth Festival sees exciting events happening at various schools in and around Cape Town, as well as in public spaces like libraries and book shops. The authors we involve are mostly locals, although we are inviting more internationals to participate in this side of the festival.

Q: Open Book believes strongly that a commitment to literacy needs to be active, and this is reflected in the many projects that have been devloped. Tell us about the Library project?

A: The vast majority of schools in South Africa function without a library. What this means is that students lack access to one of the most important resources available. Open Book has undertaken to provide one school with a library per year. This is done with massive assistance from Equal Education, local publishers and the support of festival goers and other interested parties. Following the identification of the school, we start work on the list of books we would ideally like to see on shelves there. Factors we consider include language, reading age, teachers’ suggestions and publishers’ suggestions. What that means is each library we stock will have the most relevant titles for students at that school. In terms of quantity, we aim to have 5 books per student.

Q: Matthew Goniwe Memorial High School in Khayalitsha, which has 1 400 students, was the lucky recipient of the 2011 library. Do you feel this first project has been a success?

A: On the 24th September 2011, Open Book handed a library over to the school. It is without hesitation that we talk about this project as the most rewarding experience of the first edition of the festival. Having access to books is however only the first step to building enthusiasm for reading and books. Regular visits to the school and the establishment of reading clubs continues our drive to build a community of readers.

Q: You mention reading clubs as a way forward in creating a sustainable reading environment. Open Book has also helped create a Reading Club for teachers at Matthew Goniwe Memorial High School. What was the motivation behind this?

A: Teachers are a vital link between ourselves and the students we aim to reach. We cannot expect students to feel enthusiasm for reading if their teachers do not inspire that passion. With this in mind, we aim to start reading clubs for teachers at the schools where we put in libraries. Involvement in the clubs is entirely voluntary.

The books put forward for teachers to choose from are written by local authors. There are several reasons behind this: To ensure books read are relevant to the teachers’ lives; to promote local authors to readers and thus grow their local audience; to increase the opportunities to take authors to schools to talk to teachers and students and to answer their questions. We hope to start a reading club for students in the future.

Q: Which school has been identified for the 2012 Library Project?

A: Parkhurst Primary School, in Mitchell’s Plain, which has a student body of 1 250. We identified the school where we will be putting in a library far earlier this year. We have done a significant amount of work with the librarian, principal and school governing body already. A large number of books for the library have already been catalogued and covered and we expect the remainder to be there by the end of Open Book 2012.

Apart from getting books on shelves, we look forward to the official library handover on the 17 September 2012. Following that, we will continue to work with the school on events and reading clubs… As this is a primary school, we will be looking to include any interested parents in the club as we firmly believe a love of reading and books begins at home. We will also be investigating running workshops at the school focusing on the importance of reading to children from birth onwards.

Q: In 2011, Open Book began a Mentoring Project. Can you tell us about this? And has the 2012 Mentoring Project been changed or developed in any way?

A: The goal of this project is to identify students with an interest in writing and to nurture that interest.  Students work with suitable mentors in the language and genre of their choice. The success of the project is not dependent on any of the students pursuing writing as a career, but rather on them realising such a career is an option.

Six students [from the 2011 project] have been working with mentors from January until July 2012 The District 6 Museum has been incredibly supportive, and through them, students have been able to access computers and the internet in the media centre at the Homecoming Centre. Three of the students involved in the project have been working on poetry and will be performing some of their work at one of the events at Open Book 2012.

For the 2012 Mentoring Project, rather than work on identifying students for the mentoring project, we will identify spaces where students interested in writing can come to get advice on their writing. We are looking for spaces in Mitchell’s Plain, Khayelitsha and Cape Town CBD. It is likely that we will continue to work with the District 6 Museum in the CBD. The modified mentoring project will have an increased reach. Suitable mentors will be at each venue once a week as well as a facilitator. In addition to weekly mentoring sessions, we will organise monthly events to build enthusiasm for writing.

Frankie Murrey is the Festival Coordinator for Open Book Cape Town. She is a passionate reader and has been working in the book trade for the past decade.

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