By Fiona De Villiers
Short Story Day Africa (SSDA) is a nonprofit organisation headed by Rachel Zadok, Tiah Beautement and Nick Mulgrew.
Says this literary trio:
When Nigerian novelist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, addressed an international conference in 2009,1 she spoke of the danger of the single story, a distorted, onedimensional view of Africa that sees the continent only through a prism of war, disease, poverty, starvation and corruption. Short Story Day Africa has established a day, 21st June – the shortest day of the year – on which to celebrate the diversity of Africa’s voices and tell you who we really are; what we love; love to eat, read, write about. We want to bring you the scents on our street corners, the gossip from our neighbours, let you listen to strains of the music we dance to.
Short Story Day Africa brings together writers, readers, booksellers, publishers, teachers and school children from all over the globe to write, submit, read, workshop and discuss stories – and foster the love of reading and writing African fiction. Because we have something to tell the world. About us. In our own voices.2
The focus is on encouraging young Africans to tell their tales. In 2013, young writers were invited to rewrite a fairy tale, myth or legend. In 2014, the genre was science fiction and fantasy. “We wanted young South African writers to let their imaginations fly,” says Beautement.
Whilst, as every published author knows, there’s nothing quite like seeing your own story in print, SSDA, through extensive and ongoing fundraising and the support of several donors, offers an added incentive. This year, the winning story will garner the author a first prize of R10 000. A second prize of R2 000 and third prize of R1 000 are also up for grabs, and three promising emerging writers will win a 20-week online writing course.
Whilst there is no age limit for aspiring entrants, school children and young adults are a special focus for Zadok, Beautement and Mulgrew. Says Beautement:
Something is happening that is narrowing children’s wide minds well before adulthood. My work with SSDA has taken me into the classrooms of South Africa, local libraries and learning centres. One of the hardest things I face when running a workshop is getting children to understand that there is no wrong story.
SSDA hopes, through workshops and contests, to play a part in encouraging our youth to reclaim their imaginations… our aim is to help them unlock their creativity so that they can apply it to whatever their futures may bring.3
Independent Education was fortunate to review the 2014 SSDA anthology. Says Beautement in the introduction, “We present Follow the Road, a collection of short stories written by young writers pushing against the grain of right vs wrong.”4
The 2014 SSDA winners’ names are printed at the front of the anthology, which kicks off with “Phoenix”, by 16-year-old Kaya Oosthuizen. The youngest author is seven-year-old Samuel Hayes, who penned “Sir Alfred and the Golden Arrow”.
It is marvellous to read all of these tales, which offer clear evidence that young African writers are reading as well as writing: many of the stories draw on well-established fantasy styles and notions, and all are astonishingly fresh and charming. In addition, a short biography about each author will convince pupils in your classroom that indeed, writers come from every possible circumstance.
Whilst it’s too late for your students to enter the 2016 SSDA contest (see http://shortstorydayafrica.org/the-ssda-prize/), they can still write on the chosen topic to chart their own growth as storytellers.
This year the theme is migration:
From our ancestors’ first forays through the continent, to the contemporary diaspora spread around the world, people are eternally moving in, out and about the African continent. Not everyone leaves out of their own volition, and not everyone comes with the best intentions: nevertheless, the story of Africa is the story of souls migrating, settling, unsettling, fleeing, seeking, resting, nesting and sharing stories, experiences and myths. From herds of migrating animals to treks both physical and spiritual, from the comfort of ancient myth to the desperation of those currently fleeing their homes, Short Story Day Africa is looking for a crop of short fiction that will bring a fresh, urgent perspective to one of our most profound phenomena, and the basis of all our greatest stories.5
I urge you to get your hands on all of the SSDA anthologies: your students can read the stories aloud, review them or enact them. The possibilities are endless.
1. See: http://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story?language=en.
2. See: http://shortstorydayafrica.org/the-ssda-prize/.
3. Fisher, M. and Beautement, (2014) T. Follow the Road. Johannesburg:Short Story Day Africa.
5. See: http://shortstorydayafrica.org/the-ssda-prize/.
Category: Spring 2016