By Sharlene Versfeld
Published March 4, 2012
The written word will envelop Durban as eighteen 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, March 19-24, 2012. The festival, hosted by the Centre for Creative Arts at the University of KwaZulu-Natal,pected to 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, March 20, will feature two giants of Arab- African literature. Egyptian 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 Anuar 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 among the Tuareg people in the desert region of Libya. Astoundingly, Al-Koni has published more than 80 books, including more than 50 novels, and 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.
March 20 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 Indian Muslim women, was shortlisted for the Penguin Prize for African Writing in 2011. Joining her on the panel discussion 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 is expected to 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 best-selling autobiography, Armed and Dangerous (1993). Kasrils and Abani will feature in a panel entitled, Human Writes Day.
March 21 was in 1999 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 is lined up for sparking 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.
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, March 22, Kwakye is paired with Durban-based Thando Mgqolozana in a discussion titled 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, was 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.
Publishing is one of the central elements in the development of a local literary culture and the Publishing Forum has become a significant part of the annual Time of the Writer international writers’ festival. Taking place on Thursday, March 22 between 10h00 and 15h15 at the Centre for Creative Arts, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Howard College Campus, discussion topics at this year’s forum will include the art of the autobiography and biography, publishing enterprises in print and online, translation and marketing, indigenous publishing and the location of the creative artist in South Africa’s ever-changing publishing industry.
Following pantsula dance by the Bhenga Boyz and the presentation of prizes to winners of the schools short story competition, the first session on Friday, March 23 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 the 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 third book by Rick Andrew, this one self published. Music and song by Rick and Gill Andrew will precede the discussion Inner City Stories featuring Cynthia Jele and Kgebetli Moele. Jele’s debut novel Happiness is a Four-Letter Word – centered 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. Centered on the lives of six young black South African men struggling to realise their dreams in South Africa’s “city of gold” Room 207 is Kgebetli Moele’s debut novel which earned 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 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 ZAR25 for the evening sessions, ZAR10 for students, and can be purchased through Computicket or at the door one hour before the event. Workshops and seminars are free