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Timbooktoo Bookshop: A Silver Jubilee celebrationof literary legacy and educational empowerment

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By Dr Cherno Omar Barry

Timbooktoo Bookshop @ 25

In the heart of The Gambia’s embrace,

Where the sun’s warm touch lights up the space,

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Stands Timbooktoo, a haven of dreams,

A silver jubilee, a milestone it deems.

With shelves adorned in wisdom and lore,

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Gambian tales and voices galore,

For twenty-five years, a literary dance,

Timbooktoo’s legacy, a cherished romance.

In the whispers of pages, a celebration hums,

A jubilee of silver, where knowledge becomes

A beacon of light, guiding hearts and minds,

Through Gambian landscapes, where storytelling binds.

Authors from the Gambia, rise and shine,

Their words in Timbooktoo intertwine,

A chorus of voices, a symphony of tales,

Painting the essence of Gambia in trails.

From the banks of the Gambia River’s flow,

To vibrant markets where stories grow,

Timbooktoo nurtures the words that bloom,

In the garden of letters, dispelling gloom.

O Gambian authors, your pens ablaze,

In the pages of Timbooktoo, your stories blaze,

Let the world hear the rhythm of your prose,

In the heart of Africa, where inspiration flows.

Timbooktoo, the literary heart,

Where Gambian tales find their start,

In silver jubilee, let joy unfold,

As stories of Gambia, in brilliance, are told.

Through bustling streets and dusty lanes,

Timbooktoo’s legacy sustains,

A haven for readers, a sanctuary grand,

In the golden sands of Gambia’s land.

So here’s to Timbooktoo, with love and cheer,

A silver jubilee, let it persevere,

In the tapestry of words, let Gambian authors gleam,

For Timbooktoo, a sanctuary of the literary dream.

Introduction

In the heart of Banjul, where the vibrant spirit of The Gambia thrives, Timbooktoo Bookshop stands as a testament to the power of literature and education. Celebrating its silver jubilee, this iconic bookshop has become not only a literary haven but also a beacon of support for Gambian authors, such as Dr Florence Mahoney, Nana Grey Johnson, Lenrie Peters, Tijan Sallah, Hassoum Ceesay, Hassan B Jallow, and Dr Seedy Drammeh. Timbooktoo has enriched the literary landscape of The Gambia and actively contributed to educational endeavours in the region.

Timbooktoo has played a pivotal role in showcasing and promoting the works of talented Gambian authors. With her insightful perspectives on Gambian history and culture, Dr. Florence Mahoney finds a prominent place on Timbooktoo’s shelves. Nana Grey Johnson’s captivating storytelling, Lenrie Peters’ poetic prowess, Tijan Sallah’s cultural reflections, and the thought-provoking works of Hassoum Ceesay, the legal luminary’s reflections from Hassan B Jallow and Fafa M’Bai, and Dr. Seedy Drammeh’s works resonate within the bookshop’s walls. By providing a platform for these authors and many more, Timbooktoo has not only celebrated the richness of Gambian literature but has also contributed to preserving the country’s cultural heritage.

Bookshops in The Gambia – A Historical Reflection

The history of bookshops in The Gambia is intertwined with the country’s colonial past, cultural evolution, and the global influences that have shaped its literary landscape. While The Gambia, with its rich oral traditions, has a deep history of storytelling, the establishment of formal bookshops began to take shape during the colonial period and has since evolved in response to changing societal needs and economic conditions.

The colonial era marked the introduction of formal education and the establishment of schools in The Gambia. Missionary efforts and colonial administrations played a significant role in bringing Western education to the region. As formal education expanded, the demand for books grew, leading to the establishment of the first bookshops to cater to the needs of students and the educated elite.

The earliest bookshops in The Gambia were often affiliated with educational institutions or operated by religious organizations. These bookshops primarily stocked textbooks, religious materials, and works by European authors. They played a crucial role in providing access to written knowledge and literature in a context where written materials were limited. The most renowned bookshop in The Gambia was the Methodist Bookshop.

The Gambia gained independence in 1965, and the post-independence period saw an increase in the number and diversity of bookshops. The country’s growing emphasis on education and literacy contributed to the demand for a broader range of books, including literature from African and Gambian authors.

In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, there was a cultural renaissance in The Gambia, with a renewed focus on celebrating and preserving Gambian heritage. This shift influenced bookshops to expand their offerings to include more works by local authors, fostering a sense of national identity and pride.

Timbooktoo Bookshop, established in December 1998, has played a pivotal role in shaping the contemporary book scene in The Gambia. With a commitment to promoting Gambian literature and engaging with the community through various initiatives, Timbooktoo has become a cultural and educational hub.

The book industry in The Gambia faces challenges such as limited resources, distribution issues, and competition from digital media. However, there are also growth opportunities, particularly with the increasing emphasis on literacy, education, and recognising the importance of preserving and promoting Gambian literature.

Digital technology has brought about a shift in reading habits, with e-books and online platforms gaining popularity. Bookshops in The Gambia have had to adapt to these changes by incorporating digital offerings and exploring innovative ways to reach a wider audience.

The history of bookshops in The Gambia reflects the country’s journey from colonial influences to post-independence cultural shifts. These establishments have evolved from primarily catering to educational needs to become vital contributors to promoting Gambian literature and culture. As The Gambia continues to navigate the complexities of the modern world, bookshops, including institutions like Timbooktoo, play a crucial role in fostering a love for reading, preserving cultural heritage, and contributing to the intellectual growth of the nation.

Showcasing the literary voices of the future

Timbooktoo Bookshop has become more than just a bookstore; it is a vibrant hub that actively supports and promotes the works of young and aspiring writers in The Gambia. With a commitment to nurturing fresh literary talent, Timbooktoo stands as a beacon, providing a platform for these young voices to be heard and celebrated.

Timbooktoo has dedicated sections within its shelves specifically for books written by young authors. This intentional categorization allows readers to easily discover and explore the diverse range of literary creations by the emerging talents of The Gambia. By prominently displaying these works, the bookshop ensures that young writers’ voices are heard and celebrated.

Timbooktoo Bookshop has emerged as a dynamic force in championing the literary voices of the future. By actively showcasing and promoting the works of young authors, the bookshop enriches its shelves with diverse narratives and contributes to the growth and development of the Gambian literary scene. As Timbooktoo celebrates its silver jubilee, it stands as a testament to the enduring commitment to fostering a culture where the voices of the youth are valued, heard, and celebrated in the rich tapestry of Gambian literature.

Educational initiatives

Beyond being a mere bookseller, Timbooktoo has extended its commitment to education by supplying learning materials to schools. Recognising the importance of access to quality educational resources, the bookshop has become a key partner in enhancing the educational landscape of The Gambia. Timbooktoo’s contribution has empowered students and educators alike, fostering a culture of learning and knowledge acquisition from textbooks to reference materials.

Café terrace for educational activities

In a unique and innovative move, Timbooktoo has integrated a Cafe Terrace into its space, creating a dynamic environment for educational activities. This terrace serves as a communal space where book enthusiasts, students, and educators can gather for discussions, book clubs, and literary events. The fusion of intellectual exchange and the aroma of coffee creates a stimulating atmosphere that encourages dialogue and collaborative learning.

It should be recalled that the Establishment of the Writers’ Association of The Gambia in 2009 took place at the famous Timbooktoo Café where the late Dr Ralphina d’Almeida, Hon. Nana Grey-Johnson, Sukai and Dembo Bojang, Almamy Fanding Taal, Hassoum Ceesay, Dr Cherno Omar Barry, Ahmed Aloa Alota, Fodeh Baldeh, but to name a few converged to revive the writers’ association.

Navigating the book fairs

In the vibrant cultural landscape of The Gambia, Timbooktoo Bookshop embarked on a literary journey that extends beyond its shelves and into the heart of the community. The bookshop’s active participation in book fairs organised at the Alliance Franco-Gambienne on Kairaba Avenue has become a significant chapter in its commitment to fostering a love for literature and promoting Gambian authors.

The Alliance Franco-Gambienne book fairs are a melting pot of cultural exchange and literary diversity. Timbooktoo’s presence at these events brought a curated selection of books representing the rich tapestry of Gambian literature. Visitors to the fairs are exposed to a plethora of voices, styles, and narratives, fostering a deeper understanding of the literary landscape within The Gambia. Timbooktoo also attended other book fairs, such as one organised at the National Library, and other events as a prime opportunity to showcase and celebrate the works of Gambian authors. By prominently featuring books by local writers, the bookshop contributes to the visibility and recognition of homegrown talent, fostering a sense of pride among both authors and readers.

The book fairs provide a unique platform for Timbooktoo to engage with the community directly. Beyond the realm of literature, Timbooktoo leverages its presence at book fairs to promote educational initiatives. The bookshop actively engages with educators, students, and schools, showcasing diverse learning materials and fostering a culture of reading and intellectual curiosity.

By featuring books from a variety of publishers, both local and international, the bookshop contributes to the accessibility of a wide array of literature, reinforcing its commitment to providing diverse reading options to the Gambian community.

Timbooktoo Bookshop’s involvement in book fairs represents a strategic and heartfelt commitment to promoting literature and engaging with the community. Through these events, the bookshop transcends its role as a mere retailer, evolving into a cultural bridge that connects readers with the rich tapestry of Gambian literature. As Timbooktoo continues to navigate these literary voyages, it contributes to the growth of the Gambian literary scene and reinforces its position as a dynamic force in fostering a love for books and knowledge within The Gambia.

Conclusion

As Timbooktoo Bookshop celebrates its silver jubilee, it stands tall as a symbol of literary excellence, educational empowerment, and community engagement in The Gambia. Through its unwavering commitment to promoting Gambian authors, supplying learning materials to schools, and providing a space for intellectual discourse, Timbooktoo has left an indelible mark on the cultural and educational landscape of the country. As it continues to inspire readers, support authors, and contribute to education, Timbooktoo remains a shining example of the transformative power of literature and knowledge.

We congratulate and celebrate Ousainou and Kathy Jagne, and their four children for the wonderful Timbooktoo journey in the last twenty-five years. We express gratitude to the Timbooktoo Bookshop staff for their dedication and patience. We commend the supporters and promoters of the book chain in The Gambia. We encourage the young writers and other authors who enlivened the book production and never yield to the efforts. Despite the challenges, we celebrate all our authors and publishers’ perseverance and dedication.

We recommend that Timbooktoo bookshop, as they work towards the gold jubilee, consider the following:

1.         Collaborating with local schools and organising writing programs

2.         Create author spotlight events

3.         Offer discounts and promotions

4.         Support book launches and signing events

5.         Develop online presence and social media promotion

6.         Organise annual or biannual book prizes.

All these can be done in collaboration with the Writers’ Association of The Gambia.

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