Discovering Betty Café Littéraire: Condé Soumah’s innovative initiative for the promotion of children’s books in Guinea

Muna Kalati

Ms. Condé Mabéty Soumah is an author of children’s literature based in Guinea and promoter of the platform for the dissemination and promotion of reading and children’s literature Betty café littéraire.

Hello Mrs Condé Mabéty Soumah

Thank you, hello Narcisse

Could you briefly introduce yourself (what you do, how did you get in contact with books? Your role in the book industry in Africa or in your country)

I am Mrs. Condé Mabéty Soumah, a Youth Author and the Founder of Betty Café Littéraire. My writing focuses on the sexual education of young girls to break the taboos in African societies in general and Guinean societies in particular. My first novel, En attendant la lune, is about puberty and menstruation to edify young girls who discover their bodies in adolescence without being prepared for it. I met the book in my childwood and we have never been apart since. I discovered my talent as a writer during my studies in literature when I took part in a competition called “Prix du jeune écrivain guinéen”. Later, I attended a writing workshop for teenagers and this help me to complete my novel and continue the adventure.

Could you present your initiative? (Its objectives, target and expected results)

I promote reading, literature and culture through my literary Café named Betty Café Littéraire, an environment where young people can read, discuss and participate in cultural activities. The objective is to offer a place to meet and exchange; to offer books in French and English for reading in our place; to promote books and reading; to promote education and intellectual development; to develop a taste for and interest in reading; to involve young people in community and cultural activities; to strengthen social cohesion and tranquility; and to provide catering. All this in a cozy space that reflects young people. It was opened in March 2020 and soon after the world was hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. The café has still been able to attract visitors over the months and I noticed the interest of young people in this type of space. In the long term, I would like this café to be a place where all kinds of children’s books can be found for sale and/or for free access. A space where children and young people can develop through books and cultural activities, a space for free expression.

Where did you get the idea to set up such an initiative? What was your inspiration? Why this initiative?

Few young people are interested in books and reading in Guinea despite the existence of libraries and reading corners. Some complain about the scarcity of books and a community space for meeting and exchange. For these reasons, I created Betty Café littéraire, which is an innovation, because it is unique in its kind in Guinea.

How is it different from similar existing projects? What is its added value?

Betty Café Littéraire is a unique space that takes into account all aspects of literature and culture while including the beneficiaries, who are young people. It is a platform for the expression of young people, readers and authors.

What progress or achievements have you made so far? (Please tell us about your activities and programmes).

To date, more than 10 literary cafés with local authors and debates on books and on the role women in literature have been organised. Two reading clubs have been invited for reading sessions with children and young people. Restrictions measures due to Covid-19, forced me to suspend activities to avoid gatherings.

Do you collaborate with other actors in your field/industry?

We collaborate with publishers, booksellers and even authors in order to make books accessible. When a visitor wants to obtain a title that he or she has discovered in our platform, we contact these different collaborators to acquire the book.

What are the main challenges or difficulties you face in the achievement of your project?

I have a very big vision of creating and offering to the Guinean youth a community and diverse environment where a large collection of children books can be found. Our Café Littéraire can only accommodate a maximum of 20 people and there are not enough books. The major difficulty at the moment is related to funding to provide a large space that can accommodate at least 100 young people and children and offer a library rich in children’s literature while organising literary and cultural activities.

How did COVID-19 impact your activity? How did you adapt and what changes did you implement?

Our activities usually reach a wide audience. The Covid-19 had a huge impact on the number of visitors because I had to postpone planned activities. Nevertheless, I succeeded in organising literary Cafés on Facebook to reach a good number of people and develop a food delivery service to survive.

What support or backing would you need to increase the impact of your initiative and accelerate its evolution?

The project is of great importance for the community, especially for young people who are looking for a cultural, working and debating environment dedicated to them, proximity and accessibility of books, etc. I need mentoring, partnership and financial support to develop the project.

What is the impact of this initiative on the promotion of books and reading?

Our aim is to stimulate a taste for reading and to promote books as an essential tool in education and the promotion of culture. Opened more than a year ago, the Betty Café Littéraire has become a meeting place for authors and readers and encourages some young people to take an interest in reading through our literary activities. Several authors spend time there to produce interesting stories for young people. Everyone who spends time there manages to read few pages and often comes back to finish the book. The Betty Café Littéraire is also a facilitator for finding a book. You just have to give the title and it’s done. Personally, I managed to sell several copies of my book En attendant la Lune (Waiting for the Moon) through Betty Café.

How do you see the future of book and reading industry in the next 5 to 10 years?

In the next few years, the book industry will flourish and I aspire to be one of the biggest suppliers of children’s books in Guinea.

A final word for our readers? A question you would like to answer?

Thank you all for reading. Stay tuned to Betty Café littéraire.

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