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Wednesday, March 4, 2009


(Pic: Fatou Diome)

Writers festival programme also looks to the rest of Africa.

The Time of the Writer programme consistently ensures that South African writers are well represented at the festival but this concern extends also to the rest of the African continent. The African presence at this year’s festival includes the celebrated Ugandan writer Moses Isegawa. Isegewa’s two novels, Snakepit and Abyssinian Chronicles, are breath-taking in scope and ambition and have established him as one of the giants of contemporary African literature.

Kole Omotoso (Nigeria) is widely known from his role in Vodacom’s Yebo Gogo ad campaign, but he is also a writer and scholar of tremendous stature. An author of five novels, one short story collection, two plays, three historical narratives and three books of literary criticism, Omotoso’s classic historical narrative The Combat, first published in 1972, has just been republished as a Penguin Modern Classic. He will also deliver the festival's Opening Night Keynote Address entitled “In Sickness and In Power: African Leaders, Insanity and the Need for Politically Correct Behaviour among African Writers and Intellectuals.” Mia Couto (Mozambique) is widely acknowledged as one of his country’s most important writers, an assessment reflected in the fact that he is the most translated Mozambican writer ever. His acclaimed new book A River Called Time, bears Couto’s hallmark magic realist touches, and sees a man attend his grandfather's funeral only to find that his grandfather has not died completely, but is in a frontier space between life and death.

Zimbabwean Valerie Tagwira is a medical doctor as well a writer. Her debut novel, The Uncertainty of Hope is set in the densely populated suburb of Mbare, Harare, and examines the rich and complex lives of people who survive only by their wits, their labour and their mutual support. The novel also gives a view from the streets of Operation Murambatsvina, the government's controversial urban slum clearance program which created over half a million internally displaced persons and destroyed the livelihoods of close to 10 percent of the population.

Self-determination, exile and ostracism are the central themes of Senegalese writer Fatou Diome’s work. Her partly autobiographical debut novel, Le Ventre de l'Atlantique (The Belly of the Atlantic), a bittersweet examination of the life of an immigrant living in Paris, was a bestseller in France.

Sade Adeniran, 2008 Commonwealth Writers' Prize Best First Book Winner Africa Region for her debut novel Imagine This was born in London and moved to Nigeria, where she spent her formative years before returning to the United Kingdom. Adeniran's Commonwealth win was all the more remarkable considering that the novel was self published. Dinaw Mengestu’s (Ethiopia) celebrated debut novel The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears has been translated into more than a dozen languages and has won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize 2008 and Guardian First Book Award 2007 amongst numerous other awards and honours. The novel tells the story of Sepha Stephanos, an Ethiopian immigrant running a failing grocery store in a poor African-American neighbourhood of Washington, D.C. The New York Times called the book “a great African novel, a great Washington novel and a great American novel.”

Billy Kahora is the editor of Kwani?, Kenya's foremost creative arts journal. Kahora has been published in Vanity Fair, the Mail&Guardian and the East African Standard and along with Kole Omotoso and Elinor Sisulu, is one of the judges for the 2009 Commonwealth Writers' Prize Africa Region (the winners will be announced on March 11 at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre at 19h30), and will also launch several Kwani titles at the festival.

The range of participants on show at this year’s festival offers a fine opportunity to catch Africa in full voice.

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 Department of Arts and Culture, Humanist Institute for Development Cooperation (HIVOS), French Institute of South Africa, Stichting Doen and City of Durban.