Monday, July 4, 2022

Bessie Head Trust must publish winning manuscripts to encourage writers

It’s a known fact that creative writing in Botswana has a feeble market even though there is no lack of talent from locals in that area. As a creative writer, one’s best bet would be to become a member of the press if they wanted a profession that was closely linked with what they were passionate about.

When children are in primary schools, their parents and teachers advise them to work at becoming doctors, lawyers, nurses or even accountants, it’s rare to find a child who wants to become an author or a magazine editor. I was actually surprised the other day at how little people know about the writing industry.

When I told some people that I had started working at a newspaper, they asked me if I was the editor, to which they received a shocked reaction. It would take me years if not a lifetime to attain that position.

Growing up, my dream was to become a published author, no matter what the cost.

I guess you could say writing was in my blood, considering the fact that my father encouraged me to read novels by age 6. My point is it’s really hard to earn a living as a creative writer in Botswana, which is why opportunities such as the Bessie Head Literature competitions are very much welcome to creative minds. In collaboration with their sponsors, Botswana‘s pentagon publishers, the board members of the Bessie Head Heritage Trust, have been in business since 2007.

The competition has since inception been open to all who were interested in creative writing in various genres, such as novel writing, short stories, poetry or children’s stories. This year the proud winners were handed their awards at a ceremony held at the museum. The big winner for the day in the novel category was University of Botswana’s Tshetsana Senau, for her novel entitled Travelling to the sun: the diary of Ruth. She walked away with a prize money of P2 500 as well as publishing privileges for her novel, courtesy of Pentagon Publishers. However, much is still left to be desired in terms of prizes for the runners-up, who only received a set of books from Exclusive Books.

The first runner-up was Patrick Mentuzie for his manuscript, entitled The Calabash of Life in the Diaspora. The first runner up sounded passionate about his subject as he held the crowd’s attention during his book readings.

The third position then went to Wazha Lopang for If Mother Only Knew. The second category, which was on short stories, was won by Legodile Seganabeng for “The moon has eyes,” a love story capturing language only lovers would understand.

Seganabeng walked away with P1250 and his work will be published in the near future.
The first and second runners up, Atang Mogome and Jelena Ivancevic, walked away with a set of books. Ivancevic is also an editor of the new magazine, Tourbo, a local tourism magazine.
The last category was for children’s stories in which well known writer Jenny Robson won first prize for her book, “The Right Time”.
She wasn’t able to make it because of ill health but Robson is a familiar face to most people from Orapa, having served as a music teacher at Livingstone House for a number of years. Reshoketjoe Lilford was in second place for her story called, “The Christmas Tree”.

While third place also went to Dabilo Mokobi for her story called “Grampi”.

Last year, the Bessie Head Heritage Trust held a similar competition where I was fortunate enough to attain the first runner-up position in the novel category, after winner Cheryl Ntumy and second runner up Monametsi Paul. It was at the same ceremony that the works of Ntumy and other last year’s winners in different genres were launched.

The works of the number one winners in each category were published by Pentagon Publishers.
What of the runners-up? The runners-up’s works were not even launched.

Some runners-up received a set of books as prizes. In my opinion, this is not the right way of encouraging budding writers. Talking from experience as first runner up, whose work is sparked by motivation, the trust should do more to ensure that the works of the people they referred to as winners be published. I am a reporter and I publish articles on a weekly basis but there are some who yearn for better encouragement than to be given a set of books.

Giving books as prizes to writers is more like the famed proverb of selling refrigerators to Eskimos.

Winners of these competitions must have their works published, this way people are encouraged to write more because they know they have more chances of getting published. It is very discouraging to slave away at a manuscript and receive a few books for your efforts. I would like to encourage the Trust to approach more corporate sponsors to back them up so that they are able to publish the works of their winners as well as their runner-ups. It should not even be about the prize money; as a writer I understand that money is of little worth, but having your works published is a dream come true.

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