Motswana writer, Lauri Kubuitsile, is this year’s winner of a prestigious prize for African writers of children’s literature.
The Mahalapye-based writer was last week announced as the 2010 winner of the Golden Baobab Prize in the senior category for her story, The Mechanic’s Son.
But she did not stop there; she was also one of the highly commended shortlisted finalists in the junior category for her story, Lightning and Thunderers.
This was not the first time that Kubuitsile won the prize; last year while the prize was still known as the Baobab Prize, her story, Lorato, and Her Wire Car won in the junior category, while Birthday Wishes was shortlisted for the senior category.
“Prizes tell you you are doing something right, that you are not an incompetent poser,” Kubuitsile says of her win. “It also gets your name out there, and that is important too.”
Kubuitsile is not a stranger to winning prizes. In her writing career she has won the Anglo Platinum short story, the 2008 Bessie Head Literary Prize and the Orange/Botswerere Prize for writing. She has also been highly commended by the Commonwealth short story contest for her story, A Pot Full of Tears, and her story, Aunt Lulu, was a finalist for 2009’s Sanlam Prize for Youth Literature.
Kubuitsile says that for her entering writing competitions is very important.
“Often, after I have won prizes in the past, opportunities have appeared,” she says. She goes on to say that after her short story, A Pot Full of Tears, was highly commended by the Commonwealth short story contest, it was published in an anthology by Oxford University Press.
Kubuitsile writes in many genres, along with her children’s stories and her short stories, she has written two romance novels published by Sapphire Press, an imprint of respected South African publisher, Kwela. She has also written detective novels.
In fact, it was her detective story that set her off on the journey to becoming a full time writer. At the time she was owner and publisher of The Central Advertiser, a small newspaper catering for the Central District.
“We were changing the format of the paper and I was afraid we might get lost in the crowd so I decided to write a detective novella and put 1000 word instalments in each issue of the paper. I thought it would keep people interested,” Kubuitsile says.
Kubuitsile says that when the instalments of The Fatal Payout, the detective novella, were finished, people who had missed some of the instalments called to ask if they could get the entire book. Kubuitsile decided to send the novella to Macmillan, who published the book that is now a set text for junior secondary schools.
She says soon after, she took a break from the day to day running of the newspaper and tried to see if she could earn a living from writing. She sold her newspaper soon after and became a full time writer.
But, as many know, full-time fiction writing in Botswana is fraught with challenges, among them lack of support from publishers, lack of interest from the reading public and lack of financial rewards. Kubuitsile says that since she has accepted that she is not going to make a living selling her books from a bookshop, she has made a decision to write everything that comes her way.
This includes school textbooks, and other educational material required by the Ministry of Education. She also writes the weekly column on writing, It’s All Write, in The Voice newspaper.
Last year, Kubuitsile, with her writing partner, Miss. Wame Molefhe, ventured into television scriptwriting, collaborating on the scripts for the PSI-coordinated drama series Morwalela as well as the second season of Re Bina Mmogo.
Morwalela played on Botswana Television early this year, and Re Bina Mmogo has just started showing. Kubuitsile is not excited about the translation of her work onto the television screen; she says that after her experience she has vowed to never write another script.
“From what I’ve learned in scriptwriting, the writer and their writing are not respected, at least not here in Botswana,” Kubuitsile says, “You are undermined and the integrity of your work is undermined. In the end, your name is on a product which is no longer what you wrote.”
Kubuitsile says that from the beginning, her plan was always to write and make a living from fiction. In her goal to do that, she has started getting her fiction published outside of Botswana, so far she has six books published in South Africa, by Vivlia Publishers and Sapphire Press, and she is close to signing a publishing contract with Tafelberg Publishers.
The writer, who is the vice-chairperson of Writers Association of Botswana (WABO), uses the internet and the advent of social media to her advantage. She keeps a blog, Thoughts from Botswana, on which she has more than a 100 followers, and is also a very active blogger on Facebook, where she says she has managed to make excellent contacts.
“I was chosen this year to attend a month long writing residency in Egypt,” she says, “I heard about the residency from a writing friend on Facebook. One of my references for the residency was from someone I got to know from a book fair.”