In February Zukiswa Wanner wrote a blogpost titled “The Literature and Magazine/Newspaper Editor’s Rant” in which she said, among other things:
“In a country where the majority of the population is black y’all have suddenly decided that white writing is the standard? Really? There are either good or bad writers. There are no good or bad black female/male writers so stop that ‘good black’ crap, stop it.”
This blog prompted Mervyn Sloman to invite Wanner and Thando Mgqolozana, “who was one of the more vociferous contributors to the debate”, to participate in the 2014 Open Book Fesival to discuss the really important and relevant issues it brought up. In a session titled “Writer’s Rage”, Wanner and Mgqolozana addressed what’s really pissing them off:
- When authors are referred to as “emerging” after being around for quite some time
- When authors are expected to work for free, especially at festivals
- The usage of the umbrella term “black” to refer to all authors who are not white while there is so much diversity in black voices
- Being called good black writers – this is patronising and marginilasation of their work
- Lack of recognition for efforts made
- The expectation that their books should be “more African” – what does that even mean?
- Being prescribed what to write about
- Disguised racism in questions from journalists and readers, even if subconsciously
- Not being respected as artists
- People who refuse to read stories about other South Africa cultures
- The thought that there is a single South African story and that there will be one “great South African novel” in the midst of so many different stories
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Listen to a podcast of the discussion:
Helené Prinsloo was there and tweeted live from the discussion:
David Klatzow, forensic expert and author of Justice Denied, spoke to Richard Calland about the limitations of forensic science at the 2014 Open Book Festival in Cape Town.
Klatzow said he doesn’t believe in staying quiet; that evil exists because good men let it happen. He also insisted that what forensic scientists have accepted as “gospel truth” over the years has been shown to be old wives’ tales science: “science isn’t wrong, but experts are wrong about science”.
Klatzow spoke about Dr Crippen, who was proved innocent 100 years after his death, and the infamous bungling of a murder case in Franschhoek.
He also insists Judge Thokozile Masipa was wrong in her judgement of the Oscar Pistorius trial, and spoke about the gun used to kill Reeva Steenkamp.
Lindsay Callaghan covered the talk for Books LIVE:
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Nadine Gordimer passed away in her home at the age of 90 this July. The Open Book Festival honoured the Nobel laureate for her dedication to her craft and her contribution to the South African literary and political landscape.
Imraan Coovadia, Billy Kahora and Margie Orford read from Nadine Gordimer’s work in an event curated by Karina M Szczurek.
Kenyan author and journalist Kahora took the microphone first. Kahora, who lived for eight years in South Africa, was shortlisted for the Caine Prize for African Writing this year. He read from My Son’s Story and “Amnesty”
“Yesterday I was part of a panel called the Genius of the Short Story and a young man in the audience asked, ‘How do balance politics in your writing?’ We kind of floundered. But I think the answer I should have given is ‘Just read Nadine Gordimer’.
“This balance of politics and aesthetics is something that I’ve admired in Nadine Gordimer for a long time. I came to South Africa in 1997, I was a young man from Kenya who was aspiring to be a writer. And I read a story called “Amnesty”. It’s about this young women who is waiting for her husband, who has been incarcerated in Robben Island. And the amazing feat that Nadine Gordimer does is to get into a point of view that’s quite amazing; this young black woman who’s waiting for her husband.
“Much earlier in the 1990s, when I was still a teenager, I read My Son’s Story, and at the time I was simply amazed by that same feat, getting across a point of view that’s not your own. The whole idea of a kind of interracial affair between a white female activist and an ANC politician struck me as slightly seditious. But the beauty of is that even while it investigates that politics, it also goes into the son who is discovering his father is an adulterer.”
Coovadia said when he read Gordimer’s early work it struck him that “there was a lot of EM Forster in her”, but he decided to read from A World of Strangers, which he said had “always been his favourite”.
“The last time I saw her, Nadine Gordimer referred to us as ‘comrade writers’,” Coovadia said. “I think she was the last person who could use that expression unselfconsciously. It was one of the things I admired about her.
“She talked about writing as ‘an open secret’ when she was a kid. It was something she did that nobody noticed, and they allowed her to do it because nobody noticed it. In a way, when she died I realised that there weren’t other writers in the country who were doing what she did, and I think her genius was not a genius of the sentence or the paragraph, it’s drawing back and being able to see people’s lives against the context, and to grasp the context in which those lives are lived. It’s a very rare skill. And maybe the most valuable one.
“What else can I say about her. I don’t know. I miss her.”
Orford, author and president of Pen South Africa, said she was “very proud” to be reading from her one of her favourite Nadine Gordimer books, July’s People.
Nadine Gordimer was vice-president of International Pen for many, many years and a great champion all her life of freedom of expression. And her commitment to fighting the secrecy bill, as it’s known, the Protection of State Information Act, was I think her last political struggle and perhaps one of her bravest because out of that came her ability to differentiate and pull out of her great loyalty to the ANC and to the Struggle in South Africa, her commitment to principle and the foundation of democratic principle which is what she saw freedom of expression as being.”
Szczurek spoke about her relationship with Gordimer, whose work was the subject of her PhD thesis.
“It is no exaggeration to say Nadine Gordimer literally changed my whole life, again and again. It was about 12 or 13 years ago when I read one of her short stories, “The Moment Before the Gun Went Off”, that she brought South Africa into my life with that wonderful short story.
“I spent six years reading the work of Nadine Gordimer and not for a second did I regret choosing her work as a subject of my thesis. Eventually her work brought me to South Africa and the country became my home. Now I have been living her for almost a decade and, also, not for a second did I regret making those choices. So I have a lot to be grateful for. Her work really means a lot to me. And as Imraan said I do miss her a lot.”
Szczurek read from Gordimer’s 1949 short story collection, Face to Face.
Books LIVE’s Jennifer Malec tweeted snippets from the conversation:
Journalist Vashthi Nepaul says she is “motivated” and “grateful” after winning the 2014 City Press Nonfiction Award last night.
The announcement was made at the Open Book Festival in Cape Town yesterday, by City Press editor-in-chief Ferial Haffajee. Nepaul received a prize of R60 000 to fund the research for her book, which will be published in 2016. It will be entitled Gift, and will focus on the difficulties faced by gifted children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
“I am so very motivated by the prospect of getting this book out there, where more of my fellow South Africans can engage with it,” Nepaul says. “Our country’s children have amazing abilities and talent but many of them aren’t being given the platform to harness their giftedness. I am therefore extremely grateful to City Press and Tafelberg for allowing me to explore the very controversial subject of giftedness. I hope to do justice to the terrifying faith placed in me with this award.”
On the shortlist with Nepaul were Lydia Gittens, Liesl Louw-Vaudran and The Very Reverend Michael Weeder.
Tafelberg nonfiction publisher Annake Müller says Nepaul is a worthy winner: “In light of the fact that education is one of the key challenges facing our country, Nepaul’s proposed book on the plight of gifted children from low-income households couldn’t be more topical.”
Maria Phalime won the inaugural City Press Nonfiction Award for Postmortem: The Doctor Who Walked Away, while Don Pinnock, the former editor of Getaway, was the winner of the 2013 award. His book on gangsterism in Cape Town will be published in 2015.
British children’s author and illustrator Adam Stower spoke to Verushka Louw at The Book Lounge on the second day of the 2014 Open Book Festival today.
Louw introduced Stower as someone who “tells stories without words”.
Stower has been visiting schools in Cape Town this week and he said he loves to see children draw: “It’s like a Polaroid of their minds.” Stower has been drawing all his life, and said while all children draw, he just never stopped.
Stower did his master’s thesis on Humpty Dumpty, playing with narration and the spaces between words and the pictures.
He says reading picture books with children is a wonderful moment to share: “I like to tell stories with pictures with some consideration of words, rather than the other way around.
“I love how books accumulate history.”
Books LIVE’s Erin Devenish tweeted the fun:
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Liesl Jobson presented a writing workshop on the second morning of the Open Book Festival.
Jobson is the author of Ride the Tortoise, 100 Papers, and View from an Escalator.
“You have a story only you can write,” Jobson said. “What arrives is what should be written.”
Jobson quoted from Stafford’s “A Way of Writing“: “A writer is not so much someone who has something to say as he is someone who found a process that will bring about new things he would not have thought of if he had not started to say them.”
Liquorice, a tearing sound and a dollop of hand cream served as inspiration for several free-writing exercises during the workshop. One participant described the liquorice as an “acidic, digestive black hole”.
Books LIVE’s Helené Prinsloo participated in the workshop:
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The Books LIVE team are out and about during the 2014 Open Book Festival and have been snapping photos as they go. Have a look at what’s going on by browsing through the album on Facebook:
Alert! Lebanese-American author Rabih Alameddine, who is currently in Cape Town for the 2014 Open Book Festival, has been longlisted for the 2014 National Book Award for his fourth novel, An Unnecessary Woman.
Established in 1950, the National Book Award is a prestigious American literary prize administered by the National Book Foundation, a nonprofit organisation. The winner, which will be announced by Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket) on 19 November 2014, will become a permanent member of the National Book Foundation family – an organisation which includes many illustrious names. The shortlist will be revealed on 15 October this year.
Antony Loewenstein, another international author who is in Cape Town for the festival, alerted Books LIVE by tweeting at Alameddine:
Alameddine will be discussing his novel on Saturday morning at 10 AM at the Fugard Studio. Come and listen to him and Rebecca Davis having a necessary conversation about Aaliya Saleh, his 72-year-old protagonist.
Legendary fantasy writer Raymond E Feist spoke to Sarah Lotz about Magician’s End, George RR Martin, killing off his characters and what he’s working on next.
“Raymond E Feist. The legend,” Lotz said. “I just want to say, thank you for making my childhood so brilliant. I was reading you as a child, and my daughter is now reading you. So thank you very much.”
“That’s lovely,” Feist said.
Feist’s big breakthrough was Magician, published in 1982. He revealed that when his agent called him, he said “Magician is a really big book”.
“I thought, okay he’s going to ask me to cut stuff. But he said, ‘But I think it could be bigger.’
“So he said, ‘We need this’, and we did a shopping list, and about a week later I sent him a thing and said ‘This is what I’m going to do’. In the original draft there was no Murmandamus. He said, ‘I want a character in disguise’. There was no Squire Roland. He said, ‘Pug needs a foil where Carline’s concerned.”
“So that was all your editor?” Lotz asked, incredulous.
“Yeah. Well he told me what he wanted, I had to figure out how to do it,” Feist said. “And that’s when Jimmy said, ‘I’m not getting off the stage. I’m here, I’m digging in, and you can’t get me out with nukes!’
“And of course he became easily one of my most popular characters ever. The big three, okay, there’s Thomas and a couple of others, but my heavy-hitters are Pug, Arutha and Jimmy. I could have written a complete Jimmy the Hand franchise. I could have written 20 books on that guy.
“So, anyway, I spent about three months writing all the stuff my agent wanted in Magician, and then my phone rang and he said ‘Great! Exactly the book I want! Now cut 50 000 words.”
Feist is currently working on a new trilogy, and says it’s causing him some headaches.
“I’ve got a book that’s really biting me on the butt. I’m fighting with this thing because it’s so many years since I’ve done the first book in a new world? Anyway, it’s called King of Ashes, and it’s a three-act play so there’s going to be three, King of Ashes, then King of Embers and King of Fire. And I didn’t realise until I put that title on that everyone goes: ‘Oh, it’s like Game of Thrones!’. Yeah. It’s just like Game of Thrones, but with show tunes.
“But you were killing off characters long before George RR Martin,” Lotz interrupted.
“People think that because George went off and did TV for a number of years. But I think George’s first novel Fevre Dream [Martin’s first is actually 1977’s Dying of the Light – ed.] came out about the same time mine did. I met George back in 1984 and he’s a really terrific guy. Very bright and a very gifted writer. But he went off and did TV, he was the headliner on Beauty and the Beast with Ron Perlman and Linda Hamilton. And then he got tired of Hollywood and decided to go back to writing novels. And then he wrote A Song of Ice and Fire. And the world shuddered.
“I mean, I’ve killed a lot of characters too, but not like that maniac!”
An audience member took the opportunity to ask Feist if he enjoyed killing off his characters:
Our editor Jennifer Malec covered the gig:
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The second morning of the 2014 Open Book festival kicked off with a discussion between Sefi Atta, Fiona Leonard, and Zukiswa Wanner, chaired by Kgomotso Matsunyane.
Atta said she first started writing because she didn’t recognise anyone like her in mainstream literature. She spent the first 20 years writing what she had to write, now she can write about topics and issues of her choice.
Wanner said she is really passionate about Africa but it pisses her off sometimes. Matsunyane asked if she thinks there is any hope for Africa, and Wanner said she has mixed feeling but that seeing African presidents taking selfies doesn’t restore her confidence.
Atta added that she believes all people are complaining about leadership and humanity: “It’s not an African problem.”
Leonard said that Africa’s mentality of waiting for help frustrates her. She argued that in order to survive, people need to ignore the government and be more proactive.
The conversation went up a gear when Matsunyane said she wanted more sex in the panelists’ books. Atta said she only writes about sex if she needs to: it’s “like going to the loo”. Wanner agreed and said she only writes about sex if the narrative demands it.
Matsunyane asked the writers about their writing process. Atta said her background as an accountant has helped her to stay disciplined and dedicated, while Leonard said she started writing in snatches while her daughter was young but that writing becomes easier when you do it every day.
The authors agreed that reading is the most important thing for a writers to do. Leonard reads a book a week, and Wanner believes that every book she has read in her life has influenced her writing – either helping her to write better or to avoid bad writing.
Books LIVE’s Erin Devenish covered the gig:
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