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Open Book Cape Town, a New Festival for South Africa, Announced at The Book Lounge

Ben Williams & Mervyn Sloman

Alert! Tonight, Your Correspondent teamed up with The Book Lounge‘s Mervyn Sloman to announce a major new South African books and literature initiative: Open Book Cape Town, a festival set to take place from 21 to 25 September 2011 in Cape Town’s East City Precinct.

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We’re working with a host of people and organisations to make Open Book the real deal: our founding partners, supporters and sponsors include The Hay Festival of Literature, South African PEN, Equal Education, Leopard’s Leap Wines, Cape Town Tourism, the Cape Times and Toby Mundy of Atlantic Books.

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Our vision is three-fold: to bring the best that world letters has to offer to Cape Town; to promote South African writing on an international footing; and to make books more accessible, supporting reading, literacy and library campaigns, and developing a youth programme for Open Book that will have young readers streaming in.

Plans for the fest were hatched during the 2010 edition of The Hay Festival in Hay-on-Wye, Wales, where Mervyn and myself were the guests of Hay director Peter Florence. (See gloriously out of focus photo at top.) We swooned through the spectacular Hay programme, spent the return trip scheming up a storm, and are now, after months of groundwork-laying, very pleased to perform that miraculous act of making something real by saying it aloud.

Peter and his colleague Lyndy Cooke have sent a message of good tidings for Open Book from snowy Wales:

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At the birthday do, Mervyn brought his bookselling colleague Frankie Murrey on to the podium with us, introducing her as the newest member of the Open Book team.

Here’s the official Open Book Cape Town press release, which has all the juicy details:

New City Books and Literature Festival, Open Book Cape Town, Announced at The Book Lounge

Cape Town, get ready for a “bookjol” like no other.

At the annual birthday bash held last night for popular independent book shop The Book Lounge, proprietor Mervyn Sloman and Ben Williams of online books portal unveiled plans for a new festival that will see top literary talent from around the world converge on the city in September 2011.

The festival, called Open Book Cape Town, includes a partnership with The Hay Festival of Literature, which organises Britain’s premier literary festival in Hay-on-Wye, Wales, plus events in Colombia, Mexico, Kenya, The Maldives, India, Ireland, Spain and London, England.

The Hay Festival will bring a “Hay Presents” programme to Open Book Cape Town featuring several of the writers on its international slate. (See “We’re really looking forward to it,” said Hay Festival director Peter Florence, in a video message played at The Book Lounge.

According to Sloman and Williams, that’s just to start. They also announced a partnership with the South African chapter of the writers’ organisation PEN, which will bring Gillian Slovo, president-designate of UK PEN, and John Ralston Saul, president of International PEN – as well as participants from the Caribbean, South America, Africa and the UK – to Open Book. Finally, Sloman and Williams named Toby Mundy of Atlantic Books, London, as the head of a festival advisory panel that includes award-winning authors Philip Gourevitch of the USA and Petina Gappah of Zimbabwe. The panel, with access to literary circles worldwide, will assist Open Book in crafting its international lineup.

Cape Town Tourism’s executive manager for marketing, Lianne Burton, put the Mother City firmly behind the initiative. “We are extremely excited about the long-term potential for this event,” she said in a letter of support to the organisers. “Cape Town’s relatively untapped treasure is that we are a city of ideas, of creativity and culture, of diversity, of self expression, of freedom, and of fascinating people with compelling stories to tell. Our authors and academies are globally respected, and the potential to position Cape Town as a place of thought leadership and ideas-sharing is limitless. Open Book is perfect for this.”

Partnering with Sloman and Williams are Equal Education, the organisation behind the 1 School 1 Library 1 Librarian campaign, and the Cape Times.

Alide Dasnois, editor of the Cape Times, said: “The Cape Times is proud to be associated with Open Book Cape Town, which will bring top South African and foreign writers into the heart of our city and offer the people of Cape Town the best festival of books and reading they’ve ever known.”

Equal Education, meanwhile, brings fresh ingredients to the standard literary festival model.

“The festival will help leverage support for our libraries campaign,” said the organisation’s Doron Isaacs, “and will foster debate on other ways to make books more widely available. But beyond that we’ve agreed to co-organise an Open Book youth programme that will generate excitement for reading in the communities and schools where Equal Education works.”

Open Book Cape Town will run from 21 to 25 September 2011, with the main events taking place in venues in the East City Precinct – the section of Cape Town’s CBD, with busy Buitenkant Street as its spine, where The Book Lounge opened its doors three years ago. A key founding sponsor of the festival is Leopard’s Leap Wines, already well-known for supplying the wine at book events across South Africa.

“Leopard’s Leap Wines is excited to be involved in Open Book Cape Town and we have no doubt that it will be a magnificent success and something that will become a permanent fixture and highlight of the South African literary calendar,” said Leopard’s Leap CEO Hein Koegelenberg.

As would be expected of an event run by Sloman and Williams, who are passionate advocates of local letters, South African authors will feature strongly in the literary showcase.

“Imagine it: more than a dozen top international writers joined on stage with the cream of the South African book scene,” said Sloman. “With world literature’s eyes focused on Cape Town, we will have an amazing opportunity to promote the best of South African writing to an international audience.

“Open Book Cape Town is meant to be exactly what it says, opening the world of books and ideas to as many people as possible. At The Book Lounge, we’re known for going big with book events – and our ambition is to make Open Book Cape Town the biggest ‘bookjol’ the city has ever seen.”

For more information on Open Book Cape Town, please contact Mervyn Sloman (021 462 2425 / or Ben Williams (021 434 4333 /


Of course, BOOK SA readers will be the first to hear more about Open Book as the programme takes shape.

Stay tuned – and save the dates! September 21 to September 25, 2011: Open Book Cape Town.

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Postscript: Jacana‘s Peter van der Woude won the 2nd annual Book Lounge Award for Bookish Brilliance for being, well, bookishly brilliant. BOOK SA won the first gong, which is in fact a beautiful trophy comprising a plexiglass-enclosed old-skool typewriter with a special message typed on a sheet in the feed roller. Congratulations to Pete!


Recent comments:

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">moi</a>
    December 1st, 2010 @19:22 #

    very kewl touch to include Heritage day in the festival's run 8-)

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Ingrid Andersen</a>
    Ingrid Andersen
    December 1st, 2010 @19:49 #

    Ben and Mervyn do it again! All good things for this new venture!

    *makes a note in her diary and breaks out champagne*

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    December 1st, 2010 @22:26 #

    You guys! Why can't you rule the universe? This is awesome in the true sense of the word, what a great big treat to anticipate. Congratulations and thanks for all the incredibly hard work that must have gone on behind the scenes -- and which still lies ahead. I'll wash glasses for you anytime.

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Rustum Kozain</a>
    Rustum Kozain
    December 2nd, 2010 @08:53 #

    Fookin hell! This is amazing. Ben, Mervyn, big big ups from the Obs massive.

  • Ben - Editor
    Ben - Editor
    December 2nd, 2010 @09:23 #

    Thanks, everyone! :)

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Sarah Lotz</a>
    Sarah Lotz
    December 2nd, 2010 @09:39 #

    I knew that Mervyn's announcement was going to be something fabulous, but not this fabulous. You are both brilliant.
    Quick, someone get hold of Stephen King's publicist(s). My dad says to tell him that there's a dome over Noordhoek (and I have a spare room if he needs somewhere to stay).

  • Mervyn
    December 2nd, 2010 @09:56 #

    Thanks guys. Pretty amped this side. And hungover.

  • Christine
    December 2nd, 2010 @10:59 #

    Cool! Ben and Mervyn for president!

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Kathryn</a>
    December 3rd, 2010 @10:01 #

    Congratulations Ben & Mervyn! I will definitely be there, have diarised it :)

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Aernout Zevenbergen</a>
    Aernout Zevenbergen
    December 7th, 2010 @11:02 #

    Hahaha - what an AMAZING initiative!!!!


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