2015 was a big news year for Books LIVE; we broke a number of stories and even found books and authors making an impact in mainstream news media. This is not merely a reflection of good reporting on our part; it is an indication that books and book news are becoming more interesting to the average South African, and this is surely a development to celebrate.
Here are the 12 top stories from Books LIVE in 2015:
In April, Mia Couto wrote an open letter to President Jacob Zuma concerning the xenophobic violence in South Africa, beginning: “We remember you in Maputo, in the 1980s, from that time you spent as a political refugee in Mozambique.”
Zuma replied in an open letter of his own, saying “I remember you from our days in Mozambique,” and calling the neighbouring country his “second home”.
In April, PEN America reported that South African author ZP Dala had been taken to a mental institution in reprisal for her comments about Salman Rushdie during the Time of the Writer Festival in Durban in March.
Dala later clarified the situation surrounding her admittance to a mental healthcare facility, and has since then it seems her year has improved, as she inspired audiences at the Open Book Festival in Cape Town in September and also won the inaugural Minara Aziz Hassim Literary Awards for Debut Fiction for her novel What About Meera.
Celebrated novelist André Brink passed away in February, at the age of 79.
Brink was returning from Belgium, where he had been awarded an honorary doctorate from the Belgian Francophone Université catholique de Louvain (UCL).
Brink was one of our most versatile literary figures, a novelist, dramatist, travel writer, translator, critic and academic, and his books have been translated in more than 30 languages. He is dearly missed.
Helen Moffett’s annual Women’s Day rant has become a Books LIVE tradition, and is usually responsible for a fair chunk of web traffic.
However, it is the original post – from 2012 – that catches the viral wave each August, this year coming in at number four.
Author Mark Behr has passed away in Johannesburg at the end of November at the age of 52, reportedly of a heart attack.
Behr was born in Tanzania in 1963, and grew up in South Africa. His first published novel, The Smell of Apples, appeared first in Afrikaans in 1993 as Die reuk van appels, winning the Eugène Marais Prize, the M-Net Award, the CNA Literary Debut Award and The Art Seidenbaum Award from the Los Angeles Times. It was released in English in 1995.
The success of the novel compelled Behr to speak publicly about his history as a campus spy for the South African security establishment, for which some have never forgiven him.
Thando Mgqolozana’s abandonment of the “white literary system” at the Franschhoek Literary Festival was surely the biggest literary news of the year; a topic that unlocked that rare achievement of breaking out of “books news” and becoming mainstream news.
Mgqolozana’s was not the first occasion of protest at a lack of transformation, or decolonisation, in the publishing industry, but it was perhaps the most influential, and led to a number of follow-up essays and opinion pieces.
It’s no surprise that Sven Eick’s blogpost, in which he asserted that “Cape Town sucks big hairy geographical, socio-economic and climatic balls”, also had its viral moment. It begins:
I’ve been asked this question by Capetonians at least twenty times since I made the decision to move from Cape Town to Johannesburg. Each time it’s accompanied by a look of genuine perplexity, like I’m completely insane. And while you’re reading this, I know some of you are thinking the same thing too.
At the end of November, Kwani Trust set up a fundraiser to raise resources for urgent medical treatment for beloved Kenyan author Binyavanga Wainaina.
Wainaina suffered a stroke in October, and needed to travel to India for treatment. Thankfully, enough money was raised for him to travel there on 28 November. However, the fundraiser is still ongoing, and you can contribute here.
In November, the World Fantasy Awards announced that winners would no longer receive a bust of HP Lovecraft as their trophy. The decision was made in the wake of growing discomfort among authors who regard Lovecraft as an inappropriate figure owing to his “fundamental racism”.
Nigerian-American author Nnedi Okorafor received the World Fantasy Award for her novel, Who Fears Death, in 2011, becoming the first black person to win the award since its inception in 1975. But then she discovered a poem Lovecraft had written in 1912 entitled “On the Creation of Niggers”, and called for a change.
Possibly the first Books LIVE story to be picked up by Buzzfeed, The Guardian, Quartz, The New Republic, The Washington Post, and many more, usually without so much as a hat-tip. A bittersweet milestone.
Poet, author and activist Antjie Krog delivered the keynote address at the 2015 Sunday Times Literary Awards in June. She made a call for white South Africans to perform an act of radical outreach, similar to that of Nelson Mandela 20 years ago when he pulled on Francois Pienaar’s jersey at the 1995 Rugby World Cup.
Krog made statements that drew spirited reactions of a positive and negative sort from the audience – both at the venue and on Twitter – but the speech cemented her position as one of South Africa’s most important public intellectuals.
In July, Ishtiyaq Shukri released a statement of protest after he was detained and deported from Heathrow Airport in London. The 2004 European Union Literary Award-winning author of The Silent Minaret and I See You, had travelled to Heathrow, from where he was to join his wife, who is English, at their home in London. He was searched and detained for nine-and-a-half hours, before being deported back to South Africa.
Shukri said he decided to make a public statement and share his experience to highlight “the increasing heavy-handedness facing African migrants at UK and EU borders”.