A performance by AU's new writer in residence
January 10 2012
Many authors, if you ask them to present their work, are content simply to read aloud. Not Tololwa M. Mollel.
Mollel, Athabasca University's new writer in residence, has always infused the written word, and written stories, with live performance and oral storytelling. He's worked as an actor and a theatre lecturer, authored 16 children's books and several plays, and made a habit of telling his stories on his feet to children and adults alike.
And on January 26, when Mollel shares one of his stories at a reception celebrating AU's Writer in Residence program, he's not going to read it -- he's going to perform it with a 10-year-old co-star, live musical accompaniment and the guidance of theatre director Jan Selman.
If you happen to meet Mollel, it's easy to understand why he has a hard time separating writing from performing. In conversation, he slips easily into storytelling mode. His eyes light up as he describes one of his university professors in Tanzania (a big, bald, sweaty man with a beard that made it seem as if all the hair on his head had gone to his chin), and he leans forward and grins as he recounts the traditional tale of a trickster spider named Anansi who tries to steal all the common sense in the world.
"I like that story, because there are so many things you can make of it. How do people behave when they don't have common sense, for example?" says Mollel. "To do that story, you'd probably have to show what the world would be like with no common sense, so there's an opportunity to make some commentary."
That opportunity for commentary, says Mollel, is one of the things that draws him to adapting traditional tales from countries such as his native country of Tanzania.
"There are so many traditional tales where you can actually inject a lot of your own views on what is going on around us," he says. "What attracts me to particular tales and not to others is what do they have to offer to the present?"
"If I find the possibility of tweaking a story and providing my own twist, then I say, ah-ha, I can make it my story ... But I try not to violate the spirit behind the story, because then you might as well come up with your own story."
In addition to his work with traditional stories, Mollel is a strong advocate of the adage to write what you know. When he teaches children about writing, he often focuses on helping them tell their personal stories.
"It's so easy for them to model their writing on something they're reading, which is fine. But at the same time, they have to realize that there are things in their life that are worth drawing on ... I think it's very empowering for young people to tell their own stories."
Members of the AU community with an interest in writing, along with any other writers who are interested in being mentored by Mollel, are welcome to attend the January 26 reception in Edmonton. See below for more information.
Athabasca University's Writers in Residence
A Reception in Celebration of Athabasca University's Writer in Residence Program
A performance by Tololwa M. Mollel, award-winning children's author, playwright, actor and storyteller, and AU's 2011-12 writer in residence
Reflections from Joseph Boyden, award-winning novelist and short story writer, and AU's 2010-11 writer in residence
When: 5 - 7 p.m., Thursday, January 26, 2012
Where: Expressionz Café, 9938 - 70 Avenue, Edmonton
Food will be served, and attendees are permitted to bring guests.
Seating is limited. Please RSVP by January 19 to Amanda Demko: email@example.com
Members of the AU community with an interest in writing, along with any other writers who are interested in being mentored by Mollel, are welcome to attend.
Athabasca University Writer in Residence
Learn more about Mollel's mentoring services for writers at AU's Writer in Residence website.
Website of Tololwa M. Mollel
Visit Mollel's website to learn more about his work.
By Erin Ottosen