2021 Sanlam Prize for Youth Literature shortlist: an interview with Francis Tebesi

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Francis Tebesi (Photo provided)

Francis Tebesi talks to Naomi Meyer about Likhapha tsa mofutsana ha li rothele fats, which is shortlisted for the Sanlam Prize for Youth Literature 2021.

Congratulations on your shortlist nomination for the Sanlam Prize for Youth Literature 2021. Please tell me how your story was born: where did you get the idea for this story, and tell me about your characters?

I’m very thankful for being nominated and for being shortlisted for the 2021 Sanlam Youth Literature Award. I’m overwhelmed. Thank you again and again to those who looked at my work and selected it as a finalist; it is a dream come true, and I hope it will be selected further and that it will make a difference to youth in the future. My story was born a long time ago, in 2006. I was in high school at that time, and I saw the challenges the youth faced in my community because of lack of education, poverty in disadvantaged families, bad influences and wrong decision-making. I particularly remember one sibling who dropped out of school because he had cattle and he wanted to take care of them; unfortunately, later he lost those cattle, and it was too late for him to return to school. Then, I decided to write to the youth and young adults who were at school; I wanted to advise them to pursue their studies, even if they encounter challenges, so that they don’t have regrets, because opportunity comes once in life, especially while you are still young and energetic. Characters in my story reflect the reality of life, as it shows people of strange character, people of good character and people of bad character, and lastly it also shows the love of God to us, as all people reap what they sow.

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I saw the challenges the youth faced in my community because of lack of education, poverty in disadvantaged families, bad influences and wrong decision-making.
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For which age group did you intend your story? Why did you specifically write a book for people of this age group? Which part of writing this story for these people did you enjoy most?

My story is for young adults aged 13 to 18 years old who are in high school, because this is where understanding about life and the future starts. I want them to pursue their studies and other talents they have, even if it is tough and challenging, because in all hard work there is reward, and hard work pays. And there is nothing that comes easy in life; as they say, easy come, easy go. Mostly, I enjoy it when young and passionate adults reap the fruits of their hard work after a long journey of struggle and hard work.

There are plenty of English books published for young people – why write a book for young people in their home language?

Writing in an African language gives young adults confidence that they are worthy as Africans, and that they can achieve more, like other successful people worldwide, even if their background is rough. It also helps them to understand the story better than with adopted languages, because everyone understands their mother tongue better than any other language, as they grow up speaking it before they learn to write and adopt other languages.

How did the pandemic influence your writing and themes of writing, if at all?

The pandemic influenced me to write about the challenges it brought, and how we have survived and passed some of the challenges and difficulties it brought into our lives. It also influenced me to mark this tough time we are living in, so that the upcoming generation will know about this hard time.

How did COVID-19 influence your own life personally?

COVID-19 in general influenced me to use my time wisely, as life is too short. I spent most of the time during lockdown at home, and I wrote many stories that will advise and uplift youth as the upcoming future of this world.

See also:

2021 Sanlam Prize for Youth Literature shortlist: an interview with Musa Baloyi

Persverklaring | Press release: Sanlampryse vir Jeuglektuur, 2021-kortlyste | 2021 Sanlam prizes for youth literature, shortlists

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