Author helps boost youth literacy

This year, Mitchell’s Plain author Athol Williams’ organisation, Read to Rise, has distributed over 120 000 new books to 45 primary schools across Mitchell’s Plain and this month, which is also National Literacy Month, the organisation has expanded its partnership with a real estate property portfolio group to boost youth literacy.

Books Live reports that Liberty Two Degrees, owners of the Liberty Promenade, which also has shopping centres in Johannesburg, the Midlands and Bloemfontein, has broadened the literacy project Liberty Promenade Mall embarked on last year with Read to Rise to reach youth in under-resourced communities where these shopping centres are located. The initiative is set to take off in the first quarter of 2019.

Athol, 48, who was part of the recent Poetry in McGregor Festival 2018 for the third time, said as a little boy from Westridge, he was influenced by the power of books. His late father, Edwin Williams, loved to read and that influenced little Athol to do the same. He was always found reading at the library.

Last year he became the first person to receive Master’s degrees from five of the top universities in the world. Athol has completed his Master’s degrees in business, finance, administration and political theory from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), London Business School in the United Kingdom (UK), Oxford and Harvard Universities respectively.

Athol is an avid reader and book lover with a personal library of over 5 000 books. He loves learning and being around books. “It is a joy to add to the universal library through my writing, and to share the stories of my experiences, imagination and hopes through my poems and books,” he said.

Athol, in his Westridge High days, was the captain of the athletics team and played for the Western Province baseball team, both in his matric year, 1987. His friends called him “boek kop” at school as he was always the one studying during that time, this was seen as uncool then, he said. The political unrest at the time as well as peer pressure caused many of his classmates and friends to have to repeat a year – only a third of his class passed matric and only three of them passed with exemption.

He started the Read to Rise organisation in 2013 with his wife Taryn Lock, working in under-resourced communities of South Africa to supply much-needed age-appropriate books to children who may otherwise not have access to these books. Their full-time team works directly in primary school classrooms to motivate children to read. They are currently embedded in Mitchell’s Plain, and Soweto (Johannesburg), and regularly work in other schools around the country, he said. Ms Lock is the illustrator of the Oaky books.

“I have seen what education and hard work can do, there are people who don’t have the opportunities I had so I am trying to create those opportunities for them or enable them to either be inspired and find opportunities for themselves. I believe an inspired person can overcome their obstacles,”Athol, who now lives in Century City, said.

He has written 10 books and 100 poems in literacy journals. In addition to five Oaky books, he has written Heap of Stones, Talking to a Tree and his latest Pushing Boulders to name a few.

Athol received several awards such as the Sol Plaatjie European Union Poetry Award, the SA Independent Publishers Award, the Parallel Universe Poetry Prize and the SA Literacy Award.

“My personal mission is, by my words and deeds to enable and inspire others to thrive – this guides all that I do. By writing the Oaky books for children I hope to excite them about reading and inspire them to greatness. And by my poetry I hope to remind my readers of the beauty in life and the greatness that awaits us.”