Writers have space to express themselves

Fiction writer Ekari Mbvundula has set out on a new path in literary circles. Driven by her passion in story writing, has partenered her colleague Wonawaka Gondwe to create a platform for budding writers to showcase their skills. They are running storytelling sessions that are alternating between Blantyre and Lilongwe. In this interview, our reporter BRIAN ITAI engages Mbvundula on the initiative. Excerpts:

Mbvundula: Writers must read and write a lot

Q

: Can you please take us through the story behind storytelling sessions?

A

: It was an idea that my co-organiser Gondwe raised with me in a bid to bring writers into the spotlight. I was excited with the concept since I have been promoting local literature through workshops.  This is when we developed the idea.

We started in November 2017, took a break in December. We revived it in January and it has been a good a journey so far.  We have had six sessions. Our seventh session is on June 23rd in Lilongwe and 30th in Blantyre.

 

Q

: What are some of the challenges you are facing?

A

:  Our problem has been low turnout. For instance, we had a low attendance last month in Lilongwe and we are still figuring out which venue works for us. This June, we will be shifting to Cafe Fusion, which we hope will be much more accessible to the public.

It is crucial for our Lilongwe audience to patronise the next session because it is costly to organise the session in Lilongwe every month. We will push hard to make it work in the capital this month, but if we realise it is unsustainable, we may have to reconsider our strategy.

 

Q: What are some of the opportunities created by the storytelling sessions?

A

: The real measure of our success lies in the testimony of one of our most talented writers. He told me he was going to quit writing if it was not for the storytelling sessions.

We have given writers the space to express themselves and to meet other writers who can help sharpen their skills by exposing them to new methods and ideas. That is how an art industry grows, not in silos. Now that we are going across both Lilongwe and Blantyre, it has helped expand our audience and our writers.

 

Q

: One major challenge has been to attract publishers. How is the storytelling session addressing this?

A

: Publishers are certainly starting to take note of our works and those of writers, but it usually takes some time for sponsors to respond. Perhaps, we need to investigate the challenges that the publishing industry is facing as well. But certainly, we welcome publishers to attend the sessions and meet the writers themselves so that we can move forward together.

 

Q

: From you own research, what are some of the challenges that threaten the growth of fiction writing in the country?

A

: The main challenge is the absence of readers, who are enthusiastic enough about Malawian stories and can buy local books.  For an industry to thrive, we need to have an influx of revenue which can drive the whole publishing engine.

From writing, publishing, distribution, promotion, printing, book design, and for it to be of high-quality standards, there is need for keen interest and an attractive financial investment. The story-telling session aims to fill the gap of recreating that interest.

The industry at the moment is a bit scattered and we can get lost to international books which seem to be more appealing than our local books. We must raise our standards in terms of producing quality products and not just printing for the sake of it. Most high-quality Malawian books I have seen were published outside Malawi. This has to change. Once we improve on quality, we can start exporting our books and that will expand the market.

 

Q

: What more do you think needs to be done for writers to realise their full potential?

A

: There are several challenges and one of them is editing skills. I believe a good set of high-quality editors would help our writers realise their full potential. I also believe the story-telling session contributes to improving the quality by opening up the dialogue between the audience and the writers. It’s a space for feedback and it allows the writers to take note of their shortfalls and improve on them. The writers themselves must ensure they read a lot and write a lot and that is really how you grow your skills over time. Most of the writers already do this, but it is so important to continue. n

 

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