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“There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them,” aptly says Joseph Brodsky; because “it’s not just the books under fire now that worry me. It is the books that will never be written. The books that will never be read,” (Judy Blume).
Most people will do anything just to avoid reading, because to them reading is both cumbersome and futile; if it were not for examinations they would rather opt for a book-free existence. There is no worse crime that one can commit against humanity than that which robs it of books, for, as Vera Nazarian intimates; “whenever you read a good book, somewhere in the world a door opens to allow in more light.”
Reading is as enlightening as it is soothing, ennobling and satiating because after all a good book says enough about us to know who we are. There is no better way of self-empowerment than encouraging yourself, your children, your people to read; and there is no better way of making others read than writing a good book and reading it for them.
The late poet of repute Maya Angelou once said: “Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.”
But how do children form reading habits? Who informs them on what to read? Are libraries doing enough to encourage informed reading, through the books they stock and outreach programmes? Are the books available to our children doing justice to their hunger to learn about themselves and the world at large? If the reader is too hard done to read and the writer too demoralised to write what will become of our society?
These and more, gentle reader, are the questions that will always weigh us down as we attempt to harness the reading culture which somehow refuses to be reined in, especially in the wake of technological advancements which offer other outlets for entertainment.
It is commendable that notwithstanding financial drawbacks, the Harare City Library hosted a two-day Book Commemoration event on March 10 and 11. The event saw over 100 pupils from primary and secondary schools around Harare converging on a classless cirque to share experiences. The children who were drawn from such schools like Tariro in Hopley and Eaglesvale could not hide their excitement as they were afforded a chance to mingle with such writing luminaries like Virginia Phiri of the “Highway Queen” and “Desperate” fame, and Edwin Msipa.
Virginia Phiri implored the children to keep to the book as there is no better way of self-enrichment than reading and the hunger to learn. Her energetic and lively reading of folktales left her audience spellbound as the characters came to life. The young minds were especially carried away by the fictional characters’ antics which they could not help associating with, as human follies and vices were explored in a humorous way.
The poet and writer Edwin Msipa, who is the headmaster of Tariro School, shared his experiences with the children in a moving rendition that left them cheering for more. His notes on the writing of a good story and how to keep the reader on edge throughout were indeed top-shelf.
The Harare City Library’s assistant librarian Takwana Masunda showed his expertise in dealing with children, as well as knowledge of the library and the importance of the book industry in developing a reading culture.
Taking the enthusing children on a tour of the library, Masunda urged children to read regardless of their situation, environment or otherwise. Reading, he emphasised, should not be determined by time and place but the quest to learn and the desire to improve one’s station in life.
The beaming Msipa, graced the Bookstore to talk about himself and his work, published and upcoming. Edwin Msipa was born in 1974 in Harare and did his primary and secondary schooling at Rukudzo School and Kambuzuma High 1 respectively. His debut play was performed by Porta Farm School Drama Club at the Zimbabwe International Book Fair (ZIBF) in 1999, which heralded his grand arrival on the literary scene. He published his first book “Gadziriro Yemazamanishoni” in 2013.
The years at Nyadire Teachers’ College saw Msipa teaming up with his mates to form a dance and theatre ensemble which successfully toured the country. Msipa’s love for the book and children saw him playing a pivotal role in the establishment of Porta Farm Secondary School in 1998, and Tariro Primary and Secondary Schools in Hopley (2010), along with other stakeholders.
The artiste has published a children’s series of three books; “Takunda neMadzuramoyo”, “Takunda neMagororo” and “Takunda neMagevha”. His poems have also featured in “Silent Drums” (2013) edited by Nqobile Malinga and Rodwin Msipa, “(2014), “Black Stars: Sons and Daughters” (2014) compiled by Lloyd Machacha, “Dzinonyandura: Svinga reNduri” (2014) and “Tsuro Ndisunge”.
Msipa bemoans lack of resources in his attempt to make children in his community read.
“In our scenario, it is very challenging since books are scarce. The environment may be tough in terms of resources, but generally it is tasking to make children read these days because most of them are alienated from the book. They prefer watching TV or being on social media. The few books available are foreign and most of them are alienated from their experiences,” he says.
He intimates that his children’s books have found a niche in both children and adults alike. He expresses optimism that his quest to have more children reading will bear fruit in spite of the financial constraints that artistes face in Zimbabwe because of piracy.
“As a writer I have not yet been rewarded financially, but I am happy that my works are reaching out to my intended target group -the children and young people. I can therefore, say I am satisfied. I am working on my first English novel, ‘Humiliated’, which I intend to publish this year. ‘Lazy Horomba and Other Stories’ is already with the printers, and it should be out any time in April,” Msipa intimates.
Msipa’s poety takes a swipe at voyeuristic inclinations that are destructive to the family unit, which reflects on the national psyche. Such vices like corruption, avarice, individualism and the seeking of solutions in carnality do not escape the poet’s knife. He lambasts the way masculinity is used to the detriment of the family and society at large. Men have to be responsible in their decisions, and desist from using muscle power to intimidate the fairer sex or material possessions to hoodwink women into abusive relationships.
In the poem “Hujaha Chii?” in “Black Stars” the poet pokes at today’s youth who is misconstrued in what constitutes adolescence. The youths should be responsible to themselves and their people, because they are the leaders of tomorrow. It is folly to seek relevance in alcoholism, sex and violence. Msipa is contemptuous of violence, oppression in all its forms; sexual, psychological, mental, especially in the poem “Hatichavada” in “Tsuro Ndisunge”. He is aware that violence, lust and rumour-mongering are colour blind and gender insensitive. Inasmuch as women are oppressed at the home-front and workplace, they are also capable of oppressing others.
The poem “Bhuku” in the anthology “Zviri Mugapu” (2014) highlights the importance of books-reading-education in the journey of life. There is nothing that beats knowledge in the rat race that we call life. He that is knowledgeable will always lead, especially if ignorance becomes a commodity to be traded at the marketplace, in the wake of new gods – poverty, sex , alcohol and food.
A man who is well read can easily be picked out from a bunch of mediocre pretenders because, “if we encounter a man of rare intellect, we should ask him what books he reads,” Ralph Waldo Emerson.