“If writing makes you happy, keep on writing regardless of what the naysayers say,” South African author Dr Sindiwe Magona told young poets in Pinelands last week.
She was speaking at the launch of English Alive 2023, at Pinelands High School, on Thursday August 10.
The anthology is published annually by the South African Council for English Education (SACEE), which selects poems submitted by the country’s high school pupils.
The non-profit SACEE has branches around the country as well as in Rondebosch and runs various English programmes that benefit pupils, students and teachers.
English Alive 2023 was co-edited by Robin Malan, Twanji Kalula and Naeelah Kameldien and includes poems by pupils from Pinelands High, Herschel Girls’ High, Herzlia High School, Claremont High School and Westerford High School to name a few.
Dr Magona, 79, encouraged the young poets, saying, “There will also be those who try to pull you down; there is no greater gift that you can give yourself than to know that you are born perfect.”
She urged them to love and be true to themselves and question what their purpose was in life.
Dr Magona was born in Gungululu, in the Eastern Cape. A former domestic worker, she went on to achieve a Master’s degree in organisational social work from Columbia University in America. She has worked for the UN and is the author of several novels and children’s books including When the Village Sleeps (2021), Skin We are in (2018), Chasing the Tails of My Father’s Cattle (2015) and The Woman on the Moon (2014).
Ms Kameldien said she was excited to be part of the editorial team of this year’s English Alive. “What I have noticed over the years is that high school pupils have encountered a lot of experiences over the years and they want to share it. Their quality of writing has improved.”
Pinelands High Grade 11 pupil Rayyan Ebrahim read his poem, Party Pressure. “My poem is about being awkward and shy at social events,” he said.
Herzlia High matric Erin Buruch read her poem, Deafening Silence. “This poem’s inspiration is from looking at the world around me and trying to over-exaggerate that to make the issues more visible,” she said.
Westerford High matric Amy-Rose Darnerell, who had her poem, Please, published in last year’s English Alive, returned with a new poem, Mother. “It’s always an incredible honour to have my poems published in English Alive, and it’s amazing to be recognised in this way,” she said.
Herschel Girls’ High Grade 8 pupil Alexa Ashaba, whose poem, The Aquarium, was published, said she had enjoyed writing from Grade 4. “It’s so exciting to have my poem published in this book,” she said.
Pinelands High school principal Dave Campbell said English Alive had a special place in the country’s literary landscape, and many young writers and poets had had their careers launched through it.