Anyone who really, really knows me knows that I am, like Nick Twinamasiko, author of Chwezi Code, commented on a note I posted about The Nobel Prize Award In Literature winning J.M Coetzee’s classic Disgrace in 2010, the “literary type”.
By the age of three, the same age at which I sauntered into kindergarten, I could ably read and write English, thanks to the books I had been weaned on. I recall, vividly, that they included Pat Hutchin’s The Doorbell Rang and Wanda Gag’s Millions Of Cats.
I was reading the Ladybird Collection, all of it, and listening to audio adaptations of the same, and more, by the time I was nine. By the age of ten, I was good friends with a simplified version of Chinua Achebe’s Things Falls Part – a book and author whose significance and popularity were unbeknownst to me. Before I made twelve, I had read Elechi Amadi’s The Concubine, and successfully disheartened my Father by losing what I later found to be classic titles like Peter Abrahams’ A Wreath For Udomo. My teenage years were overly intense. If I did not finish reading at least four Readers Digest books a day, that day was wasted. Thank goodness for that comfortable and well stocked Ntare School library and one of the school’s philosophies; make the most of your resources.
Those are just a few of the numerous titles that my siblings and I savoured when we were not running around with the rest of the neighbourhood’s kids, or engaged in consuming school activities and events, or learning how to play chess, the titles that inculcated the much needed love in a necessary and never ending relationship with literature.
We were lucky, so, too, very, lucky, to have shared a homestead with parents who shared with us virtues and/or values that we define ourselves by, virtues that individuals do not pay attention to, and values that communities have apparently forgotten about. In spending time with us, they engaged us in what they did, or rather, wanted us to do. In talking to us, they enlightened us on what would and should be expected of us.
In 2015, I decided to pursue a couple of entrepreneurial interests which illustrate who I am, at heart, and the world I want to live in. As a human being who is consumed in finding and providing solutions that will contribute to making the world we live in a better place, I thought out and founded a couple of companies which are currently accessible under the umbrella website alextwino.com.
One of them is Turn The Page (books.alextwino.com), a pan-African stories bank, which is part an online book shop, part a book club, and part a books reviewer. Its concentration is contemporary African literature, as written by Africans, wherever they are, or aliens, but about African(s).
The reasons and/or essence that informed it are as simple as this: develop an infrastructure by which authors can avail their work to a desiring readership, and readers can purchase their work, at any time of the day, night, or year, or find information about the books they want to read, and, importantly, have a conversation, in an all inclusive book club, about books that matter to them. As it grows, it will, hopefully, design a convenient way for both the audience and budding writers to publish their own stories.
That, is one humongous task – believe me, especially in this neck of the woods, where most parents are lazy, reading is a non-existing co-curricular activity on the school schedules, schools whose only motto is “to pass”, and online shopping is yet to be fully appreciated. It is, also, noteworthy that the arts – books, drama, film, art and more – do not enjoy that much attention in form of reviews or profiles on the pages of the leading media houses as events pertaining to alcoholic beverages and lifestyle. The harnessing of talents is not a career choice that many would fancy pursuing as they do not find it rewarding.
It is the rewards of doing what we do that encourage us to keep progressing. These rewards are illustrated by people, outsiders who encourage us, but, importantly, but those who really benefit from our efforts. Our clients. Some of these are parents, like Liz, their little ones, like Keza, and their friends, like Rose.
Liz was, until when we met over the weekend, a mysterious character that I knew existed but only as a wonderful contributor to the Twitter-verse. We were introduced to each other by hand waves, from different edges of Kampala bar’s cocktail tables, and, later, interacted as she filed out. We her was a little one – whom I now know to be her daughter Keza – who, when informed that I sell books, asked where I do so.
The internet, I replied, before I fulfilled a promise made to her Mother of sharing a link to the category from which Keza could pick and choose from. Liz did not order a single or a few titles. She was impressive enough to order the entire category. The delivery was a special affair, one of its kind, and it was not because it was the first I had made to a homestead in a neighbourhood I had never visited.
Having not grown up with them, I happen not to have the best imagination and/or expectation of house helps. Found in a situation where I had to engage one – whom I now know to be called Rose – my morale was not boosted.
However, what impressed me about this particular one is not because she was not busy gossiping with her neighbours, or that she was not endlessly on the phone with some poor bloke, or that, when we met, she was holding a TV remote and in haste to return to a soap showing on TV, or engaged in one of the descriptions that suit the stereotype. It was in her wondering why I was delivering only seven titles. I did not understand why she insisted, until on the third repetition when it occurred to me that she, too, is indeed passionate about books.
I have learnt that Rose was encouraged, by Liz, to start reading. She began with Keza’s “little people’s” shelf, and, gradually, upgraded to the “big-people’s” shelf. The big-people’s shelf is an impressive, well organised wrought iron one with titles that range from a few Jeffery Archers, to a few John Grishams, to Wangari Mathai’s Unbowed, and to all Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s works, all under a set of beautiful Agaseke baskets.
Not only is that amazing, but it is even more amazing that she, Rose, now does a book per month. That is better than what some seasoned readers claim to be doing. One may claim that Rose is capable to achieve that feat because she is “idle”, or, rather, has enough time on her hands, but that is not necessarily true. What she ably demonstrates is effort, effort which people in and out the same category, and with the same opportunities available to them as her are not exploiting. Rose tires.
Like my own family helped out us start out, that of Liz, Keza, and Rose illustrates for us we do not really need to count on people other than those whom we share the same roofs with, that we do not need to rely on the same systems we spend days criticising, and that we have nothing to reap from communities that have systematically co-authored their own dilemma to better our reading.
If only a hundred families can take notes from their example, and apply themselves, and another hundred after them do the same, a formula, for regenerating, for a revolution, one that we will all live to revere will be successful.
It is delighting that the three basic reasons we started out Turn The Page – to achieve availability, affordability, and distribution of contemporary African literature – are, even in these nascent stages, being realised, and, also, that the intended audience is becoming aware of the infrastructure we have built for them , and are making the most of it. It is pleasing. We are delighted to know and serve them.