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The Knysna Literary Festival stimulates and educates

Underpinning the Knysna Literary Festival, the Garden Route’s premier literary event, is the ethos that the local community should benefit from the educational and cultural benefits and economic opportunities the festival brings.

Where possible, support services are sourced from within Knysna and festival venues are selected with the purpose of showcasing the town’s hospitality infrastructure and celebrated natural settings. The festival donates approximately 30% of its revenue from ticket sales to local charities that focus on childhood development and education, a percentage they look to grow in future.

Now in its seventh year, the festival aims to promote South Africa's rich literary heritage thanks to a diverse programme that includes current affairs, politics, history and adventure literature. The festival has grown rapidly in recent years as has its commitment to education. Unique literary experiences offer attendees and the community various opportunities to engage with authors and experts on both popular and scholarly topics, by means of workshops, presentations and informal discussions.

In 2015 nearly 1000 learners attended the Children’s Theatre performance while the Young Writers’ Competition – which attracts entries in English, Afrikaans and isiXhosa from rural schools – has increased in support.

Important components of the festival’s outreach programme are the FundZa writing workshops and a mentoring programme funded by the National Arts Council (NAC). A non-profit organisation, FundZa is dedicated to fostering a culture of reading and writing among underprivileged South African youth, ages between 13 and 25, from under-resourced communities.

With a mission to build a culture of reading and writing, FundZa develops the country’s future writers by exposing communities to quality content in unconventional mobile media, enabling prospective writers to publish their stories while facilitating dialogue and communication.

FundZa’s mobi network has a reach of more than 350 000 youngsters with participants posting more than 100 comments daily, indicative of a highly engaging platform.
As there are very few books that reflect the reality faced by youths in under-resourced communities, FundZa doesn’t use texts that are unappealing to potentially reluctant readers. Instead, they facilitate the creation of locally produced content that is relatable to the audience and stories that reflect the issues and ambitions that many young people face.

In the Mentoring Our Future Writers Project, young writers are paired with experienced authors with each pair having to write a set of short stories that are linked to one other in some way. Both parties give feedback to one another on their stories, with young writers gaining support, while mentors gain insights from younger and often trendier mentees.

According to the 2011 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), 43 percent of South African Grade 5 learners’ reading skills were lower than that of the international expectation on a Grade 4 level – a finding that ranked the country as the lowest of all participants in the study. Within this context organisations such as FundZa, who approach literacy issues in an innovative manner, are essential to improve national proficiency in reading and writing.

This NAC funded collaboration with FundZa is a boon for the Knysna Literary Festival, adding gravitas to its commitment to education and training of the local community, where other similar ventures are more focused on the bottom line and corporate sponsorships.

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