Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Why I Read by Sandisile Tshuma

Hi. My name is Sandisile Tshuma and I am an information junkie. More than ten years ago I underwent the Clifton strengths finder assessment as part of a team building exercise at the youth-focused HIV prevention organisation I had just joined.  The test revealed that one of my top five strengths was something called Input. Input was defined as having a craving to know more and people with Input like to collect and archive all kinds of information. While I normally like to convince myself that I am “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma,” I had to admit that the test was spot on.  

I read because I like to know things. I love knowledge for its own sake and I hoard it in my mind, my electronic devices, journals, notebooks and a book shelf that is so heavily overloaded it teeters precariously on the verge of collapse under the weight of all manner of books, lovingly collected over years.  My insatiable appetite for information and ideas in the form of words is well documented. I can’t help myself. Reading let’s me know things and discovering new things fills my heart with unadulterated joy. Literacy is the greatest gift my parents gave me.

When I was a child my parents kept an old school trunk full of books well older than I. That black trunk was a treasure trove of books, all classics. My mind traveled from The God of Small Things and Coriolanus, to Harvest of Thorns and Petals of Blood, from Gray’s Anatomy to Toohey’s Medicine for Nurses, Charles Mungoshi to William Blake. One day while digging through the old black trunk I found a tatty old exercise book in which my father had written the first few chapters of an autobiographical creative fiction book. I knew it had to be something he wrote in his youth because the pages were almost disintegrating and the ink was faded and blurred making it hard for me to read some of his flawlessly scripted cursive. He had never once mentioned this work or expressed the desire to write. He was a military man, a man of science, a businessman, anything but an author. And yet he wrote beautifully. Lyrically. He was reflective and generous in his descriptions. I was mesmerized. We never discussed it but it completely changed the way I saw him. He revealed his complex layered thoughts and helped me understand my own dark, broody complexity. I recognized myself not only in his words but also even in the very act of writing out his life, documenting his story for an audience of unknown existence.
I read to rekindle the feeling I got when my father unknowingly shared his life with me, as do so many other authors I love. In a world where it’s hard to feel anchored my love for reading showed me a new connection to the source of my being. I read because this is a privilege.

Sandisile Tshuma is a Zimbabwean storyteller, health, development and human rights practitioner who has studied molecular and cellular biology, public health, disaster management and acting from the University of Cape Town (South Africa), the University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa), the National University of Science and Technology (Zimbabwe) and the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (United Kingdom).
Sandisile has a professional background in monitoring, evaluation and communication in sexual and reproductive health programmes with the United Nations and other International Organizations in East and Southern Africa. She is an award winning short story writer, the founding editor of AntuAke online magazine, and has curated a personal blog for five years. Sandisile's short stories, "Arrested Development" and "The Need" were published by amaBooks Publishing in two anthologies of Zimbabwean short stories. "Arrested Development" won an Honourable Mention for the 2010 Thomas Pringle Award in the short story category, has been translated into a number of languages and is included in an anthology titled "When The Sun Goes Down", a set book in the Kenyan English language curriculum at secondary school level. The Need has been translated into isiNdebele. Her first full length book, "Dandelion Dreaming," tells the story of marginalised youth in South Africa using the "photo-voice" methodology. 

Sandisile has a special interest in young people, particularly those made vulnerable by HIV and AIDS, and is involved in supporting the work of  Aluwani and COPESSA. Currently, she works in leadership development as the South Africa country manager of the Emzingo Group aiming to inspire responsible leadership, prepare individuals to tackle global challenges and connect business to society.

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