Katlego Kai Kolanyane-Kesupile ted
Katlego Kai Kolanyane-Kesupile. Courtesy of TED.

The TED Talk Questionnaire: Botswana’s Queer Theater Pioneer On Tradition and Telling LGBT Stories

This August, Arusha, Tanzania will be the setting of TEDGlobal 2017 Conference where 21 innovators will come to spread worthy ideas. 10 are from Africa. As part of our focus on African Futures, this month we wrote to this year’s African Fellows to ask them questions about themselves and their work. TED recently announced that applications to be a 2018 TED Fellow are now open.

Find out more information about the program and how to apply, here.

Katlego Kolanyane-Kesupile is a Motswana writer, educator, and founder of the Queer Shorts Showcase Festival, Botswana’s first and only LGBT themed theater festival. Check out her website here.

How did you first find out you were selected?

I was on a bus in London, reading through my emails and I saw a message from the TED Fellows email address and I thought: “Oh gosh, they’ve rejected me.” So I didn’t open the mail until I got home that evening and proceeded to freak out in disbelief.

What was your reaction when you got the word?

I didn’t believe that I was reading it correctly because I was offered to join the class of 2017. They gave me the option to accept or turn them down. That’s what made it very surreal. I was elated beyond words; I mean, I was agonisingly happy.

Was it difficult coming up with the concept for your talk/project?

Coming up with a topic wasn’t too difficult but it was tricky since I had delivered a presentation at TEDxGoodenoughCollege a week after finding out I was now a Global Fellow so the challenge was to find another ‘idea worth sharing’ which I believe in wholeheartedly.

At what point did you finally say, “yes—I feel good about what I am about to present?”

I’m a sharp decision maker when it comes to creative projects so I throw all the options into the air and see which one floats down at just the right speed for me, so when it came to crafting the story thread for the presentation it was more a matter of figuring out the delivery method rather than the content. I’m confident in what I am talking about, I’m just constantly reminding myself that it’s a large idea going into 4 minutes and I know I have to leave things out so that I don’t overwhelm people with information and ideas. The wealth of the idea will lie in how simply it can be packaged and transferred to the audience.

What did you learn about yourself through the process?

Thankfully I had done TEDx and worked closely with a speaker manager to make a TED brand worthy talk so tackling my talk for TED Global was much easier. The editing skills, the structuring of the idea, the incorporation of personal along with intellectual references all felt like second nature—work, but second nature.

Are you nervous about your presentation?

I’m not nervous about the presentation per se. I think I’m just excited about the challenges that will come with sharing this idea with the world. I want to see who has been thinking like me; who has had their perspective changed; who believes and who thinks I’m an idealist.

Any particular things you are doing by way of preparation?

I always break down my talks into thematic threads so that I map it out mentally. Sometimes I recite them in different modes so that I let the words sit within me. So I’ll recite it while cooking, then I’ll sing it, then I’ll recite it backwards—just so I stop seeing it as just a sequence of words.

What do you anticipate the world’s response will be?

I learned a long time ago to not anticipate things, especially when they are to do with something you care deeply about, because you end up preparing yourself to either be loved or hated. I think it’ll definitely be something people haven’t invested as much time thinking about the way I have—this has been evident from the way my friends have responded to hearing the idea – so I know it’s got something to it that will generate conversation and that’s what I want.

What would you want it to be?

I want people to question their buy in points to the idea. I want people to take the idea and see where they can customise it and take up the mantle of the development and liberation struggle for queer livelihood narratives.

What made you passionate about your subject?

I had been reflecting on my own privileges as a well educated, well spoken, self critical creative practitioner, educator and writer and how these can either serve as a means to separate me from others like me who don’t have all the frills, or those like me who don’t understand my unflinching love of my traditional, cultural, geographic roots. These two worlds have been pitted against each other and as someone straddling the divide, I wanted to find a place for myself as much as I wanted to find ways of allowing others to involve themselves in a crossover experience as well.

To the next generation of intellectuals who are reading about you and inspired by you right now—what would you say?

A mind, like a light, is purposeless if it only serves to illuminate itself—find fulfillment in the labour of sharing the inner workings of your mind; and always remain open to shifting your stance when it’s called for. One of the greatest gifts to the self comes from challenging the very things that you don’t think of in ways that allow you to find points of acceptance and rejection. Knowing and unknowing are necessary for any growth. Persevere.

Personally, what does it mean to you to be selected as a TED fellow?

It’s like being named an elder in a village full of people you already respect. At the deepest level, it’s humbling to know that I am an ambassador for something this huge, and also to know that it’s not a chance thing—it is the result of many years of difficult work which won’t stop anytime soon.

Where do you hope to go to from here?

I hope this just allows more people to have access to me and what I do. I’m always up for collaborations, for new adventures, and new things to learn. I will go where it takes me—be it the depths of Botswana or the stages of the world.

Check out the rest of our interviews with this year’s TED Fellows here.

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