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Archive for the ‘Africa’ Category

Slideshow and Tweets from the Opening Night of Poetry Africa 2012 in Durban

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”.

In a Ribbon of RhythmConquest and ConvivialityThe Makings of YouTail of the Blue BirdGroundwork

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.

ChorusThe Dead Emcee ScrollsRivers...and Other Blackness...Between UsLeading the Night

Wanda Henning took photos at the event. View the slideshow:

Poetry Africa tweeted from the event:

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Image courtesy Examiner

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Writers Consider the Love of Writing at the Close of Time of the Writer 2012

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.

South African writer Zukiswa Wanner facilitated the first session, a conversation between Cynthia Jele, author of Happiness is a Four-Letter Word, and Kgebetli Moele, author of Room 207 and The Book of the Dead. Although the theme for the discussion was “Inner City Stories”, the writers adeptly tackled a range of subjects.

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.

Men of the SouthHappiness is a Four-Letter WordRoom 207The Book of the DeadGracelandSong for the NightWheelsWaiting in Vain

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”.

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Tweets from the closing night:

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Photo courtesy Time of the Writer on Facebook

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Time of the Writer 2012: Writers Celebrate Human Rights Day

Lebo Mashile and Shubnum Khan

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”.

In a Ribbon of RhythmGracelandThe Unlikely Secret AgentKasrils 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.

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A selection of Time of the Writer tweets:

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Writers Address Free Speech at the Opening of Time of the Writer 2012

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.

Clarence van Buuren: Die man agter die donker brilOnion TearsThe AnimistsWaiting in VainHear Me AloneBom BoyA Sailor's HonourSwallowHappiness is a Four-Letter Word

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.

GracelandWheelsThe Unlikely Secret AgentEyes of the Slain WomanWorst CaseThe Sexual Life of an Islamist in ParisThe Book of the DeadSunset OasisNgiyolibala ngifile

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.

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Tweets from the opening night:

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Photo by Sarah Dawson courtesy Time of the Writer on Facebook

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Complete Programme: 2012 Time of the Writer Festival (19-24 March)

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.

Sunset OasisThe AnimistsOnion TearsBom BoyAfrica Inside OutGracelandThe Unlikely Secret Agent

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.

In 1999, March 21 was declared World Poetry Day as a day set aside each year to promote the reading, writing, publishing and teaching of poetry throughout the world. Accordingly, the evening’s second session features special poetry performances by festival participants, Chris Abani, Kwame Dawes and David wa Maahlamela, alongside the enigmatic Lebo Mashile. Saxophonist Mfana Mlambo will spark up the ambience at the beginning of the evening. In keeping with the Human Rights theme three books published by Human Rights Media will be launched prior to the show: Looking Inside: Five South African stories of people with albinism; Then Light Went Black: Six South African stories of people who went blind; and Lifelines: Six South African stories of people with congenital blindness.

WheelsMoswarataukamaririIn a Ribbon of RhythmLooking InsideThe Light Went BlackLifelinesThe Other CrucifixHear Me Alone

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.

Worst CaseA Sailor's HonourNgiyolibala ngifileSwallowHappiness is a Four-Letter WordThe Book of the DeadWaiting in Vain

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 For more information contact the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Centre for Creative Arts on 031 260 2506/1816 or e-mail

Organised by the Centre for Creative Arts (University of KwaZulu-Natal), the 15th Time of the Writer festival is supported by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund (principal funder), the French Institute of South Africa, Pro-Helvetia Arts Council of Switzerland, Goethe Institut of South Africa, City of Durban, Adams Campus Books, Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre and the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Programme: 2012 Time of the Writer Festival

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Image courtesy the CCA

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Poetry Africa Workshop and Kenya Seminar

Poetry Africa hits Johannesburg for a one-off showcase on 11 October at Alexander Theatre with a star-studded lineup of poets and musicians which includes Chris Abani (Nigeria), Didier Awadi (Senegal), Chiwoniso (Zimbabwe), Kwame Dawes (Ghana/Jamaica), TJ Dema (Botswana), Khadijatou (UK), Myesha Jenkins, Lebo Mashile, Oswald Mtshali and Shailja Patel (Kenya). The event is organised by the Centre for Creative Arts (University of KwaZulu-Natal), and supported by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund (principal funder), Mimeta, and Hivos.

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 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 for more information.

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No Lunatics at the Time of the Writer Finale

Thorsten Schulz, translator, Boubacar Boris Diop, Lindy Stiebel @ TOW

Special to the CCA blog by Ben Williams

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.

MurambiThe 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.

#tow2011 At school, Schulz was exposed to an ‘anti-fascist’ writer who advocated the idea of ‘art as a weapon’, but he didn’t fully buy it.less than a minute ago via Twitter for iPad

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.

#tow2011 A note on translation: Diop said he got the knack once he learned that translation involves not moving from one language to anotherless than a minute ago via Twitter for iPad

#tow2011 …but from playing with two different *texts* and gradually drawing, nudging them closer to each other. Interesting thought.less than a minute ago via Twitter for iPad

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Peter Rorvik, Etienne van Heerden, Njabulo Ndebele, Chris van Wyk @ TOW

Eggs to Lay, Chickens to Hatch30 Nights in AmsterdamAfter 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.

#tow2011 It’s quite a harrowing passage, describing the disposal of the aunt’s lover’s murdered body. Audience is dead still.less than a minute ago via Twitter for iPad

#tow2011 ‘He fries to a crozzle and the skull of my lover bursts open like a boiled cabbage’ – van Heerdenless than a minute ago via Twitter for iPad

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!

#tow2011 Lovely long rambling story from van Wyk punctuated by a description of Verwoerd as ‘just an old fucking bastard’.less than a minute ago via Twitter for iPad

Ndebele drew the evening – and the festival – to a close with a rather magnificent meditiation on the past, the future, the present – and writers’ places in each:

#tow2011 Ndebele concludes: great transitions, such as SA’s, can actually destroy memory by getting us to focus on the futureless than a minute ago via Twitter for iPad

#tow2011 …but the past will always keep calling us to attend to it, which is dangerous, as it can lead to abandonment of vision…less than a minute ago via Twitter for iPad

#tow2011 …and a confused present. And in a confused present, we risk losing both the past and the future. But through books, literature…less than a minute ago via Twitter for iPad

#tow2011 …we can bring them back.less than a minute ago via Twitter for iPad

After the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre went dark, all that remained was to head to beach and raise a glass by the light of the supermoon:

Lauren Beukes, Petina Gappah @ TOW

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Writers on Racism and Sexism at the 2011 Time of the Writer

Andrew Oken, Anthony Ojowe, Mike Mwale, Petina Gappah and Ethel Chingu

Special to the CCA blog by Sarah Frost

An Elegy for EasterlyThe first half of Wednesday night’s Time of the Writer Evening Session was ably chaired by Sarah Nuttall, who asked probing questions that got Petina Gappah (Zimbabwe) and Ellen Banda-Aaku (Zambia) talking in constructive ways. When asked about how she foregrounds character in her short stories, Gappah responded that her collection An Elegy for an Easterly is currently being translated into Tswana, Venda and Shona and that the stories have been given characters’ names as titles. She said for her focusing on character is a way of writing ‘big’ short stories.

Responding to Nuttall’s question of how she writes about ‘the ordinary’, while bringing in the element of the ‘spectacular,’ Gappah explained that she had tried to write ‘the Great Zim novel’ but that it didn’t work. She prefers to tell ordinary stories as a way into the extraordinary. She noted how useful ‘eavesdropping’ is for her, in order to gather new material.

Ellen Banda-Aaku spoke of growing up in Lusaka in Zambia, and of how when Zimbabwean military squads came in and bombed freedom fighters’ houses there, she and her siblings still had to dress and go to school – she reminded the audience that in the midst of political turmoil, ordinary life must go on, emphasising that literature must reflect this.

Nuttall noted that both writers’ texts evince an “ascerbic, even caustic, wit”. Gappah recognises that “the world is a very strange place,” and tries to capture that in her writing. In contrast, Banda-Aaku said she was not even aware that she wrote in such a way.

Gappah is at present unable to write about Zimbabwe. She wrote An Elegy for an Easterly while working as a trade lawyer in Switzerland. She noted that distance gives perspective. She is currently writing a book that she says has “nothing to do with Zimbabwe”. Banda-Aaku said the literary culture in Zambia is quite stagnant. She said a fresh mindset was needed at all education levels. She called for a stronger feminist approach towards writing in order to change patriarchal attitudes.

On the topic of Feminism, Nuttall asked Gappah why she so admires Michelle Obama. Her response was that “she’s a brilliant, stylish woman”. More soberingly, and possibly more substantially, Ellen Banda-Aaku reminded us that Michelle Obama has the benefit of a platform that many equally capable black women do not have. The two writers embraced before Nuttall thanked them for their contributions to what was a fruitful discussion.

Sally Howes, Kerry Cullinan and Sarah Nuttall

Fine Lines from the BoxJohannesburgThe tone was somewhat more elevated after the interval as Karabo Kgoleng invited esteemed academics Professors Njabulo Ndebele and Achille Mbembe to talk about “literature as a country’s conscience”. Ndebele make the solid point that he is “tired of racism”, referring, more specifically, to the furore at the University of the Orange Free State. He argued that the OFS occurrence was not an issue of racism, but one of “how to raise kids to behave properly”.

Kgoleng then asked Ndebele and Mbembe their opinions on a quote from Che Guevara that states “Revolution is inspired by love”. Ndebele said that, for him, love was “a dangerous word, in that it can be both trite, and profound”. He said one should care first for the citizens of one’s country, rather than the political party one belongs to. He called for a system of electoral representation, rather than party representation “so that we can choose excellent leaders”.

Mbembe said he believed the role of the arts is “to testify to that which is emerging, pointing to possibilities of what might be, premised on love and an ethics of care – the belief that each life counts and must be protected against premature unjustified death”. He said we have to learn to close the gap between life and text, and that listening was an important tool for doing this.

Questions from audience members followed the discussion, responding to Kgoleng’s plea to “tweet it, but on the mike”.

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Deconstructing the “Inner City” at the 2011 Time of the Writer

Achille Mbembe, Marie Darrieussecque, Boris Diop, Lauren Beukes

Special to the CCA blog by Sarah Frost

The Lotus PeopleZoo CityKicking off the evening event for Tuesday at the Time of the Writer 2011, chair Achille Mbembe, from Cameroon, asked South African writers Lauren Beukes and Aziz Hassim to define the “inner city” that appears in their fiction. It soon became apparent that the urban areas they depict in their texts – Beukes’ Hillbrow (as rendered in her novel Zoo City), and Hassim’s Casbah (as described in his novel The Lotus People) – are quite different phenomenae.

Hassim’s novel has a strong nostalgic quality, while Beukes brings in fantastical elements (there are magical creatures in her version of the city). At the same time her work as a journalist for the last 12 years has made her anchor her writing in the real, albeit subverted in interesting ways.

Beukes said she wanted to write about the city because “it interested her more than the hidden cosy enclaves of the suburbs”. She said she found Johannesburg’s ‘breakpoints’ fascinating, in that it is in these troubled, vibrant “ghetto” spaces that people make their lives, and come to terms with what haunts them. She emphasised that she sees Hillbrow as a “vital ambitious community”, not a “desperate slum”.

Hassim said he feels that writing about where he’s from (he grew up in Durban’s Casbah) is not fiction, it is more like documentary work. He spoke of the Casbah as a place where everybody was a “broer”, where race was not an issue, where the community insisted on keeping things safe. For this listener, he came across as romanticising a time past, which made his description less credible. He mentioned that each city has its ‘own ethos,’ saying that Durban’s allowed for ‘anonymity’.

Beukes alluded to a discussion with Ben Williams, editor of BOOK SA, who believes that the time of the “introspective white man’s pastoral” in SA has passed, to be replaced by writing that describes the intense teeming life of cities. She apologised to any JM Coetzee fans in the audience.

Mbembe summed up the debate succinctly, saying it is clear that current fiction about the inner city portrays it as a space of fragility, vulnerability and potentiality.

Aziz Hassim, Thayalan Reddy

EntanglementThe Value of NothingNext up were two authors who, in this listener’s opinion, did not really connect. Sarah Nuttall, cultural theorist, whose most recent book is called Entanglement, challenged Raj Patel, whose book Stuffed and Starved deals with global food policy, to move past the ‘bankrupt’ idea of ‘revelatory academic critique’ towards one of ‘critical intimacy’ with the reader that will enable them to make change possible.

Nuttall said although people have learned, through social media, to deconstruct their worlds, “we are still not affective”. To me, Patel did not seem to be disagreeing with Nuttall at all, arguing for the “radically democratic idea that pleasure needs to be democratised” – for instance peoples’ enjoyment of “slow food”. I did not see him as punting himself as an “intellectual unravelling truth”, as Nuttall labelled him. (One also had a hard time agreeing with Nuttall’s description of herself as a “deep dilettante”.)

Richard Pithouse, from the Rhodes Philosophy Department, did a good job of holding the at times fragmented conversation together, concluding with an interesting banner held up in Tahrir Square that read “I used to watch TV, now TV watches us”.

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The 2010 Poetry Africa Lineup (PLUS: Poetry Africa on Tour to Cape Town, Harare and Blantyre!)


Poetry AfricaPoets from around South Africa, Africa and the world will descend on Durban for an exhilarating rollercoaster of words, rhythms and ideas at the 14th Poetry Africa international poetry festival, which takes place from 4 to 9 October. Organised by the Centre for Creative Arts (University of KwaZulu-Natal), and with principal support from the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, Poetry Africa’s exciting week-long programme is preceded by a three-stop Poetry Africa tour to Cape Town, Zimbabwe and Malawi.

Over twenty poets from twelve different countries will feature in the main Durban programme and the full lineup will each present an introductory poem on The Opening Night of the festival (4 October, Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre), providing an ideal précis of the diverse voices the public can expect during the rest of the week. The week will thereafter feature 5 poets every evening, through to 8 October, before the rousing Festival Finale at the BAT Centre on 9 October. Each evening at the Sneddon Theatre will begin with curtain-raising performances by poets representing the various active Durban poetry circles. Another unique aspect of this year’s festival is the residency of Concord Nkabinde and Erik Paliani. Nkabinde, an acclaimed bass guitarist who has performed with the likes of Johnny Clegg, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Ray Phiri, Phil Manzaniera, Zim Ngqawana, Darius Brubeck, Deepak Ram and many others, will collaborate with Malawian producer, musician and singer-songwriter Erik Paliani in nightly musical curtain-raisers. Nkabinde and Paliani’s passion for collaboration provides the perfect metaphor for the cross-cultural artistic meetings that Poetry Africa seeks to stimulate.

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Announcing Poetry Africa on Tour: Cape Town, Harare, Blantyre

Poetry Africa on Tour is an effort to celebrate poetry with ever-wider constituencies and to stimulate meaningful cultural exchange between artists, audiences and countries. With the support of the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund (principal funder), Mimeta and Pro-Helvetia Arts Council of Switzerland, the 2010 tour kicks off at the Cape Town ICC on Sunday 26th September, featuring Frank Chipasula, Mama C, Lebo Mashile, Gcina Mhlophe, Mutabaruka, Barolong Seboni, Pitika Ntuli, includes musicians Concord Nkabinde and Eric Palliani and a unique collaboration between Comrade Fatso (Zimbabwe) and Ewok (South Africa). With the exception of Mhlophe and Ewok, and with the addition of Ngwatilo Mawiyoo, the tour continues with shows at Manneberg and Book Café in Harare on 28th and 29th, before being part of the Blantyre Arts Festival in Malawi on 1st October. In each of the centres the tour will also showcase local poets, and incorporate workshops, discussions and engagements with artists and cultural activists.

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The broad selection of poetic voices, forms, and cultures at the festival includes the vivid verse of Frank Chipasula (Malawi). Apart from poetry, the BBC Poetry Prize winning and twice Pushcart Prize-nominated Chipasula is also a widely-respected writer, academic and editor. The African lineup also includes Kenyan Ngwatilo Mawiyoo, a poet whose intelligence and subtlety is abundantly evident in her first book of poems Blue Mothertongue, a collection which examines notions of home, loss and healing. Returning to Poetry Africa after an absence of six years is poet and academic Barolong Seboni (Botswana), whose astute grasp of history and its meaning, is spread over numerous acclaimed collections. Charlotte Hill O’Neal, better known as Mama C, is an American-born visual artist, musician and poet, who was a member of the Black Panther Movement before relocating to Tanzania in 1972. Her collection Warrior Woman of Peace was launched in 2008 and her fourth album of poetry and music is forthcoming. Both in his words and music the captivating voice of internationally celebrated Souleymane Diamanka (Senegal/France) offers an expressive cultural bridge between his French home and his Fulani ancestry.

The strong South African presence this year includes established luminaries and exciting new voices. Pitika Ntuli combines a vast store of African mythology and history, a keen awareness of the contemporary and an astonishing ability to improvise in his evocative poetry. Storytelling and myth also figure large in the verse of Durban icon Gcina Mhlophe. Lebo Mashile, arguably the best-known contemporary South African poet, brings to the Poetry Africa stage her candid and richly weaved words. The award-winning poet and playwright Kobus Moolman will present poems from his new collection Light and After as well sneak peaks at his next collection. Light and After (Deep South), a sparse and bravely honest work will be launched at the festival. Other launches include: Piece Work (Modjaji Books) by Ingrid Andersen and Scent of Footprints (Unisa Press) by Pitika Ntuli, Xaba.

Poetry Africa welcomes back the 2005 DaimlerChrysler Award for South African Poetry winner Gabeba Baderoon, the author of three collections of complex and intensely lyrical poetry. The Afrikaans-language poet Ronelda Kamfer’s entry into South African literature has been memorably described by poet Charl-Pierre Naude “like a Guy Fawkes’ rocket at Pentecost”. Kamfer’s remarkable ability to artfully filter the political and social through a personal lens marks her as a young poet to watch. Natalia Molebatsi combines spoken word and singing in an intoxicating cocktail that touches base with genres such as jazz, dub, hip hop and reggae. Well-known Durban poet Busiswa Gqulu, like Molebatsi, combines poetry, song and performance to startling effect. Another well-respected Durban poet, Marí Peté, explores dreamscapes, everyday experiences, and the thin membrane between these states of being in her poetry.

The international presence at Poetry Africa is particularly strong this year. Celebrated poet, author, radio host, actor and social critic Mutabaruka was the first well-publicized voice in the new wave of Jamaican poets making themselves heard in the early 1970s. He has recorded numerous poetry albums which have helped forge the unique genre of music commonly referred to as dub poetry. As an actor, Mutabaruka has starred in Haile Gerima’s award-winning Sankofa (1993).

In honour of activist and poet Dennis Brutus (1924 -2009) Poetry Africa introduces the Letters to Dennis segment featuring a poet of high excellence who reflects Dennis’s passion for human rights and integrity. The Letters to Dennis references the famous poem Letters to Martha, written while Dennis was in prison. The Letters to Dennis poet for 2010 is Ghassan Zaqtan of Palestine. At one time the editor of the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s newspaper, Ghassan Zaqtan is one of Palestine’s most respected poets and his urgent yet paradoxically gentle and contemplative poetry abounds with luminous imagery.

Jayne Fenton Keane (Australia) is a highly awarded and respected poet whose blend of poetry-song cycles, spoken word-music fusions and shamanic performances have challenged and inspired audiences and critics around the world. Poet, writer-activist and translator Meena Kandasamy (India) uses writing, translation and activism to confront her womanness, her Dalitness and her Tamilness – three categories of belonging that continue to enshrine a history of resistance to oppression. Jorge Palma (Uruguay) is a poet and storyteller whose sensitive and elegant poetry is most concerned with addressing and dissecting the human condition, while Italian Claudio Pozzani is poet and musician whose work has been translated into more than ten languages.

Saturday, 9 October sees a full day of activities at the BAT Centre, with poetry workshops, open mic opportunities, the Durban SlamJam all culminating in the Festival Finale on Saturday night which includes a performance by the Imperial Tiger Orchestra, a Geneva-based band that performs songs from the Golden Age of Ethiopian modern music (1969 – 1978). Although this six-piece orchestra’s repertoire consists primarily of revamped and reworked Ethiopian music, they are not to be mistaken for a covers band. Instead the Imperial Tigers explore uncharted territory in this form, playing with textures and dynamics, adding distortions and noise to complete beautiful new pieces based on the Ethiopian originals.

There is also a packed daily programme utilizing the expertise of festival participants includes performances, seminars, workshops, a prison programme, poetry competitions, and school visits all aimed at inspiring heightened interest in poetry.

Organised by the Centre for Creative Arts (University of KwaZulu-Natal), the 14th Poetry Africa festival is supported by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund (principal funder), Humanist Institute for Development Cooperation (HIVOS), City of Durban, Arts and Culture Trust, Pro-Helvetia Arts Council of Switzerland, Mimeta, and the French Institute of South Africa.

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