At A Conference On Literacy & Imagination

At A Conference On Literacy & Imagination

Dogood’s only regret was that he was in Cape Town for business, not pleasure. He made his way past the registration desk. It was not as busy as the first day. The ushers in conference uniform: white T-shirts and blue jeans, were there to guide the few guests who reported on the second day of the conference. Three conference organisers were in an animated conversation. One of them furiously turned the pages of the conference program. After a few minutes, she wrote on the whiteboard next to the registration desk. Standing near them with all the worries and impatience of a nation was a participant from Tanzania. As he had registered late, his name was not in the conference program, and he was afraid he might not present. A broad smile wiped out his concerns when he saw his name and the title of his presentation written on the whiteboard.

Conference on literacy and imagination

This was the second day of an international conference on Literacy and Imagination: The Practice, held at the University of Cape Town. The morning plenary session was in the amphitheatre and Dogood’s presentation was the third one. Dogood flipped his name tag, that way no one could see his name. As he made his way to the entrance, the volunteers greeted him, “Welcome professor.” Dogood was so bemused at a clown being referred to as a professor. Four hundred participants from across the globe were getting ready for the morning session. Once again Dogood was fascinated by the design of the ceiling. To him it looked like many inverted half calabashes with candles stuck in.

Dogood found himself sitting between two participants, one from Ghana and the other, Malawi. After exchanging pleasantries, he asked the one to his right, “What is the word for imagination in your vernacular?” He then asked the one from Ghana if in his vernacular they distinguish between thinking and imagination.

The session chair, Chris Mlakate, called the first presenter.

Professor Ann from University of Chicago. Her presentation was on the portrayal of politicians in cartoons. The professor used cartoon clippings and news articles for her presentation. She concluded that there is more truth in the creative and fictional works than in the (non-fictional) news. All the participants clapped. Prof. Mlakate reminded the participants they would ask questions after the three presentations, before tea break. He invited the second presenter.

Dogood’s thoughts trailed off as he considered his presentation. He caught the tail end of the second presenter’s introduction. Prof. Jumapong of South Africa presented on graffiti. His thesis was that graffiti can enhance imagination for literacy. Of interest especially to Dogood was how he collected data. He visited the library and the campus washrooms to collect data. The participants laughed when he said he was considering changing his research interests to the designs of gents because he had visited many. He further explained that on his office door he would leave notices for generating graffiti. When students wrote on the notices, he would respond to keep the conversation going. He concluded that even in the era of social media graffiti remains relevant.

Dogood was invited to make his presentation whose title was Igniting Imagination: Theory and Practice.

“It is a tough call to present after the powerful presentations by eminent scholars.” Dogood started. He had been curious about how the conference organisers had picked him to present in the plenary and not in the breakout sessions. He concluded that it must have been because of the title of his presentation. “Whether for literacy or other purposes, we have to be deliberate about imagination. Take a few minutes to imagine anything, let your imagination run wild. Imagine you are not here, you are not in this amphitheatre. That you are in an exotic holiday destination, fully paid for by your employer. No haggling over conference fees, hotel rates, cheapest flight or pa diems.  I said you imagine not talk.

“Now imagine what the participant next to you imagined. I will do the same.”

Dogood almost lost his composure and burst out laughing when he imagined something hilarious about a Nigerian participant. Dogood was surprised at how well this was going. The participants were enjoying it. The only challenge: most of the participants were unable to imagine without talking.

“Now imagine I am not here.” Dogood walked away. That was his presentation.

Martin Mburu

Judge Dogood © is a fictional character created by Martin Mburu

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