Her debut children’s book Amari’s Adventures is now available in book outlets and will be launched on July 2, 2022 at Gallery Momo in Parktown North, Johannesburg.
By Edward Tsumele, CITYLIFE/ARTS Editor
There was once upon a time a country on the Southern tip of Africa, that struggled to get its majority to fall in love with books for reading for the pleasure of it. This point was said to have been reinforced by an incident that happened. not so many years ago that disappointed many a book lover and publisher. That was when a bookstore chain located in that country’s most populous township was forced to close its doors. The reason given was that in that township with over 3 million souls it was claimed that there was a lack of readers prepared to use their hard earned money on the pleasure of owning a book.
Of course that was then and now the tide seems to be turning in the right direction. This follows an explosion of books written mostly by young, talented and ambitious women authors from the same black community. And encouragingly, some of the titles coming out of the press by these black authors are a really good read. They are currently attracting a discerning reader who cannot resist parting with their hard earned cash in exchange for the reading pleasure. And as always, there is that close relationship between reading and writing as these two concepts seem to share an umbilical cord.
But then the question is what has contributed to this new, positive turn of events on the local literary scene?
“Look it depended on what kind of books were made available to the people in Soweto. There is even a story told of a shop that was selling dogs’ food located in a township, which understandably closed down.
“When you make available books that people want, the picture changes. Look at what happened when Ubuntu Book Festival was launched in Soweto. It became an instant success story.. Again look at what is happening with the Hlomu series of books ( A successful series of books by journalist and author Dudu Busani Dube aimed at the working class cluster of readers and all of the books published so far having achieved a best seller status). That series has become a success. It is all about content and when relevant books are published, which connect with an audience, they will buy them. And to just conclude generally that black people do not like reading books for pleasure, does not tell the whole story of why books do not sell well sometimes in the black community,” well known business news anchor and now a new author of a children’s book titled Amari’s Adventure, Nzinga Qunta tells me in an interview.
We were chatting about her debut book at a funky restaurant that carries even a funkier sounding name of Even After All. The eatery is situated in the stylish lifestyle Centre 44 Stanley in Auckland Park. Our talk was centred on Qunta’s new literary adventure generally, and Amari’s Adventures in particular. Qunta’s new journey in many ways is an extension of her solid, very public brand that over the years has seen her ply her trade as a documentary television presenter traveling throughout the African continent, presenting an inspiring travelogue called Africa Imagined. The travel documentary was screened by SABC TV and also picked by other African channels in countries such as Nigeria and Ghana. She also worked on radio, and is currently the face of business news on SABC TV, and is increasingly becoming a moderator of choice for influential business related dialogues on the African continent and globally. She continues to moderate discussions on prestigious stages and in capitals of the world, such as at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. In this role she has interacts and moderates discussions whose participants range from economists, policy makers, business leaders to heads of state. This new role is making Nzinga an influential TV personality as these discussions are often beamed to millions of house holds globally.
“My role as a moderator of conversations around the global economy involving business leaders in recent years such as that involving Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba in 2018 and I have since moderated twice, business discussions in Davos, is something new in my career. It is an exciting chapter in my life as this opportunity allows me to interact and speak to people who make decisions that affect us ordinary people, whether we like it or not. But this is certainly not the end. I am learning a lot as before I moderate a discussion on a particular topic, I have to do research extensively to inform myself about the issues involved..
“However in the past two years, I had to do some serious thinking about my life. I had to ask myself the hard question: If I die today what kind of legacy am I leaving behind? The answer was that I was going to be remembered just as a TV anchor and nothing else. It is then that I decided to do something about that, which led me to writing children’s books.”
Nzinga went on to explain that the idea of writing Amari’s Adventures (Amari is the name of her six year old daughter), was a result of her struggles to find suitable books for her daughter as she scoured book shops.
“After realising that it is not easy to find suitable books to read, especially for black children, I decided I needed to focus on that area of literature as a writer. I want to write more children’s books, and right now I am already on my second book, and this time, Amari the character travels and explores the African continent,” she revealed.
Amari’s Adventures is about a young child who travels around South Africa with her friends, and as she does so, she finds beautiful things and animals in South Africa . She and her friend count them and ask each other questions. It is a book aimed at those that are six years and below.
“Reading books for everyone, including children, is vital for information and knowledge. Because I was born in a household full of books and born of parents both of whom are writers, I have always read books. With my daughter, each night we read between two to three books, and as a result my daughter started reading at the age of four. At five, she was already an articulate reader. She now loves reading books with me as this allows us to bond. When her behaviour is not aligned to my expectations, I threaten to punish her by skipping reading books for her and that works well to get her back into line. I am a strict mother, but I am not a mother who is cruel And uses cruel methods to get my child to behave well.”
However the trend by TV and radio presenters to leverage on their popularity on TV and radio by launching other side hustles is not something new on the local broadcasting scene, with a number of celebrities having in recent years launched beauty-related products, such as skin and hair treatment products. Some have gone further launching wines and brandy, for example.
A few have written books, but most of such books are aimed at the adult market, mostly those focusing on cooking.
However only the brave and of course brainy ones like Nzinga, and a few others, are increasingly going the cerebral way, such as publishing books that deal with other intellect-inclined subjects. This is because the area of book publishing in general does not only require intelligence, wit and of course the ability to write well, turning simple every day words into a magic wand that ordinary souls love to read and hopefully fall in love with the author and their book, to the extent of spending their money on such art. But it is a risky business too. This is so especially in a country whose best seller titles at best stubbornly refuse to move an inch from the stagnant figure of 5000 copies for nonfiction and even much less for fiction.
The new author must have been aware of this risky element in going into this space, and this probably explains why she chose to mitigate this factor by roping in the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture to bear most of the production cost of Amari’s Adventures by way of funding the book through its Mzansi Golden Economy programme.
The result of that is the publication of Amari’s Adventures in the 11 official languages of South Africa and Nama, a language originating from the Northern Cape, and which currently faces the threat of disappearing for ever from the tapestry of spoken dialects in modern South Africa.
“The idea of translating the manuscript from its English origin into the 12 languages came from my late sister Yolisa Qunta. When I suggested the idea of a children’s book, she asked me whether I wanted to do it the right way, or just publish a book. I said the right way. Adding Nama was my mom’s idea as she has a spiritual connection to the Nama languages as she can trace her roots to that language,” explained Nzinga.
And to be honest, perhaps it was not even an issue for much thinking on the part of the author, that is whether to write or not. Choosing to write a book instead of doing the other popular stuff that her colleagues on TV sometimes do to make money on the side, must have been a non brainer for Nzinga.
“I grew up in a family of writers whose orientation is Pan African as my mother besides being a lawyer is an author, and so were my father and late sister Yolisa, In fact I am the only one who has chosen to write children’s books whereas the rest of my family chose to write books focusing on other areas of humanity,” she said.
Nzinga is the daughter of well known lawyer-turned author and publisher Christine Qunta and the late veteran journalist Vuyisile Qunta. Her sister who passed on in 2018 is the author Yolisa Qunta.
Christine owns the Cape Town based publishing house Seriti sa Sechaba Publishers, which published Amari’s Adventures, which has beautiful illustrations by internationally respected Nigerian artist Godwin Akpan.
“I found the illustrator online having gone through three other illustrators. He is the same illustrator who has worked with Disneyland and has illustrated the cover of Nigerian superstar Burna Boy’s latest album,” said Nzinga who admitted to being a perfectionist in whatever she chooses to do.
.The launch of Amari’s Adventures will be held on July 2, 2022 at Gallery Momo in Parktown North, Johannesburg.