Non-fiction authors Jonny Steinberg and Ashwin Desai, were quizzed on “Writing the Other” by facilitator Federico Settler at Saturday’s session at the 16th annual Time of the Writer International Writers Festival.
Ashwin Desai, political commentator, explained that writing about interviews conducted in the place he calls home, Durban, was difficult in that “one can’t escape one’s own biography”. He said in his book, Reading Revolution: Shakespeare on Robben Island, he wanted to talk about what happens when the “Calibans come to power” (referring to Shakespeare’s The Tempest), noting that they often end up acting as “Prosperos”.
Steinberg explained that when he tries to understand the people he writes about, he asks himself “how they feel about their own death”. He explained that his forthcoming book, to be published early in 2014, focuses on a Somali man who led a “deracinated life in Somali, until he saved enough money to hitch-hike to SA, where he now runs a spaza shop in Blikkiesdorp”. He noted that this man insisted on all the interviews he gave Steinberg being held in Steinberg’s car, so that he could see “tsotsis” coming, if there were any, “in a way, trying to escape his own murder”. This gave a sense of the xenophobic conditions under which he had to live, as opposed to Steinberg’s relative safety as a white man.
At question time, a member of the audience asked Steinberg about Little Liberia, querying why there was a “muting of gender” in the text. Steinberg replied that he tends to sink more into the lives of the men he interviews, “perhaps because of projection and the ability to imagine myself in their shoes”. He said however, that “one day I hope to write intimately about a woman”. He said it was important for a writer not to speak over a reader’s head, but to “trust your reader to be able to work out what you show him/her, which must be the guts of it, the story”. He noted how one of his Liberian protagonists found it very traumatic to have sex with his wife for the first time, because she had undergone female circumcision. He then became virulently opposed to it. His wife however, supported the practice, and insisted on her daughters being circumcised too. “Swooping down on cultural practices from the outside doesn’t work,” said Steinberg, “it has to happen from the inside and outside at the same time”.
Desai slated the rhetoric of post-colonial academics who analyse subaltern writing against the dominant discourse, saying it “doesn’t get you closer to the magic”. He said that interviewing people
for his book on Robben Island “humbled” him, although it didn’t stop him from being critical. He noted that “research is a messy business”.
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A curiously vulnerable second session focused on “Writing Gender Violence”. The tone was hesitant and yet determined.
Shubnum Khan, author of Onion Tears, said she believed domestic violence’s power comes from “its secrecy and shame”, and welcomed the opportunity to move the discussion from beyond the private confines of the home, to a more public sphere. Shafinaaz Hassim read from her recently published book Sophia, a novel about domestic violence, followed by Kagiso Molope who read from her novel about rape, called This Book Betrays my Brother. Hassim said she chooses to write about violence because she’s a sociologist researching the issue, but wants to unpack these stories “not scientifically, but for a broader audience”. Molope said she grew up in a violent township where she witnessed many attacks on women, and always “wanted to write about the role of the witness. Do you speak out? Make excuses for the men?”
Khan asked the authors to comment on why victims who endure trauma often are further victimised. Hassim said she believes this comes from a “pseudo self-righteous culture of denialism”, where “it has become acceptable to blame the victim for her abuse,” so that she can then be “punished / disciplined / fixed”. Molope said in her book the brother accused of rape rejects his sister when she tries to talk to him about what has happened: and then he excludes her from his community, revealing that her challenge has become a threat for an entire group, not just an individual.
Khan mentioned several high-profile rape/assault cases that have appeared in the media lately, for instance, the rape and murder of Anene Booysen in the Cape, and the shooting of Oscar Pistorius’s girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. Hassim said that it is reassuring that there is a renewed consciousness around gender violence, because it is important that civil society fights back. Molope said, from what she has gathered from talking to township people, women in SA are “under siege”, they feel that there is a civil war against them and children.
An audience member asked Hassim whether she believes fiction can be a form of self-help. She said she lent Sophia to someone in an abusive marriage, who chose not to leave. Hassim said perhaps it was too early to see her action as a failed attempt. A man from the audience asked the authors whether they thought a man could write about gender-based violence. Molope said she believed one needs to include “many perspectives”. Another question focused on whether violence can have emancipatory possibilities. Molope said we can’t dictate how victims respond to violence, while Hassim mentioned a movie she saw about an Indian woman who burned her abusive husband to death in a house fire. Molope said it is always a victim’s choice to react in a certain way, but “you owe it yourself to just be you”.
Centre for Creative Arts co-ordinator, Tinso Mungwe, then wrapped up the festival with a vote of thanks for the organisers, funders, and authors.
Neels Jenssen from the EU took the mic, commending all the poets published in this year’s anthology. He said “your work is another stepping stone towards a common culture in SA”. He announced that Vonani Bila had won second prize with his poem, “boys from seshego”, while Siddiq Khan was the overall winner with his poem “Anthem for Old Nations”. An insouciant, confident Khan then read his poem.
Ghanaian poet Nii Ayikwei Parkes set a low-key, mellow tone for the main evening’s line-up. He brought in a musical element, asking us to “compare the weight of a guitar string / to the weight of the people it moves”. Although he tackled difficult topics, like slavery, his melodious voice, and nuanced lyrics stood in sharp contrast to some of the angrier poets attending this year’s festival who also wrote about racism. In a humourous poem called “This is not a love poem”, Parkes wrote “this is not a love poem – it’s a sexed-up dossier … a lingering breath of hot air / as it creeps up your thighs / it’s a game, a solo, while I riff a plan to strip you of everything you own”. In the next poem, called “This is a love poem”, Parkes cajoled the woman of his dreams to let him make “you a part of me”.
Niels Hav, from Denmark, the next poet up on stage was funny too, but not erotic. He explained that for him, poetry must be “emblematic. A reader must feel at home with his own feelings in my poem”. He wrote about falling in love with five consecutive women he sees on a bus, who don’t notice him, concluding wryly: “It always ends up that way, you are left standing on a curb, sucking on a cigarette, mildly unhappy”. I loved his poem about a pen where he said: “Poetry is not for sissies / a poem must be a Dow Jones index / a mixture of reality and sheer bluff”. He congratulated SA on “moving in the right direction”, reading a poem he wrote about the country years ago, focussing on the “butterfly effect”, how a small change in one part of the world can create ripples far away. A pragmatic poet, Hav concluded: “if you want something said / you’ll have to say it yourself”. His last poem, concise, pointed, dealt with the end of Western society: “we’ll be gone / they’ll be gone / Hallelujah”.
Last up before the interval was beloved SA poet, Rustum Kozain. His poetry, a mixture of earnestness, passion and melancholia, never fails to cut to the quick. Reading a poem about his first lover, he referred to the “failed algorithms of heartbreak”. Although aware that “it’s not done to apostrophise some romantic absence”, he focussed on the perpetual presence of hurt, both politically (as in apartheid) and privately (romantically). He premiered two new poems not performed publicly before. The first one, “Gods of War”, inspired by a photograph of two sisters in contemporary Syria, was raw and intense, questioning the existence of God in a world tainted by the brutality of war. Kozain asked: “Who wants to rule this tired republic of shame and men in suits smirking / when God dies in Syria, where he was made / what does it matter?” His poetry evinces a visionary element, he is in search of something sacred, as revealed by the last poem he read, “Kingdom of Rain II”, from his second collection Groundwork. This poem shows ecological thinking as the poet explores his feeling of kinship with a leopard: “Yes, I want to let that leopard know / that it is part of me / and I am part of it / in all the ways that that could mean.”
After the interval, D’bi Young, a bold warrior poet from Jamaica (currently living in Cape Town), arrested the audience with her provocative poems about taboo topics, such as incest, slavery, HIV/AIDS and menstruation. Sounding a little like Joan Armatrading, she sang about her need for acceptance, and a revolution of love.
Closing the evening session was Tumi Molekane, a well-known SA rapper. Members of the audience, knew his songs by heart, interjected as he spoke about Gangsters: “this one’s a rebel / could kick start a coup d’etat”. Molekane was a performer with panache, thanking Peter Rorvik and the Centre for Creative Arts for “making me collide with all these intellectual people and sex-bombs”. He had the crowd up and dancing with his rendition of “I can’t decide if it’s the money”, before MC Carol Gumede wrapped up, thanking all the poets, and sending us home.
Much loved Thekwini musos Guy Buttery and Nibs van der Spuy, just back from a tour of Europe, provided the intro to the main event on the third evening of Poetry Africa 2012, their guitar work delicate and interesting as usual.
The first poet on stage, Tumelo Khoza, hails from Empangeni, and currently lives in Durban. Young, and confident, dressed simply in jeans and a T-shirt declaiming, “Poet”: Khoza has just returned from visiting Sweden, where she was hosted by the Ordsprak poets (also represented at Poetry Africa this year). Tumelo was inclusive in her delivery, inviting a guitarist to accompany her as she spoke her first poem “Black-padded bra”, then calling up two young male dancers to animate her poem “Democracy”. Feistily, she characterised “Democracy” as a vagrant “forever high on a spliff of our disjointed society…he’s a reflection of you and me”. Khoza’s poem about abortion was hard-hitting and deeply felt; she cried as she performed it. In a playful about-turn of gender roles, she summoned Ghanaian poet Nyii Ayikwei Parkes, on to stage, where she recited a remixed nursery rhyme, which, although a little strained, was admirable in its rendering of her as the active pursuer, and him as the passive recipient of her love interest. Her last poem, a direct address to Jacob Zuma, implored the President to acknowledge SA youth, asserting that “our silence is the cheapest gold”.
Following on from Khoza was a poet from Reunion, Gouslaye, who performed his poetry in Creole (it was translated on an overhead projector). His work was foreign, other: quite eerie, strange and philosophical. Speaking of “magic visions, I dream with eyes wide open”, he summoned up ethereal, occasionally bizarre, often fantastical images of a man wandering through nature. I wondered if the translator had got it wrong, naming Reunion the “barmy” island, or perhaps Gouslaye really did think the island induces madness? The music Gouslaye made with a piece of hosepipe whirled round his head added an element of melodrama.
Last up before interval, Philo Ikonya, a Kenyan poet, showed a strong rootedness in human rights activism. She said she was glad to have had the chance to get a suntan, and braided hair, from “fabulous” Durban. She refuted claims that an activist is like a “female Anopheles mosquito, a blood sucker looking for donor money”, instead noting that the “word is powerful / this optic fibre is here,” and emphasising her belief that a “person is a person because of other people”. Ikonya’s poem dedicated to the 44 miners killed at Marikana was hair-raising, as she brought the audience in to sing “Senzeni Na” (what have we done). Calling for better pay for miners, she said simply, but powerfully, “let us open up new ways/let the miners sing new songs”. In closing Ikonya said she had Mandela’s face in her mind as she performed that poem, she thanked the audience for singing and connected her with the feelings.
After the interval, SA musician Pedro Espi-Sanchez performed one song (played on a piece of Paw-paw sapling he had hollowed out as we watched), and then ushered in Xhosa matriarch and mouthbow player Madosini, in full traditional regalia. The audience ululated as she played songs she had learnt as a girl, which were anthropologically interesting as she revived a way of life gone by.
The last act for the night was Oliver Mtukudzi, a Zimbabwean legend. Strangely quite hesitant at first, the guitarist nevertheless had us in the palm of his hand as he played expertly, explaining: “Where I come from music is like food…also, we use it to diffuse tension”. He explained his world view “life is what you make it”. For me it was interesting to learn more about one of my favourite Mtukudzi songs, “What shall we do”. He explained that he wrote it to get his fellow Zimbabweans thinking about AIDS, saying he felt he had succeeded in making people listen.
Eventually Peter Rorvik, director of the Centre for Creative Arts, and all the poets joined Mtukudzi on stage, dancing as the audience stood up and clapped to the music.
The 16th annual Poetry Africa festival, organised by the Centre for Creative Arts, was opened on Monday evening with a ceremony featuring musical and poetry performances at the University of KwaZulu Natal’s Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre. Peter Rorvik, Director of the Centre for Creative Arts (who also celebrated his birthday at the event!), gave the opening speech, saying that “Culture feeds the soul of society and artists articulate the world around us”.
The host for the evening, Lebo Mashile, introduced performances by a host of international and local poets, including Swedish slam-poet Henry Bowers, American poet and musician Saul Stacey Williams, Jamaican dub poet D’bi Young, Canadian-born poet Croc e Moses, Niels Hav from Denmark, Philo Ikonya from Kenya, Tolu Ogunlesi from Nigeria, Nii Ayikwei Parkes from Ghana, as well as our own Rustum Kozain, Tumelo Khoza (the youngest poet in the line-up), praise poet Jessica Mbangeni and spoken word artist Ewok.
Music was provided by Zimbabwean musician Oliver Mtukudzi, Mbali Vilakazi and Madala and Zos Kunene.
Wanda Henning took photos at the event. View the slideshow:
The closing night of the 15th Time of the Writer Festival was played in by husband and wife guitar duo, Rick and Gill Andrew. Andrew had launched his brand new book, Guitar Road, at the Wellington Tavern, an hour previously.
Wanner began by asking Jele if she is as forgiving as her protagonists, to which Jele replied that she is not, and that her characters’ empathy is plot-driven. Similarly, Moele denied that the protagonist of Room 207 is based on him. When asked if he believed that writers should write full-time, Moele responded that he became known as “the hobo with the manuscript” in his community as writers are not regarded as “normal”. Jele revealed that she recently quit her 9-to-5 job, not so that she can write full-time, but to start a business as a management consultant. However, she does find that her new occupation affords her more time to write.
The conversation became impassioned when Wanner asked Moele and Jele what they thought authors should be doing to encourage South Africans to read. Jele summed it up neatly when she said that authors must “write for ourselves. The financial gains are secondary. We must get people interested in reading”. One of the session’s most interesting questions came from a woman in the audience who asked about the pirating of books, and whether the authors thought this would be a way of reaching more people. She won a set of Moele and Jele’s books as a spot prize.
After a brief interval, the crowd gathered again for a session on Reggae writing. Nigeria’s Chris Abani facilitated a stimulating discussion between Jamaican authors Kwame Dawes and Colin Channer. When asked about the aesthetics of Reggae, Channer spoke about the symbolism of the Rasta, who is “small but has the power to resist”. Dawes added that Rastas have constructed a positive bridge to Africa.
Channer continued, saying that Reggae has “freed us up” to write the Jamaican voice authentically, with nuance. He said that the development of Reggae created a narrative model which incorporated erotic, tragic and philosophical aspects, without conflict. Abani asked Dawes how he felt about Reggae as poetic form, to which Dawes answered that Reggae is his “drum and bass”; it is both foundational and transformative.
It then emerged that Dawes and Channer both taught Abani at a series of “Afro-style” writing workshops in London, something which explained the warmth with which the trio communicated.
Dawes advised an aspirant writer in the audience to “treat your books as you would treat a child – giving it the best shot in life, forgetting yourself”. Channer said that, for him, writing a book “is about love, if you love it you will stay with it through good and bad”. Channer surprised his audience by claiming that the writing and revision advice came from his dentist, who described how he was going to file Channer’s tooth down to the gum before building it up again.
Channer concluded the session with a second quote, this time from Nobel Laureate VS Naipaul, who famously declared that “you write a novel one good sentence at time”.
In celebration of Human Rights Day, Wednesday’s Time of the Writer sessions took place under the banner of “Human Writes”. The host for the evening was Lebo Mashile, who commented on how participants Chris Abani and Ronnie Kasrils share an interest in social justice, and use writing as a “tool, a weapon, a form of healing”.
Kasrils spoke about his memory of Sharpeville Day, which he said compelled him to give up his job as a budding scriptwriter and come to Durban, where he met his future wife, Eleanor, the subject of his award-winning book The Unlikely Secret Agent. Kasrils read an excerpt from the book, which described the shocking violence that Eleanor witnessed when arrested by the Special Branch under the Sabotage Act, and sent to Fort Napier, a hospital for the “criminally insane”. Kasrils noted that Eleanor, despite being physically small, found the emotional strength to face torture and survive. Kasrils said that it was through writing The Unlikely Secret Agent that he came to realise just how tough women are.
Mashile noted that Abani also focuses on powerful women in his writing. She pointed out that the protagonist in his book The Virgin of Flames has a secret desire to be a woman, appearing to his community as the Virgin Mary. Abani spoke about the inspiration given him by his mother, who, despite being a staunch Catholic was also an early feminist. According to Abani, the history of Nigerian activism lies with women, “women lead the revolution in Africa, men just turn up for the photo opportunities”.
Mashile addressed Kasrils and Abani with the question, “What happens to a country that loses its memory?”. Kasrils responded with a quote from Milan Kundera, who said that “the struggle against tyranny is the struggle of memory against forgetting”. He noted that it is important for South Africans to remember that the people in the armed struggle were in it for the “greater good” and not for personal gain. A young man in the audience asked Kasrils what South Africa’s prospects are “moving forwards”. He said he was not altogether pessimistic, but that SA would need to find a way to fight “the poison of corruption, while building civil society”.
Abani, a frequent visitor to South Africa, spoke of the challenges of the middle class. People “want trappings of wealth, while the infrastructure to provide this is missing”, he said. He noted that, while many black leaders have pushed socialist agendas, they “couldn’t deliver on a capitalist system”. Abani did, however, praise South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, saying it is something that even the US has not managed to achieve. He called on South Africans to be “peaceful, like the Yoruba”.
After a brief interval, Abani and Mashile were joined on stage by David wa Maahmela and Kwame Dawes. The four performed a selection of their own poems in commemoration of World Poetry Day. Mashile’s mesmerising delivery of a paean to South Africa was a suitably forceful conclusion to a fascinating evening.
The 15th Time of the Writer International Writers Festival opened last night to a packed auditorium at Durban’s Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre. The evening was hosted by Karabo Kgoleng, Books Editor of the City Press.
Peter Rorvik, director of the festival’s founding body, the Centre for Creative Arts, began the evening by speaking about the importance of fighting censorship. He noted that free speech is a right which needs to be nurtured and that the arts must contribute to the creation of a vibrant civil society. Rorvik reminded his audiece that the right to freedom of speech is under threat as the government pushes for the passing of the Protection of State Information Bill.
Nigerian author Chris Abani continued where Rorvik left off, arguing that it would be a shame for South Africa to lose, in this way, all the gains it won during its transition to democracy. Abani, author of such novels as Graceland and Song for the Night, reflected on the role of writers as “curators of humanity”. Kgoleng concurred, saying that it’s a sad irony that South Africa is “fighting for its constitution, instead of celebrating it”. Pertinently, in addition to celebrating 15 years of South Africa’s Constitution, 2012 also marks 15 years of Time of the Writer. Time of the Writer, noted Kgoleng, is as old as our constitution.
When Libya’s Ibrahim al-Koni took to the stage, he explained his belief that he writes to “save” his people, the Tuareg. Meanwhile, Sefi Atta, a Nigerian author currently living in the US, mentioned how she is less afraid of government response to her writing than she is of criticism from her community, which she described as being quite conservative. However, Atta also noted that fear of repercussions should not hold writers back – African writers are “changing the world”, she said.
Jamaica’s Colin Channer followed Atta, taking a fairly different approach. He performed a poem in Jamaican Creole which had, as its subject, the experience of being in South Africa. Channer’s poem was translated for the audience by Kwame Dawes, author of Wheels, who concluded that South Africa represents “everything about struggle and identity”.
Next up was Ronnie Kasrils, winner of last year’s Sunday Times Alan Paton Award for The Unlikely Secret Agent. Kasrils returned the discussion to the Protection of Information Bill, which he referred to as “a dog’s breakfast of toxic gruel”. For Kasrils, it is imperative that the controversial bill contain a Public Interest Defence clause and that South Africa continue to be a “torch-bearer” for human rights.
Assuming a more personal tone, Shubnum Khan spoke about the role of a writer and how it is both “humbling and terrifying to realise that the things I write can affect people”. Literature, according to Khan, is fragile and can easily be destroyed if not fought for. Ghana’s Benjamin Kwakye, author of Eyes of the Slain Woman, reiterated the view that writers must challenge tyranny and oppression.
Jassy Mackenzie delivered a short explanation as to why she writes crime fiction. Mackenzie argued that crime fiction, which negotiates the “fine line between order and violence”, helps her to explore the concept of “the city” in a new way. Chris Marnewick, a Durbanite now living in New Zealand, spoke about writers as an “endangered species”. He believes that the writer’s job is to expose what people want to hide. Unlike Mackenzie, Marnewick was adamant that he is not a crime writer. His novels are steeped in politics; they are about state crimes.
Leila Marouane, an Algerian author based in France, followed Marnewick, giving an account of why she gave up writing overtly political books, and now writes about sex. Marouane warmed the hearts of audience members by reading the affectionate inscription Lewis Nkosi addressed to her in her copy of Mating Birds. She said that it was Nkosi’s writing that first formulated her impression of the city of Durban. Thando Mgqolozana and Kgebetli Moele followed on from Marouane. Mgqolozana emphasised the importance of reading, while Moele gave an account of why he writes.
Yewande Omotoso, author of Bom Boy, read from Martin Carter’s “A mouth is always muzzled”, a poem she always returns to when she feels “despairing”. Omotoso said that, while she thinks writing may be able to save the world, it is not doing so fast enough. Echoing the words of David wa Maahlamela, who spoke about the importance of maintaining a connection with indigenous languages, Dumisane Sibiya reflected on how these languages become “infantilised” as a result of publishing pressures and limited resources.
Last to speak was Egyptian writer Bahaa Taher, author of Sunset Oasis. Baheer spoke about the difficulties that Egyptians are facing post-Tahrir, especially now that it is becoming clear that the Arab Spring has not been completely successful. Taher’s impassioned address neatly rounded off a series of interesting reflections by a diverse range of voices.
The written word will envelop Durban as 18 writers from around South Africa, Africa and abroad, gather for a thought-provoking week of literary dialogue, exchange of ideas and stimulating discussion at the 15th Time of the Writer International Writers Festival (19-24 March). The festival, which is hosted by the Centre for Creative Arts (University of KwaZulu-Natal), with principal support by National Lottery Distribution Fund, will feature a diverse gathering of leading novelists, short story writers, poets and crime writers.
Following the opening night where all participating writers make brief presentations at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre, pairings of writers will engage each evening, Tuesday to Saturday, in readings and discussions that provide insight into their opinions, experiences and the creative processes that inform their work.
Bookended by a powerful Arab-African and Caribbean presence, the essential thread running through the festival is prominently African. Tuesday 20th March will feature two giants of Arab-African literature. Egyptian novelist Bahaa Taher was one of the notable writers of Gallery 68, a movement which sought to challenge literature politics of the time. As a social commentator and storyteller, Taher lost his job in radio broadcasting and was prevented from publishing in the mid 1970s during Sadat’s rule in Egypt. Winner of numerous awards, Taher received the inaugural International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2008. The highly prolific author Ibrahim Al-Koni, spent his childhood amongst the Tuareg people in the desert region of Libya. Astoundingly, Al-Koni has published more than 80 books, including over 50 novels, numerous essays, short stories and non-fiction. With his works translated into more than 40 languages, Al-Koni has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the Arabic Novel Award in 2010.
Tuesday also presents Durban-based Shubnum Khan, whose debut Onion Tears, which deals with the pertinent themes of life, love and loss, through the eyes of three Indian Muslim women, was shortlisted for the Penguin Prize for African Writing in 2011. Joining her in the panel discussion entitled Spaces and Places is fellow first-time author, Nigerian-born Yewande Omotoso, whose Bom Boy beautifully zooms in on the nuances of a single human life. Music by Zulu sitar player Patrick Ngcobo will commence the evening proceedings at 19h30. Book launches take place at the Sneddon’s Wellington Tavern deck prior to the evening shows, from 18h45. The first book launch of the festival is Africa Inside Out: Stories, Tales and Testimonies, edited by Michael Chapman, a collaborative venture with UKZN press featuring 20 innovative short stories by authors who were previous participants in the Time of the Writer.
March 21 is Human Rights Day in South Africa, and this evening’s line-up boasts authors whose works are profoundly infused with a political consciousness and resonant with the spirit of the good fight for freedom. Chris Abani is a Nigerian author and poet, whose 2004 novel GraceLand enjoyed widespread acclaim, and was followed by The Virgin of Flames in 2007. This popular TED speaker is recipient of numerous awards including a Guggenheim Award in 2009. Written by former Deputy Minister of Defence, Minister of Water Affairs, and Minister of Intelligence Services, Ronnie Kasrils, and inspired by the extraordinarily courageous life of his late wife, The Unlikely Secret Agent was the Sunday Times Alan Paton Award winner in 2011. Kasils is also author of the bestselling autobiography, Armed and Dangerous (1993). Kasrils and Abani will feature in a panel entitled Human Writes Day.
Benjamin Kwakye is a notable contemporary Ghanaian literary voice whose books have received numerous awards. Kwakye is not only an award-winning novelist, but works as an in-house legal counsel. On Thursday 22 March Kwakye is paired with Durban-based Thando Mgqolozana in a discussion Transforming old contexts into new. Mgqolozana’s debut A Man Who is Not a Man, the controversial story about a botched circumcision, enjoyed critical success in this country. His equally well-acclaimed book of 2011, Hear Me Alone, narrates an alternative and locally-contextualised account of the birth of the Messiah.
The booming genre of South African crime fiction takes to the stage in the evening’s second panel discussion, featuring self-confessed thriller and mystery addict, Jassy Mackenzie, whose first novel Random Violence shortlisted for Best First Book in the Commonwealth Writers Prize, Africa region in 2009. Mackenzie, who has since written two further crime thrillers, is joined in a panel titled Crime Scene, by advocate/author Chris Marnewick. Marnewick’s first attempt at creative writing culminated in Shepherds & Butchers, which earned him the K Sello Duiker Prize at the South African Literary Awards, and he has since produced three other works, and will launch his latest Clarence van Buuren: Die Man Agter die Donkerbril, the same night.
Following pantsula dance by the Benga Boyz and the presentation of prizes to winners of the schools short story competition, the first session on Friday 23 March will interrogate the topical issues around Writing in my own Tongue. Winner of the 2010/2011 PanSALB Multilingualism Award, poet and prose writer David wa Maahlamela, writes mainly in Sepedi and English. His first novel Sejamoledi, is a Sanlam Prize for Youth Literature finalist. Also writing predominantly in his vernacular of isiZulu, is Dumisani Sibiya. Sibiya has published numerous novels, collections of short stories and poetry collections. His third novel, Ngiyolibala Ngifile, was awarded the gold prize during the Sanlam Youth Literature Awards in 2010 and the K Sello Duiker Memorial Literary Award in 2011.
The final session on Friday opens up the discussion Outside Looking In with two writers Sefi Atta and Leïla Marouane, both born in Africa, now living outside the continent, but whose writing continues to deals strongly with African context. Nigerian author, short-story writer and playwright Sefi Atta’s debut novel Everything Good Will Come received the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa In 2008, and her collection of short stories, News From Home, received the Noma Award for Publishing in Africa in 2009. Leïla Marouane was born in Algeria and now lives in France. The author of several novels and a collection of short stories, Marouane’s works have strong feminist underpinnings, dealing with the oppression of women in her native country. Her latest novel is the provocatively titled The Sexual Life of an Islamist in Paris.
The Saturday evening book launch is Guitar Road, the 3rd book by Rick Andrew, this one self published. Music and song by Rick and Gill Andrew will preceed the discussion Inner City Stories featuring Cynthia Jele and Kgebetli Moele. Jele’s debut novel Happiness is Four-Letter Word – centred on love and female friendships in suburban Johannesburg – earned her the Best First Book Commonwealth Writers Prize, and the 2011 M-Net Literary Award in the Film category, as the book that showed the greatest potential for translation onto screen. Centred on the lives of six young black South African men struggling to realise their dreams in South Africa’s ‘city of gold’ Room 207 Kgebetli Moele’s debut novel him the 2007 Herman Charles Award. Moele’s second book, The Book of the Dead, received the 2010 South African Literary Award.
With Jamaican writers, Kwame Dawes and Colin Channer, egged on by Chris Abani, in the final session Roots, Reggae and Writing, audiences can expect a rousing closing of the festival A critically-acclaimed novelist, poet and playwright, Ghanian/Jamaican Dawes is the author of over thirty books, and widely recognized as one of the leading writers to have emerged out of the Caribbean. Channer is head honcho of the legendary Calabash International Literary Festival, co-founded alongside Dawes. Channer’s 1998 Waiting in Vain was described by the Washington Post as “a clear redefinition of the Carribean novel”.
In addition to the nightly showcases at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre, a broad range of day activities in the form of seminars and workshops are formulated to promote a culture of reading, writing and creative expression. This includes the educators Forum Forum with teachers on the implementation of literature in the classroom, visits to over 25 schools, and a prison writing programme. Another development component of the festival is the Schools Writing Competition which accepts entries in English, Zulu, and Afrikaans.
Tickets are R25 for the evening sessions, R10 for students, and can be purchased through Computicket or at the door one hour before the event. Workshops and seminars are free. The full programme of activities, biographies, and photos of participants is available on www.cca.ukzn.ac.za. For more information contact the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Centre for Creative Arts on 031 260 2506/1816 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also on offer is a free Poetry Writing Workshop with Kwame Dawes and a seminar on the Kenyan Trials by Shailja Patel.
Using writing exercises and communal critiques, the workshop with Kwame Dawes will explore issues of form, content, and sentiment within the larger context of the work of established writers from various literary traditions, but especially those of Africa and the Diaspora. Participants should bring pen and paper, and a copy of a poem written by a poet they admire. Kwame Dawes is an acclaimed writer of fiction, nonfiction, plays, and a prolific sixteen collections of poetry. He is also an actor, producer, an accomplished storyteller, broadcaster, and was the lead singer in Ujamaa, a reggae band. Winner of a Pushcart Prize, Kwame Dawes is Distinguished Poet in Residence at the University of South Carolina where he directs the SC Poetry Initiative and the University of South Carolina Arts Institute. He is also the programming director of the Calabash International Literary Festival in Jamaica. The workshop is hosted at Goethe Institute, 119 Jan Smuts Avenue, Parkwood, at 5:30 pm on Monday 10 October – visit www.goethe.de/southafrica for more information or call 011 442 3232.
Shailja Patel’s seminar Seen And Unseen: Windows On The ICC-Kenya Trials will unpack one of the most important stories in Kenya’s history that is playing out now, in real time, in the chambers and corridors of the International Criminal Court. This story encompasses all the other narratives, of land, ethnicity, power, dynastic politics, going back to the formation of the Kenyan state. Kenya’s future as a nation hangs in the balance – the seminar questions whether the cycle of impunity will finally be broken? Shailja Patel is a founding member of Kenyans For Peace, Truth and Justice, the civil society coalition that pulled Kenya back from the brink of civil war in 2008. Her poems have won awards on 3 continents, and been translated into 15 languages. In 2011, she was named one of Fifty Inspirational African Feminists by the African Women’s Development Fund, and she has been selected by Poetry Africa as the 2011 Letters To Dennis Brutus poet for 2011. This seminar takes place in the Graduate Seminar room, South-West Engineering building, Wits East Campus from 16:00 – 17:00 on Tuesday 11 October. Enquiries can be made to 011 717 4051.
The Poetry Africa tour also travels to Malawi, Zimbabwe, and Cape Town before culminating at the main Poetry Africa festival in Durban (17-22 October). See www.cca.ukzn.ac.za for more information.
Despite the bright supermoon that hung toothsomely over the city of Durban last night, the fourteenth Time of the Writer festival came to its denouement without yelps and howls – except for the howls of laughter that Chris van Wyk elicited from the audience at regular intervals, during his panel with Njabulo Ndebele and Etienne van Heerden. No lunatics at the Elizabeth Sneddon, then – just a goodly crowd of literature lovers assembled in a temporary theatre of ideas.
The evening opened with a discussion that was meant to address “the pen as a weapon against war”, but proved more interesting as an exploration of how the two writers in the spotlight, Thorsten Schulz of Germany and Boubacar Boris Diop of Senegal, contextualise themselves as artists. Schulz, who is also a filmmaker, told panel moderator Lindy Stiebel that he was surprised to find himself scheduled to speak about war – “Perhaps it’s because I’m a German?”. He doesn’t completely buy into the idea of “art as a weapon”, finding that it has so many more non-coercive uses. His concern is the poetic, and while there is such a thing as a poetics of war, they are subject, like all poetics, to the poetics of truth, which is the most fertile territory of all for an artist.
Diop, meanwhile, spent much of his time describing a “war of languages” in Senegal, waged among speakers of Wolof, Fula, other local tongues and French. Diop writes his fiction in Wolof first, then translates it. He called his countrymen and women “half-lingual”, rather than bi-; they’re caught between their home languages and French’s pull, although the latter is gradually diminishing, yielding to what Diop named as a nascent “Wolof imperialism”. To counter the rise of Wolof at the expense of other languages, Diop has founded a half-Wolof, half-Fula newspaper, and is involved with a literary award that rotates among several tongues. Writing in Wolof, said Diop, was writing on the “right side of history”: his books will always be accessible for his children and grandchildren and generations beyond.
After the interval, Ndebele, van Wyk and van Heerden took the stage to a big cheer, a show of friendly partisanship from the audience for three South African heavy-hitters. The panel was titled “Re-inventing memory through literature”, and Ndebele expertly guided us on a tour of the alchemical processes in his colleagues’ minds, which make books out of memory.
For van Heerden, turning characters from his childhood into slightly different but nonetheless recognisable characters in his fiction is an act of “lifting the lid” on a time of muteness. What he writes, he says, is actually counter-history, or counter-memory, the opening up and unfolding of things that were never spoken of, only experienced in secret, compacted ways. He read a passage from 30 Nights in Amsterdam that left the audience breathless and disturbed. It was certainly the most powerful reading I heard at my two days at the festival, and moved 30 Nights right to the top of my reading list.
Van Wyk, of course, offered up his life as a joyous sacrifice for us to feast upon, which we did, laughter dripping down our happy muzzles like mutton fat. His wife was sitting right next to me – and he had her in stitches, too, reading from his memoir, Eggs to Lay, Chickens to Hatch and recounting episodes from his childhood in Riverlea. Making your wife laugh hard enough to cry after all these years: the very definition of irrepressible!