national Arts Festival Banner

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


(Pic: Sade Adeniran)

International Writers Festival to run from March 9 to 14.

The written word again takes centre stage as 20 writers from nine countries arrive in Durban for a stimulating week of words, books, ideas, and talk at the 12th Time of the Writer International Writers Festival. The week-long festival, which takes place from March 9 to 14, 2009, is coordinated annually by the Centre for Creative Arts (University of KwaZulu-Natal), and has developed an extensive programme that draws perhaps the most diverse literary audience in the country, cutting across race, class, and age. The festival features a customary strong South African and African presence this year, with a diverse gathering of novelists, short story writers, journalists, cartoonists, and political commentators, presenting their ideas in the public arena.
The eclectic line-up includes cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro, better known as Zapiro, whose commitment to revealing truth in graphic form has made him an undeniable and utterly relevant South African icon. In conversation with Zapiro in a panel entitled “I Write And Draw What I Like” will be Max du Preez, one of the best known investigative journalists and political commentators in South Africa. Du Preez is also rapidly becoming well-known for his highly readable books on South African history.

Other South African voices include poet, short story writer and novelist Marlene van Niekerk who, with her celebrated novels Agaat and Triomf and poetry collections Sprokkelster and Groenstaar, has established herself as one of the country’s finest writers. Joining her in an enticing session, “What Are The Imperatives of South African Fiction?”, is well-known literary luminary Mandla Langa, who recently added to his impressive oeuvre with his allegorical novel The Lost Colours of the Chameleon. Also in attendance is Mtutuzeli Matshoba, a writer, playwright and screenwriter who is responsible for some of the most authentic and moving depictions of everyday life in South Africa. Noma Award winner for his magic realist collection of linked short stories, Beginnings of a Dream, Zachariah Rapola is also the author of two well regarded youth novels.

Siphiwo Mahala, whose debut novel When A Man Cries showed a remarkably deft hand at balancing searing pain and black humour shares the stage with Pietermaritzburg-born Futhi Ntshingila, whose debut Shameless is a feisty addition to the new wave of local fiction.

The theme of crime is a strong presence in this year’s festival, highlighting the new surge of South African crime fiction. Deon Meyer, the undisputed king of South African crime and thriller writing, has established his reputation with a slew of compelling novels. Among his many awards, Meyer is also the first South African to win the prestigious Deutsche Krimi Preis, the German literary award for crime fiction.

The crime fiction contingent also includes Mike Nicol, Angela Makholwa, and Margie Orford. Nicol’s writing style has been described as pacy, cool, laconic, hard-bitten and hard-hitting. Angela Makholwa’s gritty and suspenseful debut Red Ink delves into the nightmare world of a serial killer, while Margie Orford’s bestselling novel Like Clockwork and its sequel, the equally unputdownable Blood Rose, present to the world the captivating police profiler Dr Clare Hart. Orford, like Nicol, is an author equally at home in many genres – including children’s literature.

Crime comes in many forms and in a panel entitled “Crimes of History” Yvette Christiansë (South Africa) and Mourid Barghouti (Palestine) delve into their writing and into two very distinct injustices: slavery and the occupation of Palestine. Christiansë’s novel Unconfessed tells the epic story – inspired by actual court records – of Sila van den Kaap, a slave of 19th century South Africa. Barghouti is an acclaimed poet with over 12 collections and a massive 700 page Collected Works. His celebrated autobiographical novel Ra'aytu Ram Allah (I Saw Ramallah) – written after 30 years of exile – was described by the late Edward Said as “one of the finest existential accounts of Palestinian displacement we now have”.

The strong African presence this year includes Sade Adeniran (Nigeria). Adeniran won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize Best First Book Africa Region for her debut novel Imagine This. The win was all the more remarkable considering that the novel was self published. Fittingly, the winners of this year’s Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book and Best First Book Africa Region will be announced at the festival on March 11 at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre. The prestigious award will be announced by judges Elinor Sisulu, Kole Omotoso, and Billy Kahora. Omotoso will also deliver the keynote address on the opening night of the festival.

The innovative and widely acclaimed writer Mia Couto (Mozambique) makes a welcome return to the festival and is set to impress audiences with his magical realist influenced prose. Fatou Diome’s (Senegal) first novel, The Belly of the Atlantic (Le Ventre de l'Atlantique) was a bestseller in France and her vivid style is influenced by the traditional oral literature of Africa. Ugandan Moses Isegawa is an author of breath-taking vision – in the vein of Rushdie in Midnight's Children and Marquez in One Hundred Years of Solitude – and in his novels Abyssinian Chronicles and Snakepit offers readers an extraordinary and fierce look at the history and narratives of his homeland.

Dinaw Mengestu (Ethiopia) has published widely in leading magazines such as Rolling Stone and Harper’s and his much-awarded debut novel The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears movingly and perceptively examines the plight of an Ethiopian immigrant in the United States. Also appearing is medical doctor Valerie Tagwira (Zimbabwe), whose captivating and urgent debut novel, The Uncertainty of Hope is set in the densely populated suburb of Mbare, Harare, and, against the background of Operation Murambatsvina, explores the challenges faced by a wide cross section of Zimbabwe, a country where life expectancy has dropped to 37.

Book launches at Time of the Writer include the latest edition of groundbreaking Kenyan-based literary journal Kwani?, which will be introduced by Kwani? editor Billy Kahora; and Bad Company, an anthology of crime fiction, edited by Joanne Hichens, and containing contributions by festival participants Deon Meyer, Mike Nicol, and Margie Orford. Mandla Langa will launch his novel The Lost Colours of the Chameleon. Durban-based writer Deborah Ewing launches her new children’s book When My Dad Comes Home and will also feature in the Saturday afternoon session Funda: Children’s Literature Special on March 14 (12h00 to 14h00) at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre. Other children’s writers in this session include the much-loved Gcina Mhlophe, Elana Bregin, and Margie Orford. Parents are welcome to bring their children along for this free event.

Readings, discussions and book launches will take place nightly at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. A broad range of day activities in the form of workshops, school visits, a day-long forum on March 11 on publishing issues (including literary magazine publishing, self-publishing, book promotion, the art of crime writing and the new explosion of graphic novels) and a prison writing programme, are formulated to promote a culture of reading, writing and creative expression.

Time of the Writer’s extensive programme of activities and culturally diverse line-up of writers promises to deliver a dynamic literary platform for dialogue and exchange on wide-ranging themes and offers a rare opportunity to gain insight into the many facets that inform the art of writing.

Tickets R25 for the evening sessions (R10 students) purchased through Computicket or at the door one hour before the event. Workshops and seminars are free.

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

The 12th Time of the Writer festival is funded principally by the Humanist Institute for Development Cooperation (HIVOS), French Institute of South Africa, Stichting Doen and City of Durban.