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Archive for the ‘Youth’ Category

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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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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