African Book Trust
Did you know there's more than 1 million books in the Joburg CBD. Let's celebrate that.
Johannesburg, better known as Jozi or Joburg, is best showcased by the vibrant city centre at its heart. The area that residents refer to as “Town” is set apart by the combined bustling of hawkers, cross-continental traders, and white-collar office workers alike.
Between busy public transportation routes and the overall air of Afropolitan excellence, Town has something for everyone. This diverse and energetic part of the city is a prime showcase of the literary and artistic wonders that Joburg has to offer.
The Literary District runs on community support. We send thousands of books, new and used, for free to libraries across South Africa every year. We also work with community organisations that have literacy outreach programmes and donate books to their causes.
With more than 1 million books in the City Library and dozens of booksellers in the nearby blocks, our literary culture flows through the streets. We’re working with the Johannesburg Development Agency through its Our City, Our Block programme to highlight and expand this reading culture.
To start, that means keeping our streets clean. With the help of a grant from the Social Employment Fund, we have hired cleaners to help us keep the district looking refreshed.
Dozens of booksellers sell their wares in the LitDistrict. These booksellers provide easy access to books to the thousands of people in the city centre. We have fostered a relationship with these underground sellers, connecting them with publishers so that they can continue to provide the community with new books. We are working together as a neighbourhood to foster more of a reading culture that we hope will spread from our home to many others.
We are in the process of adopting the park that lies at the centre of the LitDistrict. The Library Gardens stretch out from the city library and is a popular gathering point for the community. We hope to turn this park into a literary hub by cleaning it up and filling it with books that are completely free to borrow and read.
We have adopted two outdoor township libraries – one in Alexandra and another in Soweto. We stock these libraries every month to ensure that these communities have access to an ever-changing and ever-growing selection of books. We plan to build more of these throughout Joburg, starting with Library Gardens.
With grants from the city’s Department of Community Development, we workshopped six storybooks in local languages. Three of these stories were accepted by Nal’ibali for translation into all 11 languages with free distribution, thanks to a grant from the Cadbury #InOurOwnWords campaign. See ‘The First Story Ever Told’ in isiXhosa here.
We have also worked on getting stories to print that have, up until now, only existed in oral tradition. In doing this, we hope to share South African stories further across the globe.
Many South African books that would now be considered classics seem to have disappeared. Some were banned and never reprinted after the end of Apartheid, and others simply fell out the public consciousness but are taking on new resonance now.
We have been working to publish new editions of such classics so that these stories can re-enter circulation. We have reprinted a duology of H.I.E. Dhlomo’s ‘The Girl Who Killed to Save’ and ‘Valley of a Thousand Hills’. Dhlomo is a founding figure of South African literature whose work has become hard to come across – something that we are working to change.
We host publishing workshops to help break down some of the barriers between writers’ ideas and books going to print. We also sell books from independent authors on consignment, helping their words reach readers.
We host Storytime Saturday every week, either at Bridge Books or around the corner at Ernest Oppenheimer Park. With this initiative, we hope to revitalise the art of oral narrative, and to give children a fun and enriching activity on the weekend. Our readers bring stories to life in all South African languages, depending on the week’s audience. We want the kids in the neighbourhood to know that kids like them can be on the covers of books, too.
We also work in collaboration with the Alliance Française. With monthly storytelling events, we support their mission of bringing South African cultures to French expats living in Joburg, encouraging them to introduce their children to more South African stories. Plenty of local children from our area come to listen, too, and to join in on the djembe drum circle.
The LitDistrict is a part of the Johannesburg Inner City Walkable Network, which links neighbourhoods throughout the CBD to create a clean, safe, and welcoming environment for locals and visitors.
In the LitDistrict, we are working to create a neighbourhood identity based on literature and community. Local kids stop by on their way home from school to do their homework and read together and young professionals hunker down together over coffee at Bridge Books.
All in all, we want our home to feel more like a home – art on the walls, places to come together, books in hands.
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