With this festival I wanted to honour the UNLOVED writers. For writers of Children's Literature are, in a sense, the UNLOVED ones. They never get the credit they deserve.
We have maybe 50 book festivals in SA and this, the SA FESTIVAL OF CHILDREN’S LITERATURE will be the first stand-alone festival for Children's Literature. For writers of Youth Literature. They never get to win the Nobel Prize. They never get to win the richest literary prizes.
Even at university, the genre of Children's Literature is the poor step sister of the Literature studied in English and Afrikaans in the Humanities. But with the first SA FESTIVAL OF CHILDREN'S LITERATURE, the Cinderella's of the literary establishment are going to the ball.
I will say this with absolute confidence. This will be the most talked about book festival of 2021. Nothing else will come close.
And with this festival, maybe my university, the Cinderella University amongst the other two more famous sister Cape universities, will also get a chance to turn heads at the ball. For with this festival the Faculty of Education at UWC hopes to become leaders in the field of Children's Literature.
My summation of the landscape is that we are all masters at teaching Literature for Grades 10-12. We all know how to teach Shakespeare. We all know how to teach “To Kill a Mockingbird”. But go lower down and we all try to camouflage our ignorance with words like decolnialism, post- colonialism, gender, identity. Words that are light years away from the vocabulary of a 10-year-old.
We are uneasy with what it means to teach Literature in the foundation phase. We can't speak with authority on teaching Literature in the intermediate phase. We might know the prescribed texts, but beyond that, our libraries are barren. Maybe I should speak for myself. Maybe only I feel this way. Whatever the case, I plan to place Children's Literature centre stage at UWC. And the engine room for this Renaissance will be the SA FESTIVAL OF CHILDREN'S LITERATURE.
And to the illustrators. Through this festival we plan to teach children, and the children trapped in adult bodies, to love you, the UNLOVED. We will create a platform just for you. We will foreground the authors who write books that teach children how to colour. How to hold a crayon. How to hold a pencil. We want all of you in this genre to know that you are loved.
When I used to organise the UKZN Kinderboekfees I too felt UNLOVED in an institution that despised Afrikaans. But one day, whilst primary school children were waiting to enter the hall to listen to their favourite authors, a young boy, no taller than my leg, could not contain his excitement any longer. He caught hold of my leg, hugged me and said, "Dankie oom, vir wat jy vir ons doen". Out of all the memories I have from my book festival years, that has to rank as the most special memory. I always wonder what happened to that beautiful soul. He must be close to matric now. I can only hope that he never lost his love of books.
With this festival, I know we can make a difference to the lives of children. To all the authors and illustrators of Children's Literature - may a child one day grab hold of your leg because you changed their lives with your words and illustrations, with your imagination. And if you ever felt UNLOVED in this industry, may you think back to the phrase: “May we teach our children to love the UNLOVED”. And take sustenance that you live in the palaces of students’ memories.
Let's put on an unforgettable festival.