Article by Ogova Ondego
Published March 19, 2008
Zimbabwean writer Charles Mungoshi
Some 18 writers from 10 countries converge at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa, for annual six-day Time of the Writer international literary festival from March 25, 2008. OGOVA ONDEGO reports.
Among those attending this festival of ideas, words and books that marks its 11th edition, are Kenyans Henry Chakava and Shailja Patel, Zimbabweans Charles Mungoshi and Irene Staunton, South Africans Max du Preez, Kopano Matlwa, Kirsten Miller, Mbulelo Mzamane, Jo-Anne Richards, Angelina Sithebe, and Michael Cawood Green, Mauritian Ananda Devi, and Emmanuel Dongala of Congo-Brazzaville.
Others are Kenya-based Gambian Dayo Forster, South Africa-based Angolan Simao Kikamba and South Africa-based David Evans of the UK.
Besides Australian guest John Pilger whose acclaimed journalistic commentary is astutely global, the 11th Time of the Writer features an exclusively South African and African presence with a diverse gathering of novelists, short story writers, investigative journalists, publishers and political commentators.
Kenyan poet Patel, who was in South Africa in 2007 for the Poetry Africa festival, is expected to present a special Kenyan Bulletin on the crisis that faced Kenya in the aftermath of the December 2007 presidential poll fraud.
Forster, though Gambian by birth, is now a resident in Kenya. Though a scientist by training, her debut novel, Reading the Ceiling, is a structurally daring exploration of the role of chance in a young woman’s life.
Kenyan publisher Chakava is perhaps the most famous African publisher of his generation. He, amongst other achievements, led the successful acquisition of Heinemann in East Africa by a group of Kenyans, localising it and was also the only publisher to give a voice to the works of Ngugi wa Thiong’o in the 1970s and 1980s at the time when wa Thiong’o was in trouble with the political establishment.
Angelina Sithebe of South Africa
Celebrated Zimbabwean editor and publisher Staunton, whose Weaver Press has developed an award-winning catalogue of Zimbabwean fiction and non-fiction, will also grace the festival.
Fellow Zimbabwean Mungoshi, long respected as one of the region’s foremost writers, has over the years written novels and short stories, both in English and Shona, that are awash with poignancy, power and gentle humour.
Mauritian writer, poet, essayist, and screenwriter Devi, author of nine acclaimed novels, is recognised as one of the major Francophone writers from the Indian Ocean Islands.
Fellow Francophone novelist and playwright, Dongala, was forced to flee his home country of Congo-Brazzaville after the civil war. Part of a trio of writers with scientific backgrounds at this year’s festival, Dongala, who has a PhD in Organic Chemistry, is a giant of contemporary African fiction. His latest novel, Johnny Mad Dog, explores with remarkable depth the child soldiers of Sierra Leone.
Angolan born Kikamba’s riveting debut novel, Going Home, winner of the Herman Charles Bosman award for English fiction in 2006, is based on his experiences as a political refugee from Angola and his subsequent life as a black immigrant in South Africa.
Celebrated South African writer, poet, painter and essayist, Breyten Breytenbach, instrumental in initiating the Time of the Writer festival 11 years ago, is scheduled to deliver the festival’s keynote address on Opening Night, Tuesday, March 25.
Scholar, activist and writer, Mbulelo Mzamane of South Africa, whose fiction and poetry was banned by the Apartheid government and who academic scholarship is widely acclaimed, adds his experienced voice to the festival.
Other South African voices include Angelina Sithebe, a geologist whose dreamy, disturbing debut, Holy Hill, has been receiving critical praise; Matlwa, winner of the EU Literary Award for 2006/07, is a young South African writer whose debut novel, Coconut, is part of a new wave of post-Apartheid fiction; and Jo-Anne Richards, author of the immensely popular, The Innocence of Roast Chicken, which topped the South African bestseller list for 15 weeks.
Congo-Brazzaville’s Emmanuel Dongala
Richards, who launches her fourth novel, My Brother’s Book, during thefestival, is one of three participants launching books. Another is Durbanite Michael Cawood Green who launches his much-awaited and impeccably researched new novel, For the Sake of Silence, a work of historical fiction which examines with impressive insight the 19th century Trappist endeavour in 19th century South Africa.
The prose of South African Kirsten Miller makes for remarkably compelling reading, be it the fiction of her debut novel All Is Fish or the non-fiction of Children on the Bridge: A Story of Autism in South Africa.
David Evans, who was banned and imprisoned by the Apartheid state, is the author of an oeuvre of novels, short stories, and plays whose narratives are remarkably engaging.
Another brave voice is Max du Preez, perhaps the best known investigative journalist and political commentator in South Africa.
The world acclaimed investigative journalist and documentary filmmaker, Australian Pilger, brings this year’s festival to a close with a Sunday evening of rousing discussion with Mail & Guardian editor Ferial Haffajee and UKZN academic and writer Patrick Bond.
Presented as a Centre for Civil Society Harold Wolpe lecture entitled Truth, Propaganda and Power, the evening is prefaced with a sneak peak at Pilger’s new film, The War on Democracy, and will end with a Q&A with the audience.
While in South Africa, Pilger will receive an honorary doctorate from Rhodes University in Grahamstown on March 28.
Kenya-based Gambian writer Dayo Forster
The multiple Grammy award-winning Ladysmith Black Mambazo, are scheduled to present their special brand of magic as the musical finale on the opening night. Musical interludes will also be presented during the festival week by Azannah, Vusi Mkhize and Guy Buttery.