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Right! That's a wrap of our #ManBooker2014 coverage. Congratulations to Richard Flanagan bookslive.co.za/Yq9F

Archive for the ‘Feature’ Category

Waiting for the Vegetarians

Sophy Kohler muses on the Richmond Bookbedonnerd book festival, now in its seventh year, taking place from 23 to 25 October. View the programme at Richmondnc.co.za.

For Boekbedonnerd organiser Darryl David, Richmond is the perfect place for a literary festival — it is in the middle of nowhere, so once you convince your participants to make the trip, they are compelled to stay. But are they? A friend had her husband keep the car running while she delivered her talk. They lasted less than two hours, unprepared to face a room in the eerie motel alongside us and Norman Bates.

Richmond lies on the N1, just beyond the comfier bounds of the Western Cape and roughly equidistant between Johannesburg and Cape Town. My boyfriend and I have done the drive from both sides now. It’s an extra hour versus the Freestate (Dis mos mielies!).

Few people set off with Richmond in mind as their final destination, it is a conduit and one less desirable than Graaff-Reinet or even Colesburg. But it has modeled itself as a “book town” for the purposes of tourism — you can find Willard Price in hardback — and books journalists know Richmond for Boekbedonnerd, now in its seventh year. The festival traps no more than four gullible reporters annually (two of them I can usually account for) and a handful of the rarest authors you will ever see. And this weekend, it is happening again.

The permanent residents are a Lynchian ensemble cast — a hunchback rides around on a disability moped offering to show unsuspecting visitors “his snakes” and The Giant is there, somewhere, too. In one bookshop, a sign proclaiming “Welcome to the Old South Africa” is only slightly more unsettling than the massive giraffe that looms in the passage behind it — a taxidermist’s magnum opus.

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We joke about buying property in Richmond; it seems a natural halfway point between the two cities that divide our lives and has become an unlikely constant in our relationship. But beneath our banter is something more serious — we are aware of the pull of the margins, the allure of the Karoo’s timelessness; we are attracted to this strange nowhere.

During one of the long drives we plan a restaurant, a gastronomical companion piece to the festival, a refreshment station to ward off scurvy and stasis, born out of endless days of lamb chops and chips. Like the town’s other restaurants it would be open for two days a year, its staff brought in from the township or the prison for their lucky moment of employment.

We imagine the Double R spliced with Leo’s, a place where local authors fight to swap eponymous dishes beneath the mounted heads of sable antelope; where Rian Malan would kill for A Change of Sliced Tongue and Antjie Krog only ever orders My Artichoke’s Heart.

Our signature dish, Ah, But Your Lamb is Beautiful, would take care of the Karoo’s staple menu item and appease any regulars who feel threatened by change. And, while our morning customers may be restricted to a Story of an African Farm Breakfast, for lunch we’d allow a choice between The Seed Loaf is Mine and the more decadent Daughter’s Burger.

Our cocktail list would be equally ostentatious with Rumours of Cane and Portrait with Key Limes likely to be favorites. Layers of chocolate sponge cake and white mousse will embrace in our famous dessert, The Quiet Violence of Creams. But perhaps our real monkey maker will be the 24-hour pizza special, Gobbling at Night.

But Richmond’s hallucinatory effects wear off when you hit the edge of the dome, 20 kilometres out, and our desperate attempts at entertaining ourselves are short-lived. We are left with the sense that Richmond’s own humour will always be better than our best attempts at faking it, that we will never be as interesting as its residents, nor have enough backbone to rejoin the past.

But I still imagine JM Coetzee, that prodigal son, wandering into our little diner (heavy curtains, red plastic booths, neon lights) to find that someone’s named a sandwich after him. And he’ll sit down and order a glass of tap water and the Book of Raw, because nobody liked White Whiting.

~ ~ ~

 


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A Vivid Voice: Ivan Vladislavic Remembers Chris van Wyk

Chris van Wyk

First published in the Sunday Times

Ivan Vladislavić remembers his friend, poet and novelist Chris van Wyk, who loved and lived through stories.

Chris knew books could change your life. Could save your life. If you want to hear his booming laugh, open any page of his memoirs.

The Year of the TapewormEggs to Lay, Chickens to HatchShirley, Goodness & MercyLong Walk to FreedomTwenty in 20

Chris van Wyk was a rare kind of writer. He brought people and places so vividly to life in his books that reading them makes you feel more fully alive yourself. His company had the same effect: he was so full of life that it spilled over to the people around him.

We met when I joined Ravan Press as a social studies editor in 1984. The press was in an old house in O’Reilly Road, Berea, loomed over by hotels and blocks of flats. On my first day there, it was Chris who steered me towards the crucial stuff — author files, stationery cupboard, kettle. He had been editing Staffrider for a while and was keen to show me the back issues of the magazine. We went into the garden, where a dilapidated coach house faced the service alley, and I followed him up a wooden ladder into the attic. In the hot, dim space under the corrugated-iron roof, surrounded by towers of books and magazines, he told me about his work, and I began to think that editing might be a proper job after all.

I had seen him once before, in the late ’70s or early ’80s, at a poetry reading on the Wits campus. There were a lot of angry young men on the programme, the young black poets who would fill the pages of Staffrider, and Chris read “About graffiti”. It is an extraordinary poem, this tough, wryly amusing collage of hard-boiled street imagery.

When one black child tells another / “Ek sal jou klap / dan cross ek die border” / it’s graffiti.

He read the piece so vehemently that the wit passed me by, almost shouting the last lines: Soon graffiti will wade into Jo’burg / unhampered by the tourniquet of influx control.

When I came across Chris again at Ravan, the angry young man had mellowed. Politically he’d shifted from the Black Consciousness camp into the non-racial world of the newly established United Democratic Front. He was then involved in the Transvaal Anti-President’s Council campaign against the Tricameral Parliament.

I remember one of his stories from this time. He and some other activists were picked up while they were going door to door and taken to John Vorster Square, where he was left in the hands of a sergeant. He started out boldly determined to speak English only and ignore the policeman’s rank. But then he noticed the size of the man’s freckled fists, he said, and found he was quite able to say “Sersant” in his best Afrikaans. This sort of self-ironising comedy about painful things is at the heart of Chris’s storytelling. He often evokes the laughter that isn’t far from tears.

When I met him, Chris had already published his first poetry collection, It Is Time to Go Home (1979), which won the Olive Schreiner Award; and his children’s classic, A Message in the Wind (1982), with a warm introduction by Richard Rive. He and his friend Fhazel Johennesse had also founded and disbanded Wietie, a literary magazine no less extraordinary for having run to just two issues.

I bought a copy of his collection and soon realised that his skill as a poet went far beyond the jagged polemic of “About graffiti”. There was the conceptually brilliant “In detention”, which has entered South Africa’s collective cultural memory, something that does not happen often. This intricate verse, no longer than a sonnet, remains one of the most chilling critiques of the apartheid lie.

Many of the other poems are equally memorable. The book is studded with exquisite love poems dedicated to Kathy, his high-school sweetheart and later his wife. “Winter without you”, “Portrait”, “You must never know I’m writing you a love poem” carry a huge emotional load on their slender frames. My favourite is the perfectly simple, heart-burstingly beautiful “Confession”:

i would
have brought
you
mulberries
but
they threatened
to explode
their mauve
corpuscles
all over
my
best shirt
so
i ate them

As an aspirant writer myself, I was both admiring and envious. How had he learnt to write like this? There are answers to this impossible question in his memoir, but that lay 20 years in the future.

There were a dozen of us working at Ravan Press. The editors — the other two were Mike Kirkwood and Kevin French — sat together in a single room, two desks on either side, facing one another across a narrow channel. We talked and joked, overheard one another’s telephone conversations, edited and argued. Frequently we rearranged the schedule. We worked hard too, as the publishing record shows. We were harassed by impatient authors and the security police. When the CCB threw a petrol bomb through the back door, it was a stroke of luck that a house full of paper did not burn to the ground.

Chris and I sat side by side for four years. We discovered a world of common interests, in books of course, but also in things like crosswords, which we did at lunchtime, somewhat competitively. He told me his favourite crossword clue was gegs (9,4). It’s up there with the best: the answer is “scrambled eggs”. He liked it so much, he mentioned it in his memoir. He was an incredible punster. Given half a chance, he could keep a riff of puns going for 10 minutes.

Chris poured his energies into his work with the Staffrider writers, who arrived at the house like pilgrims from all over the Rand. He spent half his time on a bench in the garden, going through handwritten poems in school exercise books with the authors, or unrolling drawings on the counter where the orders were packaged. Because of his poor eyesight he had to hold the pages up at an angle, which made his attention seem incredibly fierce.

Ravan was something of a refuge. Despite the personal and political tensions that played themselves out in the press, it felt a lot saner than the surrounding madness. Some of us made enduring friendships. We drank where we could, at the Market bar, or Dawson’s, or a gloomy kroeg in Langlaagte. We ate in the Coffee Bean in Hillbrow, where the proprietor Penny turned a blind eye. Mainly we got together in one another’s homes, in Troyeville, Noordgesig, Crown Mines. I was welcomed into Chris and Kathy’s place in Riverlea. Long after Ravan came to a sticky end, I would drop in at Arno Street for a chat and stay until lunchtime, or even suppertime. Sometimes Willie Smith would come past with a couple of quarts. Kathy, who was always the rock in Chris’s life, tolerated our carousing with good humour.

Once, in the early days of our friendship, we were reminiscing about the book exchanges we had gone to as kids in search of Alistair MacLean or Louis L’Amour, and I remarked that we were cut from the same cloth. Years later, when he took me past the matchbox house he’d grown up in, I realised what a thoughtless statement that had been.

In the early-2000s, Chris wrote the series of biographies for young readers that earned him enough to focus on his writing. The two books that followed about his childhood in Riverlea, Shirley, Goodness and Mercy and Eggs to Lay, Chickens to Hatch, will loom large in his legacy. Here he found his true voice on the page and it turned out to be a resonant echo of the one he used in the world. You can hear him speaking in every funny, sad, large-hearted line.

The books put Riverlea on the map and brought him a wide readership. It was the local response that mattered most to him, the reactions of old schoolteachers or neighbourhood shopkeepers. He loved to tell stories about the many people who contacted him to correct or confirm things, to challenge how they’d been portrayed or ask why they’d been left out.

The interest in his memoirs helped him to discover a talent for public speaking. The wonderful storytelling that had always entertained his friends grew into a kind of comedy. He was utterly fearless in these performances. If a little boy cried in one of his stories, he would bawl like a baby. If his mom shouted at him, he would shout at the top of his voice. In Shirley, Goodness and Mercy, he tells us that his first teacher, Miss Abrahams, told stories with this kind of conviction.

To the end, Chris made me laugh. We were talking about his chemotherapy and I said, “I’m glad the tumour’s responding well.”

He said, “No, no, Vlad, you don’t understand. We want it to respond badly.”

He told stories about the cancer survivors he met during his treatment. I remember thinking: “He’ll get through this. He’ll beat the odds, and then he’ll write an amazing book about it, full of the human detail that only he would notice.”

I will miss the long, hilarious phone calls, usually sparked by a pun in a headline or a clever newsbill (on the impending transfer of the footballer of the year to Real Madrid: “Hier kom Kaka”) or some Louis Jordan or Cole Porter rhyme he’d heard on Eleanor Moore’s radio show The Bandstand. He made me laugh so much the neighbours would come to see what was going on. It’s a truism that writers live on in their books, but with Chris the comment holds. If you want to hear his voice, his booming laugh, open any page of his memoirs.

Chris knew books could change your life. Could save your life. It’s why the failings of our education system infuriated him and why he spoke so often at schools. It’s remarkable, even in the life story of a writer, how much his memoirs circle around books: getting them, having them taken from you, using them to change your mind and the minds of others, revealing their true uses and values.

One of his most touching childhood stories tells how his Ouma took him to town to buy books out of her pension, carefully considering each one before pronouncing on its merits. And how he discovered a few months later that she had never learnt to read and write.

In the late ’70s, when the country was a darker place than it is now, he dedicated the poem Candle to his friend Caplan, another Riverlea raconteur who died too young. It ends like this:

Read brother read.

Only the wick shines red now.

But it is not yet dark.

Remember brother,

it is not yet dark.

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Open Book 2014: Imraan Coovadia, Geoff Dyer and Hedley Twidle Tackle the Art of the Essay (Plus: Video)

Imraan Coovadia and Geoff Dyer sat down with Hedley Twidle to discuss the art of the essay in front of a 2014 Open Book Festival audience today.

Twidle and Dyer have both previously been shortlisted for the Hatchet Job of the Year award, but it was Coovadia’s infamous essay “Coetzee in and out of Cape Town” that got the discussion going. Twidle called it an example of “nailbomb criticism”: “You put everything in there: very serious critique, together with gossip and scurrilous stories.”

“There are polite cultures, and there are warm cultures,” Coovadia responded. “If you’re living in Cape Town you’re in a polite culture and it’s actually extremely repressive. I much prefer warm cultures. I’d rather be yelled at to having someone politely steer me to the door.”

Coovadia, much to the amusement of the audience, added: “You’re assuming I knew what I was doing, which is a very dangerous assumption to make about people. I think essays sometimes make kinds of connections or do certain things, and you’re not entirely sure you’re doing. I think the best books are ones where the writer doesn’t really know what they’re doing and our job is to simply give them a kind of beautiful quality or flow.”

Twidle asked Coovadia if he was “trying to introduce friction” to what he has called the “frictionless space” of the South African literary system.

“Yeah, I was, and I realised the costs were way too high. That was one part of it. But all our South African systems are constructed to absorb large quantities of resistance and put it down, whether it’s economics, whether it’s university, or the company … we think we live in a democracy but all our systems are really good at repression.

“If you write a critical book review you’re going to pay for that in blood, every month of your life. And similarly all of the different sub-systems in our society. And I think it just makes the cost of resistance too high.”

Dyer was asked about his essay in But Beautiful on influence in jazz, and how it can move both forwards and backwards, which led to a discussion about Harold Bloom and a good quip from Coovadia:

YouTube Preview Image
 

Twidle wound down the discussion by asking: “There are all kinds of critical discursive prose that are now enabled to circulate by the Internet; has this given a fillip to the essay at all? Is it a golden age for the essay, or where are we at?”

“I don’t know if it’s a golden age of the essay but the essay has become briefly slightly fashionable again,” Dyer said, “and I think maybe that speaks to a kind of impatience, really. But I think the other thing as well is that if somebody is solely an essayist it would be quite a, sort of, lowly niche to be occupying, really. And if we were to think of the very best essayists, they would tend to be people who thought of themselves primarily as novelists, and this was something they did in their spare time.

“Gore Vidal is the classic one, nobody really reads Gore Vidal’s novels, we all read his essays. Even somebody like Martin Amis, who’s at his best as an essayist, I think he’d be incredibly insulted by that. Also, to take a really extreme example, the great essayist Susan Sontag, who really insisted she was a great writer of fiction. But I think the important thing is that they all regarded the essay as something on the lesser slopes of their achievements, a kind of sideline.”

Our editor Jennifer Malec Tweeted from the event:

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Open Book Festival 2014 Kicks Off With a Bang: Tweets from the Launch Party

The 2014 Open Book Festival has officially kicked off! The launch party was held last night, 16 September 2014, at the Book Lounge in Cape Town, and from the outset the twittersphere was abuzz with excitement.

Liesl Jobson tweeted from the party and captured quite a few famous faces in pixels – both local and international authors. Have a glimpse at the timeline below for snaps of Zakes Mda, Justin Fox, Geoff Dyer, Andrew Brown, Raymond E Feist and many, many more!

Councillor Garreth Bloor from The City of Cape Town and the Book Lounge’s Mervyn Sloman welcomed a full house to this year’s festival.

If you find yourself at Open Book and in a twist over which events to attend, we’ve compiled a list of 10 unmissable ones for your convenience.
 


 


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My Lost Inheritance: The Stories My Grandmother Never Told

Bontle Senne considers the immeasurable value of South African stories for South African children, and shares some upcoming projects that aim to reinvigorate African oral storytelling for the next generation.

African Myths and LegendsBabalelaRefilweFamous Dinosaurs of AfricaJu|’hoan Children’s Picture DictionaryLet There Be Light

I wish my grandmother had told me stories.

I was often left in the care of my paternal grandmother while both my parents worked full-time jobs. A former domestic worker, she was the kind of granny you see in movies and read about in books, down to her incredible homemade ginger biscuits. As a child, I was obsessed with reading. My parents did not buy me many books but I devoured the fiction section of my primary school library. After I had tired of Babysitters’ Club, Choose Your Own Adventure and Goosebumps, I made my way through Dickens, Austen and other authors who I’m not sure I would have the time or inclination to read now as an adult.

A book was a preferable companion to me than any person or pet but I don’t remember ever reading a South African book outside of school setworks. And even then, our exposure to South African English fiction was limited Maru by Bessie Head who, though born in South Africa, perhaps belongs more fairly to Botswana. My school offered only Afrikaans as an additional language and we read many interesting, complex works in the language. While I enjoyed many of these books immensely, I could not do so without a bit of black middle-class guilt. My father had been among the children who risked their lives in the Soweto Uprising of 1976 protesting against Afrikaans as a language of instruction in their schools and there I was, some 25 years later, happily tucking into Skilpoppe and Vlerkdans. South Africa can be a weird place sometimes.

Had I had the option of taking another indigenous language as a subject, I would certainly have taken it. Had I had any South African or Africa children’s books in my school library, I am sure I read them as enthusiastically as I read Roald Dahl or Jacqueline Wilson. And had my grandmother or mother told me the stories of her grandmother or mother, I think I would have had an even richer relationship with the written word.

The invalidation of oral African storytelling

I understand now why they did not. My work at the Puku Children’s Literature Foundation exposed me to many realities that had never occurred to me as a child. One such reality was that the reason my grandmother did not tell me stories was likely because of the systematic invalidation of African oral storytelling during apartheid and after it.

As my former colleague and current chairperson of the Puku Children’s Literature Foundation, Elinor Sisulu, put it:

“The denial of our own stories was perfectly logical in the education system of a racist settler society but I find it difficult to understand why we remain in the same grey area of confusion in post-colonial societies.

Throughout Southern Africa there is little conscious investment in ensuring that African folklore and traditions are reflected in the literature that our children consume in classrooms.” (Quoted from an article that originally appeared in The Times, 22 January 2013, as part of the of the Nal’ibali ‘Here’s the Story’ series of columns)

The education system that I am a product of did not believe that oral storytelling had a place in our curriculum or as a tool to unlock a love of the written word. My grandmother did not believe that she would add value to my education or literacy with her stories and so she did not tell me any. She encouraged me to read everything I could get my hands on but was never concerned about the Eurocentric nature of everything I had access to. And so, with her passing, I lost the stories that my granny had grown up listening to and loving. I will never be able to tell my future children her stories and history of the Senne family. That link to my heritage and my identity is forever severed.

Bringing our stories back

Today, there is a growing recognition of the role that oral storytelling plays in literacy and the acquisition of complex concepts in home and additional languages. In South Africa, PRAESA and Nal’ibali have done much to stimulate more appreciation for the value of our indigenous stories, sharing their multilingual stories online as well as tips for parents trying to share their own.

Early next year, Puku will host its third annual isiXhosa Children’s Story Festival organised in association with the National Arts Festival and Rhodes University and sponsored by Redisa. SAIDE’s African Storybook Project is working with teachers and parents in South Africa, Lesotho, Kenya and Uganda to turn oral stories into digital ones in print or video format. I could list a half a dozen other organisations involved in similar work across the continent but the real tipping point will be in the home. When someone else’s grandmother starts to believe that her stories are valid and in telling them, she is changing the educational outcomes of her grandchildren forever, that will be the signal that we are really making progress on reviving oral storytelling for both urban and rural African children. Until then, I’ve already made it very clear to my future children’s grandmothers that they should start collecting their stories now because there is no way my children will lose the stories of their grandmothers the way I lost the stories of mine.

Bontle Senne is a Golden Baobab Media Fellow who produces articles on behalf of the organisation to promote and highlight the African children literary scene and Golden Baobab’s work. Golden Baobab is an organisation with a dream of seeing a world filled with wonder and possibility one children book at a time. Bontle is a blogger, web editor, speaker and literary activist on the board of NPO Puku Children’s Literature Foundation and NPO READ Educational Trust. She writes stories for FunDza Literary Trust and regularly speaks on social media and children’s literature at international literary festivals and conferences.

Image courtesy of Golden Baobab

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Fiction Friday: Extract From David Platt’s Nova Short Story Competition-winning Entry “Doppleganger”

Tech-Savvy ParentingConquestRead an excerpt from David Platt’s short story “Doppleganger”, which took first place at last year’s Nova Short Story competition in the South African section. His winning story appeared in Probe 159, cover art courtesy of Jürgen Zimmerman.

The competition is organised by Science Fiction and Fantasy South Africa (SFFSA) and this year’s closing date is 30 September 2014, at midnight. Tech-Savvy Parenting: A Guide to Raising Safe Children in a Digital World author Arthur Goldstuck will judge the South African section, and Jenny Ridyard, co-author of Conquest, will judge the General section.

Read an extract from “Doppleganger”:

Chased him for months; promotion material.
One of two known Struggle leaders. The young one, charisma machine, apparently.
Not too charismatic with his face leaking. Mouth so swollen by now he couldn’t talk if he wanted to – China went one step too far hitting him with debilitator-shot early, cut off muscle reception, sealed his fate. Rookie error – literally. Now we don’t get intel – just the impact of a clandestine death.
Got him through infiltration, in a fucking hole in Mozambique. – untested biotech to lift classified MK intel. Traced a death threat on Security Minister Burger.
Me + van Staden: “Cheese”; top photo op for higher-ups.
Hero cop. Apartheid dog. I like both names equally.
Over now though, save the Wurm.
Rookie clips the crystal biosphere to Mphila’s neck, miniature claws cutting miniature holds into flesh. Press down. Hiss. Wurm burrows his way from synthetic plasma sludge to bloodstream. Convulsions.
Involuntary vomit, shits his pants, not pretty, Rookie leaps away. Botha laughs – one of the meanest motherfuckers I’ve ever met. Good cop; better assassin.
Wurmpie writhes under the skin.

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Fiction Friday: Extract From The Sea – “Up She Rises” by SA Partridge

SA Partridge

 
The SeaMermaids, shipwrecks, and horror stories all from the deep feature in this week’s Fiction Friday.

Our short story excerpt comes from the pen of SA Partridge, author of such books as Sharp Edges and Dark Poppy’s Demise.

Shared on Aerodrome, “Up She Rises” conjures up old sea magic within the anthology, The Sea, edited by Nerine Dorman.

There were whispers among the fishermen that something was wrong with the sea. They would know, if there was. Ma believed that I was one of the ocean’s children too, just like Pa. She had accepted it, as if my fate was a certainty. When I was much younger, the realisation that I belonged to this wild, unpredictable creature filled me with dread, but nowadays I found myself feeling the urge to be near the water more and more. Maybe Ma was right, after all. But then again, she usually was.

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Academy of American Poets Appoints First African Chancellor, Khaled Mattawa

Academy of American Poets logo

 
Noted Libyan translator and poet Khaled Mattawa and Arizona poet laureate Alberto Ríos have been elected Chancellors of the Academy of American Poets.

They join an illustrious list of poets who have held the honorary position, including Marianne Moore, WH Auden, Elizabeth Bishop, Adrienne Rich and John Ashbery.

Khaled MattawaAdonisThe appointment of Mattawa upholds the Academy’s pledge to implement significant changes in its structure, after the infamous resignation of chancellors Maxine Kumin and Carolyn Kizer in 1998, amid protestations over the absence of African-Americans, women, and other minorities on the board.

Mattawa and Ríos take over the seats vacated by Victor Hernández Cruz and Ron Padgett, and will serve as Chancellors for six years.

Mattawa, who was born in Libya, is assistant professor of creative writing at the University of Michigan.

Academy Chancellor Marilyn Hacker said, Mattawa “is one of the best, most inventive, lyrical and intellectually challenging American poets of his generation. His work is as daring in its amalgam of poetic techniques as it is dazzling in the breadth of its subject matter.”

About Alberto Ríos, Academy Chancellor Naomi Shihab Nye said, “For decades, Alberto Ríos has graciously, wittily, and lovingly created a rich body of poems and prose evoking the culture of Mexican American family and community life along the borderlands and in the vast deserts and mountainscapes of Arizona and the American West. His dazzling voice weaves the disappearing magic of ancestral memory into the mysteries of changing time – always a glowing champion for the power of the particular and the undersung.”

Watch this video of Mattawa reading his English translation of “Celebrating Childhood” from Adonis, which was shortlisted for the 2011 International Griffin Poetry Prize:

YouTube Preview Image

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Images courtesy of NYU and Poetshouse.org


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Five Top Children’s Authors and Illustrators Interviewed in Celebration of International Picture Book Month

Well-crafted picture books are a genre all on their own and represent the careful weaving together of the visual and the word into a single thread of the story which delights, satisfies and feeds all who read them – young and old.

Goblin Diaries: Apprenticed to the Red WitchThe Herd BoyTo Every Thing There is a SeasonTheo the Library CatSisi Goes to School and Other Stories

This November, international Picture Book Month, Arabella Koopman, Content Manager for Nal’ibali, a national reading-for-enjoyment campaign, interviewed five of South Africa’s top children’s authors and illustrators to find out what motivates and inspires their work and why celebrating international Picture Book Month is so important, commenting that: “If you want to rekindle the child in you, explore a picture book. If you want to ignite the fire for reading in children, share a picture book with them.”

Marjorie van Heerden (Author and Illustrator)

Award winning Marjorie van Heerden has been drawing picture stories since before she could read and write and has been creating them ever since. Her work is featured in over 120 children’s books worldwide and has been published in over 30 languages.

Q: How did you first get into writing and illustrating picture books?

A: After I finished my studies at the Michaelis School of Fine Art at the University of Cape Town, and after my daughter and son were born, I became a full-time mom with an artist’s studio at home – it was my children to led me to start focussing on children’s books, particularly picture books.

Q: Which part of the process do you most enjoy?

A: For me, the fun part of picture book illustration is every part of the process – the fun time is all the time! However, the creative process, before the final illustrations, is not easy, but, at the same time, it’s part of the fun! The satisfaction lies in working at it until you solve each of the tricky parts. I love picture books – reading the story and experiencing the pictures. I believe that benefits of pictures are not only for children, a well-illustrated picture book provides the gateway to an experience – an adventure that can stimulate the mind and the imagination.

Niki Daly (Author and Illustrator)

Niki Daly has been writing and illustrating award-winning picture books for 35 years. His latest book, The Herd Boy, is one of Jacana’s recommended picture books for 2013.

Q: Why do you think we should be celebrating picture books?

A: Pictures books should be celebrated as a powerful spark for life – books are for the mind and imagination what food is to our bodies. When they have pictures, as all good books should have, they connect us to worlds that are sometimes beyond our imaginations.

Q: What is the most fun part of working on picture books?

A: The best part for me is creating the characters – I can fill up many pages of my sketchbook with them. Indeed, many of my books spring from a particular character that I have drawn. A strong character can pull you straight into a story with them.

Jude Daly (Illustrator and Author)

Married to Niki Daly, Jude Daly is an acclaimed writer and illustrator of children’s picture books herself. Her next book, available in 2014, will be illustrated by her husband.

Q: What is the hardest part of working on picture books?

A: A blank sheet of paper! Although, after 20 years of illustrating and 13 years of re-writing, I have come to love the thrill of illustrating and writing books. My main challenge is to silence the voice in my head that tells me I can’t do it!

Q: Is there anything you’d like to say to children about pictures book?

A: Picture books are an essential ingredient for feeding the imagination and for opening up endless possibilities – I hope you never feel too old to enjoy them!

Wendy Hartmann (Author)

Wendy Hartmann started writing in 1986 and has published more than 40 children’s books. Her books have been selected for honour’s lists and nominated for writing and illustration awards.

Q: Why do you think we should be celebrating picture books?

A: When you open a picture book, you discover a whole new world. Everyone needs to be exposed to the wonders and delights of picture books. No matter who you are you will discover a picture book that you will want to share.

Q: What inspires you to work on picture books?

A: That has to be the moment when the story pulls together and you feel a certain excitement. Then the illustrator starts to work and begins to interpret your words – it’s a wonderful development. The hardest part is cutting out words and sentences you thought were so important and finding out that some stories just don’t work. But, the ones that do open up a whole new world to the reader, no matter how old they are, and that inspires me.

Joan Rankin (Illustrator)

With many awards behind her name, Joan believes children’s books are the best, most exciting way to learn about life, language and solving problems. Her latest book, Sisi Goes to School and Other Stories written by Wendy Hartmann, is now on shelves.

Q: How long have you been illustrating picture books for?

A: I wrote and illustrated my first picture books about our family pets when I was 15 years old but my career really took off after I won the Daan Retief Children’s Book Illustration Competition in 1986. It really was learning on the job and I suddenly had many, many books to illustrate.

Q: What is the process like for you?

A: A book can take me anywhere from between six weeks to six months or longer to complete. The hardest part is getting started. You have to get to know the main character, their reactions and emotions – it can be exhausting! But, it’s always fun, if it isn’t, the book is at risk of being boring. Great examples of successful picture books are Clown and Zagazoo, both by Quentin Blake.

Nal’ibali will be giving away book hampers containing recommended pictures books from publishing houses Jacana, NB Publishers, Songololo and Pan MacMillan. To enter, email letters@nalibali.org with your contact and postal details. To read reviews of these titles and for further information on reading with children visit the Nal’ibali web and mobisites, www.nalibali.org and www.nalibali.mobi.

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Looking Sho’t Left: Tymon Smith Interviews Sunday Times Ficton Prize Shortlistee Imraan Coovadia

The Institute for Taxi PoetryBy Tymon Smith for the Sunday Times

Fiction Prize finalist Imraan Coovadia marries ‘taxi’ and ‘poetry’ to steer a tale about murder and beauty in Cape Town.

Imraan Coovadia grew up in Durban and holds an undergraduate degree from Harvard, a master’s from Cornell and a PhD from Yale. He is director of the creative writing programme at UCT and the author of four novels, including High Low In-between, which won the 2010 Sunday Times Fiction Prize and the University of Johannesburg Prize. His latest novel, The Institute for Taxi Poetry, begins with the murder of a taxi poet. At the Institute for Taxi Poetry, where young people train to write poetry on the bodies of Cape Town’s taxis, the dead man’s protégé tries to make sense of his death.

What was the genesis of the novel?

I liked the way the words “taxi” and “poetry” fell in with each other. Like most novelists, I didn’t understand poets well and wanted to more. And I had developed an interest in taxis since watching certain films about taxi drivers (Taxi Driver, Night on Earth) in the early 1990s. Plus, if you’re trying to figure out the unplanned way this country has changed since 1990, the taxi industry is probably the best way in. It seems transport changes more rapidly than the conservative poetry-industrial complex.

Did you spend any time with taxi drivers in preparation for the writing?

I’ve taken taxis to places like airports and hotels and have always tried to talk to the drivers. I read a fair amount about the history of taxis in this country and interviewed the chairman of a taxi association. I had friends who had spent more time in taxis and I borrowed the stories they had borrowed from the drivers. But most research you do as a writer is experimenting with sentences and scenes to see which ones resist reading.

You work in an academic institution but you’re often cynical about academia in your writing. Do you get a lot of blowback from academics as a result?

I have many wonderful colleagues and friends at universities. I think it would be unjustifiable if, say, young magicians mistreated JK Rowling or serial killers travelling through time took a special interest in Lauren Beukes, just because they had been portrayed in their good and bad aspects in their novels. Having said that, yes, on blowback, and it should stop because it shows we don’t have democracy in our bones. But resistance is interesting when you encounter it as a writer, or as a person. Sometimes it shows you a mistake you’ve made. Sometimes it implies you might be right.

Are you concerned with the social peculiarities of Cape Town and how do they affect this story?

Yes. I suppose the story has something to do with the combination of beauty, murder, monopoly and social exclusion that I think defines Cape Town.

In the book you’ve re-imagined Cape Town in terms of a relationship with the former Portuguese colonies rather than Europe. Why?

I don’t know. It sounded right and then it started to seem imaginatively right. Like a poet, I was misled into thinking that certain sounds made an interesting sense.

How do you feel about the state of writing in SA at the moment?

It’s uneven. There’s lots of unexpected new and startling work, as the Sunday Times shortlist demonstrates. And there’s stuff that doesn’t interest me.

You’re working on a new novel. Can you tell us about it and how it’s going?

It’s a historical novel about South Africa between 1970 and 2010. And I’m realising that, after 20 years of writing, I still don’t have the slightest idea of how novels work.

If you were to win the prize again, what would you do with the money?

I saw recently that the extensive Gupta family, originally of Saharanpur in India, has been living in a house valued at R490000 in Saxonwold, Johannesburg. Now, for R490000 in Saxonwold, you can’t buy a doghouse fit for a thin beagle, or a cathouse, for that matter. I propose to dedicate the prize money, if I win, to buying air tickets to send the Guptas back to Saharanpur, where they will enjoy a fairer standard of living. In fact, I would say our freedom isn’t complete until we take care of the Guptas and everyone with the heart of a Gupta and every last person in government who gave excuses instead of treating the Guptas with decency. Because if they can do that to the Guptas, what will they do to the least of us? What will they do for the most of us?

  • The Institute for Taxi Poetry is published by Umuzi

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