Books of my Life by Tawona Sitholé

Tawona Sitholé is artist-in-residence with the University’s UNESCO Chair Programme in Refugee Integration through Languages and the Arts. His work involves trying to understand the experience of people who bring with them language and culture from another place and try to make it anew in their adopted home. Tawona uses storytelling and poetry to explore how communication can happen more meaningfully.

The book that makes me laugh
The Book of Complete Nonsense (Edward Lear). It's poetry for fun. I love Edward Lear, Spike Milligan, these kinds of people. I like it because sometimes poetry is taken very seriously as a form. I think in my life I’m a very playful kind of person, that's my energy most of the time. As adults, I think we forget to play sometimes.

The book that makes me cry
The closest I came to this was Animal Farm (George Orwell) and seeing the disappointment of what revolution means. At the time I read it, Zimbabwe [Tawona’s home country] was still a young nation and I saw my own country struggling with revolution. When I was reading Animal Farm, some of these things were already happening, the pigs ending up in the farmer’s house and so on. So that’s quite a heartbreaking one for me.

"My grandmothers were the storytellers within the family. They sparked that excitement and appreciation of what language can do. When story time came, they became much more than their frail physical presence. They were the first superheroes for me.

The book I come back to again and again
I return to the types of writers and voices that perceive the world as being one big family of nature, and human and non-human beings as siblings. David Abram’s Spell of the Sensuous speaks that kind of language. Paulo Freire as well, the much-talked-about, much-read, much-analysed Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

The book I loved most as a child
There are so many, but I’m going to say the dictionary. My parents had a library of books, but they didn’t say “read this, this is a good one”, or push anything. They just left it there. You would gradually make your way round those books, and there were many that I never read until I was the right age for them.

The book that gets me through the hard times
Poetry. Poetry caters to something greater than what the individual’s needs, obsessions, failures are. There’s something for every mood and you can find a poem that will just say what you’re feeling, but you don’t know how to say it. I like opening a poetry book randomly and just finding something really beautiful for the day.

"The dictionary is like a magical box of treasures because you go in looking for one thing, then before you know it there’s another gem over there, another over there.

The book I most often recommend to others
I’m suspicious of hype, but with David Graeber, I think I get the hype. Debt: The First 5000 Years, I very highly recommend. If I was getting someone a present, I might go with Rumi’s collected poems and writings. In poetry terms, I always recommend Maya Angelou or Mary Oliver as well.

The book I’m reading now
Epistemologies of the South, Justice Against Epistemicide by Boaventura de Sousa Santos. I’m enjoying dipping in and out of this, thinking about certain things I'm researching. I'm also reading a novel called The Time Being which is a surrealist fiction between a scientist in Canada and a teenager in Japan and the likely connection between them through a message in a bottle.

This article was first published September 2022.

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