An interview with Taryn Lock on Read to Rise and The Cape Flats Book Festival on 4 and 5 November 2023

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Taryn Lock, the executive director of Read to Rise, talks to Naomi Meyer about the Cape Flats Book Festival, which takes place this weekend – 4 and 5 November 2023.

Taryn, you are the executive director of Read to Rise. Please tell me why you and your husband, both highly qualified, decided to start Read to Rise? Maybe tell me a bit about your background and then more about Read to Rise. Why did you not just dream about this festival, but also make the dream come true?

Athol and I are both passionate about literacy and education. Athol grew up in Mitchells Plain and has five master’s degrees from Harvard, Oxford, MIT, LBS and LSE, and is currently finishing his PhD in Political Theory at Oxford University.

I have a BSc (Mathematics and Computer Science) and a BScHons (Mathematics). I worked in business for many years as a management consultant and strategy analyst, but decided to quit my job in 2013 to follow my passion for literacy. I felt that with the shockingly low levels of literacy in our country, more needed to be done to help get children reading, so I decided to do something about it, and that’s how Read to Rise started. When there is so much suffering and poverty, we all need to play our part in society.

Literacy is a major challenge in South Africa. The PIRLS survey revealed that 81% of grade four learners in South Africa are functionally illiterate.

We started Read to Rise in 2013 to promote youth literacy in under-resourced communities in South Africa. We believe that if children can read, they will excel at school and go on to become good, constructive members of society. It all starts with reading.

We started Read to Rise in 2013 to promote youth literacy in under-resourced communities in South Africa. We believe that if children can read, they will excel at school and go on to become good, constructive members of society. It all starts with reading. As our name says, we hope that children will read so that they can “rise” above their circumstances. Athol is an award-winning poet and writer, and writes the Oaky series – which we use in our class programmes to get children excited about reading.

Having attended many book festivals around the world, Athol dreamed of having a free book festival in the Cape Flats for both adults and children, where local authors and poets could be showcased and well-established authors could be brought in to the Cape Flats. Read to Rise hosted our first book festival in 2019, and this year we will host our third book festival at West End Primary School in Mitchells Plain. We hope to bring people together, all for the love of books.

Riaan Manser at last year’s festival (picture provided)

A book festival on the Cape Flats, for the third year in a row – do you have anything positive to share from the last two years’ festivals?

We started the Cape Flats Book Festival in 2019, but then with the lockdown we were unable to host one in 2020 or 2021, but luckily we could host our second book festival last year in 2022. We hope to make it an annual event. We’ve received great feedback from authors, exhibitors and attendees. Authors appreciate the opportunity to share their books and meet other authors. Attendees also get to meet authors whom they would not normally get to meet or hear about. We had around 1 500 people attend the weekend last year. This year, we have over 60 speakers, 40 sessions and over 20 exhibitors.

Nancy Richards interviewing Qarnita Loxton (Being Dianne) and Resoketswe Manenzhe (Scatterlings) at last year’s festival (picture provided)

Please tell me more about this year’s line-up. Which authors are at the festival, and where can people find a programme?

This year, we have an incredible line-up of authors and poets. It will take place at West End Primary School in Lentegeur, Mitchells Plain. The programme can be found on our website, Book Festival | Read to Rise. Entrance is free, and everyone is welcome.

Authors include Sindiwe Magona, Patric Taariq Mellet, Fiona Snyckers, Karen Theunissen and Yusuf Daniels, with a special guest appearance by Banyana Banyana head coach Desiree Ellis at our opening ceremony on Saturday 4 November 2023 at 9:30-10:30 am.

Poets include Diana Ferrus, Khadija Heeger and Siphokazi Jonas, as well as Poets Vannie Kaap, the Cape Cultural Collective and Mengelmoes Digters, to name a few.

There will be a Poetry and Identity workshop by Life Writing Collective, and an information session for aspiring writers by authors/publishers Joanne Hichens and Karina Szczurek.

Is there hope if people are reading? But do they not need food first? And clothes? And basic living conditions? Why is reading so important?

The challenges are immense, and it requires all citizens/companies/NGOs and government to do their part and help address the problems. Read to Rise hopes to create a nation of inspired readers. We believe that being able to read is the first step; it gives people the opportunity to excel in education in order to get a good job and earn money to break the cycle of poverty.

I have to ask this question: is it safe to attend this festival? How can people enter Mitchells Plain, what roads should they take and how do they get to the venue? What do you think they will see if they, people from outside Mitchells Plain, come to visit this book festival?

Yes, it is safe to attend the book festival; there is security at the school. We haven’t had any issues previously. Please note that the entrance to West End Primary School is on Merrydale Avenue, and not Primrose Road as per GPS. There is parking inside the school. If you are coming along the M7, turn left into Highlands Drive and then right into Merrydale Avenue. Else, if you are coming from the N2, take the R300 and go left onto AZ Berman Drive, right into Highlands Drive and then left into Merrydale Avenue.

The Cape Flats Book Festival will be held on Saturday 4 November 2023 at 9:30 am - 4:00 pm, and Sunday 5 November 2023 at 10:00 am - 2:30 pm at West End Primary School.

Click here to view the full festival programme.

Also read:

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Sala-toekennings 2021: ’n Onderhoud met André Trantraal

Onderwyshulp en leesbegripstrategieë 7: Die maak van afleidings

Skole se invloed op die onderbou van (on)geletterdheid

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