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Tuesday, March 19, 2013


(Susan Abulhawa is one of this year's featured writers)

Festival's theme "Writing A New World" to challenge participants as activists and social commentators. (Review by Keith Millar)

There was great excitement in Durban yesterday as literary luminaries from South Africa, Africa and beyond gathered for the 16th Time Of The Writer Festival. The festival is hosted by the Centre for Creative Arts (University of KwaZulu-Natal) and with principal support by the National Lottery Fund. It runs until March 23.

Featured will be leading novelists, social commentators, activists, playwrights and short story writers. They will share their knowledge, insight and opinions in a varied programme of workshops, forums, panel discussions, school visits and many other activities.

The festival kicked off yesterday with an informal function at Moyo’s on the Durban beachfront and was followed last night by the official opening in front of a full-house audience at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

After a musical welcome by the very accomplished and ethereal group Tanga Pasi from Zimbabwe, it was over to the newly-appointed Deputy Vice Chancellor of the School of Humanities at UKZN, Prof Cheryl Potgieter, to give the keynote address.

She said that the theme for the festival was “Writing A New World” and challenged the participants as activists and social commentators to enter into debates and conversations which would challenge conventions.

After a poignant tribute to Durban author, activist and educator, Phyllis Naidoo, who passed away earlier this year, it was the turn of the participants in the festival to introduce themselves and share a few thoughts about their writing and the social issues of the day. What a varied offering it was. Some were thought-provoking, some funny, and some a bit controversial. But all were very pertinent and served as a perfect appetizer for what should prove to be a dynamic and memorable week of interaction. 

If you love words and the use of language, this festival offers an ideal opportunity to relate with some fine minds and experience new perspectives on the lives we live.

The main events on the programme are as follows but check on for full details of the activities.

Tuesday March 19: The panel discussion titled Perspectives in South African Writing will feature South African writers Kabelo Duncan Kgatea and Jo-Anne Richards. Trained as a journalist and working as a miner, it was after Kgatea’s first book Njeng manong fa ke sule! (Devour me, vultures, when I’m dead!) was published and won the Sanlam Prize Youth Literature (silver) in the Sotho category, that he got promoted to communications officer and no longer worked below ground. When The Innocence of Roast Chicken, the debut novel of internationally published author and journalist Richards first appeared, it topped the South African best seller list in its first week and remained there for 15 weeks. This discussion will be facilitated by Zukiswa Wanner.
Controversial human rights issues are brought to the fore in the evening’s second panel titled Africa Writing Queer Identity, featuring leading Nigerian writer Jude Dibia and Graeme Reid of South Africa, and will be facilitated by Sarojini Nadar. Dibia’s books address issues which range from sexuality, gender roles, race to the stigma of HIV/AIDS in modern day Africa. Reid, the director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Programme and founding director of the Gay and Lesbian Archives of South Africa, explores gay identities in South Africa in his book How to be a Real Gay. Music by Durban duo Njeza and Siphelele Dlamini will commence the evening proceedings at 19h30.

Wednesday March 20: The first panel, titled Reflections on the Palestinian State, features Palestinian-born American-based novelist and essayist, Susan Abulhawa, in an interview discussion with Lubna Nadvi. Abulhawa’s Mornings in Jenin was translated into 24 languages worldwide and hailed by The Times as the “first English-language novel to express fully the human dimension of the Palestinian tragedy”.
Exploring Genre in African Literature is the topic of the second panel, featuring South African author, photographer and filmmaker, Zinaid Meeran, alongside Nnedi Okorafor, award-winning author born in the United States and of Nigerian descent. Meeran was awarded the European Union Literary award for his debut Saracen at the Gates in 2009. About a curious exploration of living raceless in a country where just about everybody seems to have one, this debut was also shortlisted for the Sunday Times fiction prize in 2010. A professor of creative writing, Okorafor has received numerous accolades for her books, which are often characterized by African culture infused with reminiscent settings and memorable characters. This panel will be facilitated by True Love books editor and publisher Melinda Ferguson. Music by Durban duo Nhlanhla Zondi and Zulublue will kick start the evening presentation, while Molope’s book, This Book Betrays my Brother launches prior to the show.

Thursday March 21: The evening of Human Rights Day offers the panel titled Perspectives in SA Writing with a panel which features Elana Bregin and Damon Galgut and facilitated by Siphiwo Mahala. Galgut’s In a Strange Room. Following the journey of an isolated South African traveler seeking a deep satisfaction in life, In a Strange Room was shortlisted for several awards, including the 2010 Man Booker Prize and M-Net Literary Award. Bregin is well known for her award-winning young adult titles, which include The Kayaboeties and The Red-haired Khumalo, which all deal with the social realities of a changing South Africa.
Under the title The Reporter as Writer, Jackee Batanda from Uganda and Aman Sethi from India, both novelists and journalists, feature in the evening’s second panel discussion. Together with the numerous awards for her fiction writing, Batanda also featured in the London Times alongside 19 young women shaping the future of Africa. A seasoned journalist working as a correspondent for The Hindu, a newspaper in India with a daily readership of about 2.5 million, Sethi has also contributed articles to various publications, around health policies in India. The evening’s musical act is the pair Mike Muyo and Tom Watkeys.

Friday March 22: Following the book launch of The Imagined Child (Picador) by festival participant Jo-Anne Richards, and a music performance by the band Nje, the presentation of prizes to winners of the schools short story competition will take place. The first session titled Youth Literature, similarly puts a spotlight on young people and features writers Elieshi Lema from Tanzania and BD Khawula from South Africa. Lema started writing poetry before moving on to children’s books. Her first novel Parched Earth - A Love Story received an honorable mention in the Noma Award for Publishing in Africa and forms part of the curriculum in various universities. Based in Durban, Khawula’s inspiration to write stems from his love for his country. His debut novel ,Yihlathi Leli, won a silver award in the African Languages category at the Sanlam Youth Literature Awards.
The second panel for the evening, Writing Transformation, features South African critical thinkers and writers Andile Mngxitama and Prof Sampie Terreblanche. While Mngxitama writes significantly around the philosophy and writings of late Black Consciousness leader, Steve Biko, Terreblanche’s focuses lies on the history of economic thought and policy matters in South and Southern Africa.

Saturday March 23: The evening’s book launch is On Being Human, featuring contributions by various writers and edited by Duduzile Mabaso (Black Letter Media). Music and song by Durban songbird Skye Wanda will precede the discussion Writing the Other, featuring the South African panel of Ashwin Desai and Jonny Steinberg. An activist intellectual, Desai is celebrated the world over for his poignant articulation of stories about struggle, oppression and resistance. Award-winning author Steinberg writes about experiences about everyday life in the wake of South Africa’s transition to democracy. His debut novel Midlands, about the murder of a white South African farmer, won the Sunday Times Alan Paton Prize in 2003. This panel discussion will be facilitated by Dr. Frederico Settler from the Philosophy department at UKZN.
The festival closes with a look at the pertinent issue with South African writers Shafinaaz Hassim and Kagiso Lesego Molope, in a panel titled Writing Gender Violence. Hassim, a writer, poet and sociologist and driving force behind Johannesburg-based publishers, WordFire Press, recently published a novel on domestic violence titled SoPhia in November 2012, while Molope’s third novel This Book Betrays my Brother raises many gender equality issues prevalent in South Africa, amongst them the perception that women who wear revealing clothing invite sexual advances. Molope's first novel, Dancing in the Dust, was put on the IBBY (International Board on Books for Young People) list for 2006, making her the first Black South African to make the list.

Publishing Forum: Publishing is undoubtedly one of the central elements in the development of a local literary culture. That said, a notable event that has become a significant part of the annual Time of the Writer international writers’ festival, is the Publishing Forum. Taking place on March 20 between 10h00 and 14h00 at the Centre for Creative Arts, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Howard College Campus, this year’s forum will feature a range of panels on salient issues within the publishing landscape. Topics discussed will cover the magazine industry, maximizing exposure in the world of digital publishing, converting a PhD thesis into a book and what publishers look for in a manuscript.

In addition to the nightly showcases at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre, a broad range of day activities including seminars and workshops are formulated to promote a culture of reading, writing and creative expression. This includes the educator’s forum with teachers on the implementation of literature in the classroom, the community writing forum with members of the public interested in literature, visits to schools, and a prison writing programme.

Book launches take place at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre’s Wellington Tavern deck prior to the evening shows, from 18h45. The first book launch of the festival is the UKZN English/IsiZulu Book (UKZN Press) – a collaborative venture of stories by various authors.

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

The full programme of activities, and other information is available on – Keith Millar