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SA Lit at Shakespeare and Company, Paris' Most Famous Bookshop

Shakespeare and Company

Alert! Shakespeare and Company, the revered Paris bookshop – motto: “Be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise” – held its semi-annual litfest last week, and SA Lit headlined alongside the likes of Martin Amis, Jane Birkin and Philip Pullman.

(Is it disrespectful to continue with the whack-a-mole theme introduced on this blog last week to describe the poppings-up of SA writers in large groups at major litfests? Do let us know.)

The theme this year was “Storytelling and Politics” (…and Sex”, if some of the reportage coming out of it is to be believed). Luminaries Breyten Breytenbach, Petina Gappah, Mark Gevisser and Njabulo Ndebele gathered and marched as the main southern African phalanx, supported on the wings by Denis Hirson and Botswana’s Tjawangwa Dema.

Two major reports on the fest have come to BOOK SA’s attention: the first a lively roundup in The New York Times and the second a delightful blog post from Gappah:

Notes from the Middle WorldAn Elegy for EasterlyFine Lines from the BoxThabo Mbeki

The sound of South Africa has, for most people over the past month, been that of the vuvuzela, those brightly-colored, plastic horns whose drone has provided an incessant backdrop to the World Cup.

Not so in Paris last weekend, where, on a gray Sunday morning sitting in a tent in the tiny square René Viviani overlooking Notre Dame, the sound was that of the low voice of Breyten Breytenbach, the South African political activist and writer, as he read from his collection of essays “Notes from the Middle World” and, later, talked about his relationship with his older brother, Jan, who was a commander in the South African Special Forces Brigade at the time Mr. Breytenbach was in prison there for his anti-apartheid activities.

I loved the Shakespeare and Company festival in Paris; totally and utterly loved every minute of it. Shakespeare and Company. What a bookshop. It is just what you want a bookshop to be, chaotic, comfortable, with well-worn books piled up to the ceiling and the feel of ghosts in the air. I loved meeting Sylvia Whitman and Jemma Birrell again, they and all the festival organiser put together a wonderful programme of conversations and readings. The festival had a great line-up of writers: it is always humbling to meet people whose work you admire and then find that they are really great people too. So it was with Breyten Breytenbach, Mark Gevisser and Nyabulo Ndebele, who turned up to be absolute sweethearts, and so interesting to listen to. We did a great panel on the World Cup and what it means for Africa and particularly South Africa. Breyten later helped to look for Kush who kept disappearing. That’s another thing, everyone was so welcoming to Kush: Anna who looked after him gamely read him something like two TinTins one after the other, even doing the voices, for which she will always be in his heart.

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Photo courtesy Senjusa


Recent comments:

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Louis Greenberg</a>
    Louis Greenberg
    June 28th, 2010 @09:53 #

    When I worked at a bookshop, our motto was always “Be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be authors in disguise” - they'd always damnwell ask you to put their poxy books in the front and face-out.

  • Ben - Editor
    Ben - Editor
    June 28th, 2010 @10:06 #

    Authors, hey? Sheesh!


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