Fellow writers. It’s time to sharpen your pencils. Tololwa Mollel, a Tanzanian–born, Edmonton-based writer, has been selected to serve as the 2023 writer-in-residence at St. Albert Public Library. The multi-award winning writer’s term takes place from mid-August to December 2023.
“We are pleased to welcome award-winning author Tololwa Mollel,” said Peter Bailey, CEO of St. Albert Public Library in an email to the Gazette. “Tololwa brings a wealth of experience in multiple writing genres to his role as regional writer-in-residence, and we’re excited to see how his skills and enthusiasm will inspire area writers of all ages and across genres.”
The Edmonton Federation of Libraries, a consortium of four libraries (Edmonton Public, Fort Saskatchewan Public, St. Albert Public and Strathcona County Library) each year selects worthy candidates for its 12-month writers-in-residence program. This year Kate Boorman will host at Edmonton Public Library while Mollel will split his time between the three smaller libraries.
In his quest to empower writers, Mollel said, “My goal as writer-in-residence is to provide writing support suited to particular needs, helping individuals to develop not only their written work, but their voices as writers...I also aim to share my passion for writing and creative work, through inclusive (writer-in-residence) programs for preschoolers, preteens, teens, adults and seniors.”
As an artist, he uses his skills as a literary writer, playwright, storyteller and performer. His resume is extensive having written radio narratives, seven plays and authored 24 internationally published children’s books in English and Swahili.
Among the most prestigious accolades for his children’s books are a Governor-General's Award for The Orphan Boy, and Writers Guild of Alberta Awards for My Rows and Piles of Coins as well as Big Boy.
Despite the numerous awards, Mollel remains a soft-spoken, humble man who credits his grandparent's oral stories of adventures, fables and anecdotes for instilling a life-long love of the printed and spoken word.
Born in a tiny rural town in Tanzania, Mollel lived with his parents during the early years. His father was a teacher in a bare-bones, one-room school that only had two grades. For Grade 3, the young boy was sent to live with grandparents in Arusha, a small city in Northern Tanzania.
“I had to move to my grandparents in Grade 3 and that pretty much became home. My grandparents owned a coffee farm and it was a lot of work. Everything was grown by hand: coffee, maize, beans,” he said.
Hungry for adventure and the multi-dimensional worlds found in books, Mollel became a voracious reader. Books inspired him to write and by Grades 5 and 6 he was composing his own narratives. By Grade 9, he took a leap of faith and wrote his first play to raise money for a club.
“I had never written a play, so I didn’t know how hard it was. But back then I was fearless.”
Mollel not only wrote the play, but was required to find actors and direct. To compound the problems, the lead actor quit a few weeks before the opening and Mollel stepped in to save the production.
“It was hard, but it was quite rewarding. There wasn’t a lot of theatre in Tanzania. There was more music and dance. So, people were eager to pay money to see it.”
Later at the University of Dar-es-Salaam, the young writer earned an undergraduate degree in theatre before using his skills to teach. Feeling conflicted between his academic life and his passion for writing, Mollel moved to Edmonton hoping the issue would resolve itself.
Once settled in Edmonton, the writer realized his two young children read many books.
“I started writing and sharing my stories with them. I stumbled on a writing workshop for children’s books and I was able to get in,” explained Mollel. “I wrote several stories for Cricket (Magazine). That sharpened my interest and before I knew it, I was absorbed by it.”
One book that remains consistently close to Mollel’s heart is My Rows and Piles of Coins, a story about Saruni, a young boy who is saving his precious coins to buy a bicycle to help his mother carry heavy loads to the market.
“It’s my favourite because it was so hard to get it right and it’s pretty close to my own experience. He does what I used to do for my grandparents. But I think he is more noble than I used to be,” said the author.
Mollel’s latest children’s book is Grazing Back Home, an African-inspired story book with music. In this simple, yet direct tale, drought is causing the land to dry up. To survive, Pevu, a brave boy, leaves his African rural savanna home to find work in the city.
Currently, Mollel is writing the script for a stage production at the 2023 Thousand Faces Festival.