We caught up with 26-year old author Bereket Lulseged to talk about her latest book Muna and Abebe, which tells the story of a young girl and legendary, Ethiopian athlete Abebe Bikila.
Welcome Bereket please briefly introduce yourself and tell us what the inspiration was behind your recent book Muna and Abebe.
I was born and raised in Addis Ababa and went to the states when I was 16 for the last two years of high school, college and graduate school. I hold a master's in pharmaceutical science and I am currently working as a chemistry teacher at a high school in Addis Ababa. I started writing when I was 9, mostly short stories and personal essays, and I knew from an early age that I want to be a published writer. When a friend told me that she couldn't find an entertaining and educational children's book for her son, I took that as a challenge to write a great children's storybook about the legendary athlete Abebe Bikila. When I started writing the story, I was telling it from Abebe's perspective and I found it to be hard because he is such a venerated figure. So I decided, for the sake of more creative freedom, to write it from a 10-year-old little girl's perspective of meeting Abebe Bikila and learning from him.
Muna and Abebe is a fictional, historical and educational book aimed at young readers. Was that a conscious choice and how did you manage to maintain a balance?
Yes, that was a conscious choice. As I mentioned before, I wanted to write a children's storybook that is extremely entertaining and historical. I wanted children who are reading Muna and Abebe; to learn about the legendary Abebe Bikila: his achievements, strength and determination. At the same time, I wanted it to be a great story about a little girl, Muna, and her unlikely friendship with the great Abebe and the whole fascinating concept of time travel.
Abebe Bikila one of Ethiopia’s legendary runners. What is so appealing about his life story that everyone should know more about him?
I watched the movie The Athlete, a movie about Abebe Bikila when I was in college (if you haven't seen the movie, I highly recommend it) and I was extremely fascinated by the later life of Abebe Bikila. Growing up, I knew he has won many marathons and that he was an inspiration for many runners that came after him such as Haile Gebreselassie but had no idea about the car accident and the debilitating effects of it.
After he became paralyzed from the waist down because of the car accident, his spirit was still indomitable and he took up archery and sledge dog racing. So I really wanted to communicate in the story that not only was he an exceptional athlete and opened many doors for runners all over the world, but he was also an exceptional human being with an incredible determination to excel despite great challenges.
Muna and Abebe was first published in English and is now also available in Amharic. How important is it to you that the book is also available in Amharic?
It's extremely important to me that children in Ethiopia access the book and hopefully get something positive out of it. And in order for that to happen, the story needs to be communicated in a language that is widely spoken in Ethiopia, which is Amharic. We plan to translate the book to Afaan Oromo, tigrigna, somaligna and other local languages as well.
When did you start your writing journey and is Muna and Abebe the first story you wrote?
I started writing when I was 9, mostly short stories, flash fictions and personal essays; and recently I have started writing film scripts. Muna and Abebe is my first published work and I plan to publish short stories collection book in the near future.
Do you have a favourite author, Ethiopian or not and if so why?
My favourite Ethiopian - possibly all-time - the writer is Adam Retta. I think he is a literary genius and I envy his incredible facility with words. One of the great joys of my life has been reading his works.
Are you currently working on any new stories or ideas?
I want my next book to be a short stories collection/flash fiction collections and I am currently working on making that happen. I am also working on a children's storybook for really young children who had just started reading.
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