Durban — A soldier from Pietermaritzburg who went on to study psychology and write seven books is the brainchild behind an organisation encouraging more people to read and write.
Saturday was the third annual Book Behind Awards event started by Nelly Shozana to honour people in the industry, including illustrators and book designers, who don’t always get recognition.
Shozana says she started the Book Behind Awards in 2021 to show people that being in the business of books is not just a passion project but that book writing, publishing and selling, and writing workshops, can be a lucrative business.
“They would ask us to write a five-page essay at school and then I would write 10. But our parents, in my time, didn’t cultivate or look at what we are good at and nurture it. I just knew that it was easy for me to write,” said Shozana.
The first two awards ceremonies, in 2021 and 2022, were held in Durban – which was officially awarded the Unesco City of Literature status in 2017 – but this year the event moved to Pietermaritzburg.
Several workshops related to the writing and publishing industry were held in the run-up to the awards ceremony, which was held in partnership with the Msunduzi Municipality.
Shozana said there were 27 award categories that included all the country’s indigenous languages, although this year they didn’t get any nominations in the Afrikaans category. Nominations were open to anyone and came from as far afield as Botswana.
Shozana said Fentse Vanessa Fakude picked up the award for the best female author.
Vusi Mabena was crowned best male author, while Atarah Teagan Govender emerged as the best child author.
Mandla Ntombela, the Library Services manager in Msunduzi Municipality, which is home to one of the six legal deposit libraries in the country, said they supported all initiatives related to publications in the country.
“This is the sixth library looking after legal deposits material or looking after the publications of the country, because any person that has published in South Africa has to have a copy deposited in this library – even newspapers – and we receive copies of every issue published. We have publications dating back to the 1830s and we have to keep it in its own original format. We have the first issue of The Mercury, we have the first Natal Witness, we have the first Ilanga and Isolezwe,” he said.
Ntombela hailed Shozana for the work she did, saying she was the first person to come up with a concept celebrating everyone involved in the book industry, from writing to publication.
He said given that Shozana was from Pietermaritzburg and the City was celebrating its 185th anniversary, it made perfect sense to host the event there.
Ntombela said he had visited libraries around the world and seen that even in the digital age they were community hubs where people went to read, study, use the various IT services to apply for jobs, attend workshops and network.
He said people always wanted to know what motivated people to write, and Saturday’s event gave authors the platform to share the stories behind the ideas which motivated the books and which readers never got to hear.
Some of those who shared their stories included an author who is in a wheelchair and a writer who was raped by soldiers in Mozambique but managed to rebuild her life and became a motivational speaker.
“But if you don’t get that kind of information from the author, it doesn’t motivate you to read about that kind (of book),” Ntombela said.