Founded by a trio of sisters – Kenanao and twins, Katlego and Keikantse Phele – the initiative seeks to provide a space for literature to extend beyond reading at school.
Infusing bookishness in a culture that has a long oral storytelling history is equally as challenging as it is igniting. As such, the Book Afternoon series launched in July this year seeks to bring the two worlds together by hosting Batswana authors for “curated book conversations and readings delving into their work”, according to Kenanao Phele.
The non-profit endeavour offers avenues for disruption by organising free literary events that are meant to connect readers and authors. Through the Book Afternoon Series, the featured author for that month is given the arena to offer insights, tease and taunt their audience while forming part of building the kind of community envisioned by the Phele sisters. Having launched the series with internationally acclaimed poet, TJ Dema, the second instalment beckons audiences to gather for another stellar writer’s debut story collection titled ‘Call and Response’.
Gothataone Moeng is a decorated literary artist boasting being a 2023-2024 Carol Houck Smith Fiction Fellow at the University of Wisconsin Madison in the United States of America, a 2022-2023 Fiction Fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, as well as a 2018-2020 Stegner Fellow in Fiction at Stanford University. With such a rich investment in her words, it is no wonder that her collection of short stories has garnered great interest from readers of all backgrounds. In a toast to the global value of good storytelling. Painting Serowe in different hues and textures, Moeng’s stories offer a peek into the historical village and the characters one might find there.
“Call and Response” brings together stories “strongly anchored in place – in the village of Serowe and in Gaborone, the capital city of Botswana – charting the emotional journeys of women seeking love and opportunity beyond the barriers of custom and circumstance”, as attested by the publishers, Viking. The Penguin Random House imprint whose catalogue includes essayist and activist, Rebecca Solnit; historian, Nathaniel Philbick; and four-time New York Times bestselling author and self-proclaimed professional troublemaker, Luvvie Ajayi Jones; now serves as a home to one of Botswana’s brightest stars.
On reviewing the book, pan-African literary magazine, Brittle Paper’s Kuhelika Ghosh said it “features some of the strongest and most unforgettable female protagonists we have come across so far”, offering that “based on her debut collection, Moeng appears to be a gifted writer who is able to provide insight into communities and landscapes with sensitivity and grace. We cannot wait to see what she publishes next.” It is for reasons such as this that the Little Theatre at the National Museum ought to be spilling at the brim on Saturday, 19 August as ears, hearts and minds are stimulated to envisage afresh. For her part, the University of Mississippi master’s in fine arts in Creative Writing graduate will provide a snapshot of her process and privileged access to her thinking.
It was Oprah Winfrey who declared that were it not for books, Mississippi would have been as much of the world as she knew as a child. The continual growth that comes from engaging with a book – regardless of whether you like it or not – is something that Africans of old had already harnessed in the very thing that Moeng’s title celebrates. The communality of storytelling is both a development tool at personal and social levels, and it is a noble act that the Gaborone Book Festival Trust continues their mission to make a world where literacy is valued, more so on the local front.