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  • Archive for the ‘News’ Category

    Michele Magwood remembers her friend and mentor Stephen Johnson

    Stephen Johnson: the bon vivant bibliophile with a beautiful voice.

    I was devastated to learn of the death of Stephen Johnson early in the new year.

    When I was appointed Books Editor of the Sunday Times in 2000 he took me under his capacious wing. At that time he was the MD of Random House and we would meet in his office high on the Parktown Ridge, surrounded by bookshelves crammed with the greats: Brink, Van Onselen, Coetzee.

    He talked me through how the book industry works – he had been MD of Exclusive books before that – and larded the information with much literary lore. And gossip, of course.

    He was a bon vivant and had a beautiful voice; he loved classical music. He loved books as objects of art, not only their jacket design but their font, the weight of the paper. Most of all, he loved his authors.

    He pushed and encouraged me as a book journalist, sending me to London to interview Sebastian Faulks and a hip young couple in their hip new restaurant called Moro; he knew they would make their mark and they have. Long before Ottolenghi, Sam and Sam Clarke put Mediterranean food on the British map. Years later he sent me back to London to the launch of Salman Rushdie’s memoir Joseph Anton, held in a smart nightclub and thronging with guests like Ian McEwan and Stephen Fry. When I returned he wanted to know every detail.

    Over the years we shared many a meal and glasses of wine, but I saw less of him when he moved to Cape Town. I missed our discussions about who was writing what, and how well, or not.
    He was a friend and a mentor and a great book man. He was a deeply cultivated man in an increasingly uncultured world. I will always be grateful to him.

    When Stephen retired Antjie Krog made an outstanding speech at his farewell party in 2012. It was featured on BooksLive, and it is worth sharing it again:

    It feels terrible to speak at something called a farewell function to Stephen Johnson. It immediately makes me feel like an orphan, like a minion without a Mafia Pappa, like a shareholder without her Magnate of the Published Word.

    So I prefer to think about tonight not as a farewell, but as a celebration; and therefore want to present my contribution as a praisesong rather than a lament.

    But first. A good praise singer goes out of her way to impress on the audience her bona fides – in other words what qualifies her to speak and how much weight her opinion should carry. I think I can say without fear of contradiction that I have published at more publishing houses than a prostitute has had clients on the R310 to Stellenbosch. So I am experienced and I can compare. I have also learnt some lessons of which I will share only one: Beware of the very thin publisher!

    You know what I am talking about. Those who arrive from finance departments with the demeanour of replaceable bank managers, displaying meagre spiritual egos born of housekeeping desire and bookkeeping abstraction. Those who move swiftly, leaving bleeding gaps and who prefer doling out to giving. They are clones; one cannot befriend them.

    No, let us celebrate the not-so-thin ones, because the publishers with which I have taken the biggest risks and produced the greatest success are above all lovers of life. They carry in a perfectly congruous way mentally and physically the idea of joyous largesse, a certain superfluity and the pure pleasure of riot.

    These publishers, of which Stephen is one, first of all LOVE books. They touch paper in a way which convey that their somewhat plumb fingertips are beehives bursting with lustful senses, they caress book covers with their knuckles as if they touch a beloved’s face, they talk about books always with heartbreaking maternal intimacy. For them, the heart of the book and the beauty of the book are inseperable.

    Yes, the true lover of books is alive to the world. These rare publishers, of which Stephen is one, have distinguished tongues and discerning palates. Therefore, every writer blessed to have been published by someone like Stephen will remember som exquisite trance-like events steamed in the pleasures of merlot, marrow and metaphor. Writers who often have to mould themselves on rigid self-denying self-discipline, find it miraculous to be with someone who, like yourself, experiences the world sensually. At last you get spoilt and you rot willingly with noble bliss.

    Whether at lunch or dinner, in a hotel room or a taxi, an office or a meeting – with Stephen it is always underpinned with exquisite textures slanting from windows, gleaming from porcelain, glowing from dark wines, cusping off glass. Yes, one finds oneself with somebody who, like the philosopher Martin Versveld, believes that we make the world human through food; that the world as food is the world and the word humanised; that an eaten world is an intelligible word, a word in which body and spirit are united.

    Completing the full passion spectrum of these earth epicureans, of which Stephen is one, is the love for classical music. Not the run-of-the-mill Fine Music Radio favourites, but experts on German lieder, choral works, great pianists, operatic voices. A drive with them in a car is like unexpectedly encountering a diva: the fingers playing the notes molto espressivo on the steering wheel or bellowing the highest coloratura notes in ecstatic dewlapping whispers.

    The good life, the righteous life then, as a publisher like Stephen knows so well – and through him, we – is the convivial life, because our very universe is actually a convivium – a meal together.

    In my books – and remember I have been plying my trade for four decades 0 Stephen Johnson is a fantastic and successful publisher. Here are the facts of my before-Stephen and after-Stephen life: since he took me out for tea at Zerbans in the Gardens Centre seventeen years ago he changed me from a middle-aged penniless radio-reporting Afrikaans poet with the name of Samuel to a freelancing non-fiction battle axe with a terrible English accent, with access to Voyager miles and a separate income tax number, and the name of Krog. I still regularly get a cheque from Shuter and Shooter for R52.13, dating from my time before Stephen, but I now no longer get money BACK from SARS.

    Apart from the fact that Stephen should be professor in How to Make Beautiful Books and Sell Them Successfully, he is a writer’s dream: he is as creative as yourself, he thinks about possibilities that have never crossed your mind, he is a discerning manuscript reader and can tell very quickly whether a manuscript is working. If it “works”, he throws himself behind the coming book with the neat and thrilling energy of a DA march. Nothing will be overlooked: not the font, not the launch, not the future of the book nor a potential clash with COSATU.

    Once a woman stopped me at the Cape Town International Airport and said: would you please tell the people who made Country of My Skull that it is the most beautiful book I have ever held in my hands? I give it to people not too read, but to hold.

    This happened because, for my first and second book (A Change of Tongue) Stephen put together nothing less than an astonishing A-team: the meticulous dedicated Douglas van der Horst who noticed everything, knew everything and talked about shades, fonts and paper like other men talk about rugby or babes. Then there was the inimitable Abdul Amien who would take from the shelf of the National Library a book with the title Atlas Ichtyologique des Indes Orientales Neerlandaises, volume 6, by P Bleeker, published between 1866 and 1872, for Tongue‘s cover. And with unfailing vision Stephen, already in those years, identified Ivan Vladislavic as the best editor in the country.

    Stephen not only became my favourite publisher with his excellent literary intuition, but with his empathy and generosity he became my friend and directed the weal and woe of my English literary career with compassion, humour and objectivity. We went through tough times him and me, but whether we were in or out of the closet, in or out of fashion, swinging swords against accusations of plagiarism, we could do it with the knowledge that the other one holds his or her integrity in high regard. Stephen Johnson is the kind of person that I like to have at my side: for his joy at life, his incomparable English – whether speaking or writing – his sensitive creativity, his eye for beauty and last but not least, his character, more often than not burdened with integrity.

    Let us drink a toast to a wonderful publisher!

    » read article

    Creative writing workshop with Bronwyn Law-Viljoen (25-30 January 2019)

    The Talking Table is hosting a creative writing workshop presented by Bronwyn Law-Viljoen! The workshop will take place from 25-30 January in the eastern Free State village of Rosendal.

    Facilitator: Bronwyn Law-Viljoen (novelist and head of creative writing at Wits)

    Dates: 25-30 January 2019

    Venue: DeTuinen country lodge in Rosendal, Eastern Free State

    Progamme: A practical, playful, hands-on approach. Full programme at

    Fees: R13 600 per single person and R12 200 pp sharing. Included accommodation, breakfast and a long-table meal daily and programme fee.

    To book: Write to before 31 December 2018.

    Bronwyn Law-Viljoen is Associate Professor and Head of Creative Writing at the University of the Witwatersrand, editor and co-founder of Fourthwall Books, and former editor of Art South Africa magazine.

    She has a PhD in Literature from New York University and a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of the Witwatersrand.

    Her first novel, The Printmaker, was published in 2016 (Umuzi) and shortlisted for the Sunday Times Barry Ronge Fiction Award.

    The Talking Table is a creative hub operated by two South Africans on the Greek island of Lesbos.

    It hosts workshop in writing, painting, photography, philosophy, business ethics and more. Frederik de Jager, former Publishing Director at Penguin Books and Douw Steyn, former CEO of media companies in Naspers, accommodate, cook and create a sympathetic space for participating guests.

    Rosendal will be their second workshop in South Africa.

    Rosendal is a beautiful eastern Free State hamlet in the foothills of the Maluti Mountains, three and a half hours’ drive from Johannesburg.

    The Printmaker

    Book details
    The Printmaker by Bronwyn Law-Viljoen
    Book homepage
    EAN: 9781415209127
    Find this book with BOOK Finder!

    » read article

    Win a Nal’ibali mini-library fully stocked with storybooks in different South African languages!

    Reading is the apex of educational escapism; reading is fun and informative; reading creates thinkers and dreamers. Slotsom: reading rocks! (Bibliophile shot by Daniel Born.)

    Nal’ibali, the nationwide reading-for-enjoyment campaign which aims to spark children’s potential through reading and storytelling, is supporting caregivers in kick-starting their children’s 2019 school year by giving away 20 mini-libraries fully stocked with storybooks in different South African languages.

    Research shows that children who read for pleasure, do better across all school subjects, including maths.

    However, to keep children reading, it’s helpful to understand what motivates them to read.

    According to American researchers, Kathryn Edmunds and Kathryn Bauserman, the following factors influence children’s reading behaviours.

    • Children are more likely to read a book they chose themselves

    • Children enjoy books that match their personal interests

    • Children are more likely to choose books that have exciting covers, great illustrations and action-packed plots, as well as books that are funny or scary

    • What they could learn from reading a book was important to them

    • Their interest in reading was sparked and encouraged by their family members (especially mothers), teachers and friends

    • Children were often excited to read books they had heard about from friends

    • Children enjoyed being read to by family members and teachers, even if they could already read

    • Once they’d caught the reading bug, children continued to motivate themselves to read!

    Nal’ibali mini libraries contain a carefully curated selection of books designed to expose children to a range of literacy and illustration styles.

    Every library is bilingual in a bid to support a culture a multilingualism, and to help children build a strong foundation in their other tongue as well as English.

    “Providing families and classrooms with their own mini libraries is just one of the ways we are nurturing a culture of reading in South Africa. Nal’ibali stories can also be accessed directly from its website, in its regular reading-for-enjoyment supplement or heard on the radio,” explains Jade Jacobsohn, Nal’ibali Managing Director.

    To stand a chance to win one of 20 mini-libraries, send a short motivation on how you plan to enjoy your mini-library with the children in your life to by 21 December 2018.

    Entrants must also include their name, physical address and contact number. Winners will be notified during the week of 7th January 2019.

    For more information about the Nal’ibali reading-for-enjoyment campaign, free children’s stories in a range of SA languages, tips on reading and writing with children, details on how to set up a reading club or to request training, visit,, or find them on Facebook and Twitter.

    » read article

    Louis Botha is depicted warts-and-all in this biography, writes William Saunderson-Meyer

    Published in the Sunday Times

    Louis Botha: A Man Apart *****
    Richard Steyn
    Jonathan Ball Publishers, R260

    It’s a cliché that we must take lessons from the past. There are at least two problems with this.

    The first is hubris. Each generation feels that is unnecessary, since it is clearly wiser and more competent than the previous one. Until, of course, the passage of time proves it wrong.

    The second is a growing, priggish moralism that demands right-thinking and right-speaking. Swathes of history are ignored, especially in SA, simply because the protagonists don’t fit into contemporary mores.

    Richard Steyn seems to have a particular contrarian interest in the political giants who have fallen foul of such dismissive revisionism. This is his third biography, following upon his well-received works on Jan Smuts, then the friendship between Smuts and Churchill.

    But Steyn is no hagiographer.

    In enviably clear and unadorned prose his is a warts-and-all depiction, especially as regards the casual racism and assumed superiority of the white man.

    While always sensitive to historical context, he examines in detail the failures and blind spots of Botha, including his “mixture of respectful paternalism towards any individual with whom he came into contact … and a disbelief that blacks as a group should enjoy the same political rights as whites”. It was an attitude that culminated, under his premiership, in the pernicious Native Land Act of 1913.

    Following the Anglo-Boer War, it was Botha’s first priority to heal the deep divisions between Afrikaans- and English-speaking whites, as well as between the vanquished Boers and the victorious British.

    His determination to achieve this took him along a remarkable, painful path: taking the former Boer republics into a union with the British colonies of the Cape and Natal; taking the Union into World War 1 on the side of the British, against the Germans who had nominally supported Boer independence; suppressing with force of arms the resulting Afrikaner rebellion; and conquering German South-West Africa.

    Steyn makes the point a number of times that during the Anglo-Boer War those who called most stridently for war were those who most rapidly melted away when they got their wish. Whereas men like Botha, who had opposed the war, were the ones who were left to prosecute it.

    Botha, the most brilliant of the Boer generals, paid a high personal cost for a war he never wanted. His health was shattered by the privations of those gruelling years. The family lost their farm and his brother was killed.

    But what perhaps wounded him most grievously was the long, slow process of estrangement from fellow Afrikaners, who felt he betrayed them by allying SA to the Empire.

    Reconciliation is never universally popular and there are always those who flourish in exacerbating divisions, rather than minimising them. As we are beginning to see with the increasingly strident repudiation of Nelson Mandela as “sell-out”. @TheJaundicedEye

    Book details

    » read article

    Stories and smiles aplenty at Nal’ibali’s book handover to the Thuma Mina Hillbrow Book Club

    By Mila de Villiers

    Bliss is perusing a bookshelf… (Shot for the shot, Daniel Born!)

    The Thuma Mina Hillbrow Book Club, an exceptional book club created for orphanages in and around Johannesburg, was recently gifted books in English, Zulu and Sesotho by the national reading-for-enjoyment campaign, Nal’ibali.

    The handover of the donations was celebrated at Killarney Mall’s Exclusive Books on a sunny Saturday morning with Thuma Mina Book Club organisers, Nal’ibali team members, media and the buoyant bookworms in attendance.

    The group of animated bibliophiles were also offered the luxury of selecting any two books to add to their growing libraries, thanks to a fundraiser organised by the Thuma Mina Book Club.

    (Colouring-in books seemed to be a hit and Nomalizo Xabana, marketing manager for the book club, had to encourage more than one youngster to please “pick another storybook”…)

    Nal’ibali’s Bongile Mtolo (and storyteller par excellence) treated the riveted audience to a reading of two stories from Nal’ibali’s story collection: Sisande’s Gift tells the tale of Sisande, an orphaned giraffe who’s gifted a book after the passing of her mother and The Rainbird – a fairy tale about hope, magic, courage and a fantastical avian.

    Bongile Mtolo working his magic. Pic by Daniel Born.

    Bongile interacted with the crowd during the reading of both stories, asking questions such as which gifts they’d like to receive for Christmas (a confident “iPhone 8!” was met with mirth from the group), and what they would name a giraffe if they were to own one (“Owen” was quite a surprising answer…)

    Youngsters do tend to get a bit kriewelrig after having to sit for a prolonged period of time but Bongile kept the vibe alive by leading two lively renditions of the Nal’ibali hand-clap – because no, one doesn’t clap “like you’re in church” after being read to, he quipped.

    All together now: “One, two, three!” [clap, clap, clap] / “One, two, three!” [clap, clap clap] aaand [Ululate!]

    To paraphrase the Von Trapp siblings, the time to say so long, farewell, auf wiedersehen and goodbye is inevitable and the merriment concluded with a donation from The Sowetan of R80 000 to Nal’ibali, presented to the organisation by Sowetan editor, S’thembiso Msomi.

    Now that’s what one calls a contribution to a nation’s literary future.

    A beaming Bongile Mtolo, Thuma Mina members and S’thembiso Msomi, as snapped by Daniel Born.

    » read article

    Hierdie skrywers het die US Woordfees Kortverhaalbundel 2019 gehaal

    Via die US Woordfees

    Die skrywers van die verhale wat in die US Woordfeesbundel vir 2019 opgeneem gaan word, is tydens die fees se programbekendstelling op Vrydagaand 16 November bekend gemaak.

    Vyf-en-twintig verhale is uit 323 inskrywings gekies. Dit sal gepubliseer word in ’n bundel getiteld Jonk, wat by die US Woordfees van 1-10 Maart 2019 te koop sal wees. Die kortverhaalbundel se titel is dieselfde as die feestema.

    Suzette Kotzé-Myburgh, die sameroeper van die beoordelaarspaneel, sê die groei van hierdie projek is rede tot vreugde:

    “Sedert die eerste Woordfeesbundel in 2016 gepubliseer is, gaan hierdie projek van krag tot krag!

    “Die aantal inskrywings het gegroei van die oorspronklike 99 tot ’n verstommende 323 vanjaar. Hierdie belangstelling is deels te danke aan die gulhartige borgskap van Du Toitskloof Wyne, wat prysgeld van R5 000 aan elke skrywer besorg. Daarbenewens sal die algehele wenner, wat in Maart 2019 aangekondig word, ’n volle R30 000 ontvang.

    “’n Verdere prys word geborg deur kykNET, wat een van die verhale in ’n kortfilm sal omskep wat in Augustus 2019 by die Silwerskermfees te sien sal wees.

    Soos die vorige jare bied 2018 se inskrywings ’n mengsel van gevestigde en nuwe skrywers, hoewel die reeds gepubliseerde skrywers vanjaar as wenners oorheers. Die verhale dek ’n wye verskeidenheid temas, met die grondkwessie wat uitstaan as onderwerp.”

    Saartjie Botha, US Woordfeesdirekteur, sê:

    “Dit is fantasties om te sien hoeveel onbekende én gevestigde skrywers deur hierdie projek aangemoedig word om nuwe werk te skep.”

    Ed Beukes, woordvoerder van Du Toitskloof Wyne, is opgewonde oor dié betekenisvolle projek en die groeiende storievuur:

    “Die jaarlikse groei van inskrywings wys ons het elkeen ’n storie om te vertel. Die Woordfeesbundel is soos ’n groot kampvuur wat elke jaar die platform skep vir nog ’n paar skrywers om uit die donker uit hul eie waardevolle stukkie hout op die vuur te kom gooi en dit maak nie saak wie jy is nie – jou storie tel.”

    Die lys van skrywers wat in die 2019 Woordfees Kortverhaalbundel opgeneem word, in alfabetiese volgorde, is:

    1. Anne Ahllers
    2. Emma Bekker
    3. François Bloemhof
    4. Anri Botha
    5. Magda Brink
    6. MS Burger
    7. Wilken Calitz
    8. Juliana Coetzer
    9. Frans Fourie
    10. Merle Grace
    11. Enrique Grobbelaar
    12. Hendie Grobbelaar
    13. Kobus Grobler
    14. Stefanie Hefer
    15. Marlize Hobbs
    16. Nico Nel
    17. Clari Niemand
    18. Nadine Petrick
    19. Jan Schaafsma
    20. Deborah Steinmair
    21. Gerda Taljaard
    22. Derick van der Walt
    23. Marinda van Zyl
    24. Madeleen Welman
    25. Jelleke Wierenga

    » read article

    Book Bites: 18 November

    Published in the Sunday Times

    The Break LineThe Break Line ***
    James Brabazon, Penguin Books, R229

    “Legally sane psychopath” Max McLean is suave and armed. He is such an asset to the espionage ecosystem that he’s a member of the elite intelligence operation referred to as The Unknown. But to err is human and when McLean cocks up an assassination assignment, he’s given one last task to prove himself. [Insert docket with TOP SECRET printed in big, fat, red letters here.] The gist of the mission is to travel to Sierra Leone to finish an operation which a former colleague of his – “the bravest man I know” – was unable to complete; so traumatised by what he witnessed that he’s been institutionalised. It’s a thrilling read and Brabazon revels in his depictions of the atrocities McLean happens upon (spoiler: it’s pretty sif), but the military references and lingo went straight over this peacenik’s head. Mila de Villiers @mila_se_kind

    The Baghdad ClockThe Baghdad Clock ****
    Shahad Al Rawi, translated by Luke Leafgren, One World, R285

    Imagine living under constant threat of disappearing. Set against a backdrop of war and despair, the story starts in 1991 when two girls form a lasting friendship in a bomb shelter in Baghdad. As they grow up through two wars and unrelenting sanctions, we see the disintegration of their neighbourhood through their eyes and in their dreams. Nadia and the unnamed narrator try their best to go to school, apply for university, write scented love letters and live their lives, but it’s not easy when your foundation is crumbling away. Shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, The Baghdad Clock is a deeply personal story that aims to capture and preserve the history of a neighbourhood. Anna Stroud @Annawriter_

    Book details

    » read article

    13-year-old Praises Banda has been announced as the winner of Nal’ibali’s 2018 Story Bosso contest!

    Via Nal’ibali

    Praises Banda, a 13-year-old Grade 7 pupil from Leboho Primary School in Limpopo, has been announced as 2018′s Story Bosso winner!

    Story Bosso is a multilingual storytelling contest designed to provide aspiring storytellers with an opportunity to showcase their talent and to promote storytelling in all official South African languages. It’s an initiative of South Africa’s national-reading-for-enjoyment campaign, Nal’ibali.

    The theme for this year’s talent search was ‘South African Heroes’. By remembering and telling the stories of our heroes, the campaign aimed to inspire greatness in all South African children.

    Says Jade Jacobsohn, Nal’ibali Managing Director:

    “Heroes guide us about how to live our lives; they give us hope and motivate us to overcome challenges. We were blown away by young Praises Banda from Ga-Kibi, Dankie Village, in Limpopo, as her story, skillfully told in her home language Sepedi, did exactly that.”

    Told with both sadness and passion, Banda’s story is about her personal hero, Kholofelo Sasebola, who put an end to the bullying she endured at school.

    “The sadness in Praises’ voice is palpable. You can tell the bullying was traumatic, but, at the same time, you can hear her passion for celebrating the deed of her hero. Her command of Sepedi is commendable. Though the story is told in simple sentences, Praises uses the language playfully, and the story is easy to understand,” comments Lorato Trok, Story Bosso judge and children’s story development expert.

    Storytelling is an important part of South African heritage and plays a key role in children’s literacy development by encouraging the use of imagination, curiosity, and empathy.

    More than 50 special storytelling events were held across the country throughout September to allow members of the public to practice and build their storytelling skills before entering the contest.

    Banda’s story was selected from over two thousand entries and, as this year’s Story Bosso, she will be receiving R5 000, a book hamper, and R500 worth of airtime.

    A further five prizes will be awarded to provincial winners. Thabiso Khoeli from the Free State; Sibongile Mofokeng from Gauteng; Afika Cwecwe from the Eastern Cape; Mandisa Madlala from KwaZulu-Natal and Mbalentle Mangete from the Western Cape will each receive R1 000, a book hamper as well as R250 of airtime.

    “Stories need to be valued for the critical contribution they play in the development of young minds. They help build neural circuits in our brains, particularly in young brains, that ultimately enable sophisticated thinking and reasoning,” says Jacobsohn.

    “We know that well told stories – where a word may be a snarl, a shout, a whisper, or a cry – can be a colourful trail of chocolate Smarties that lead children to books! Those bonding moments of sharing stories with children help to root the seeds of a culture of reading into South African homes. We are proud of all of our winners this year for showing us what good storytelling can be,” concludes Jacobsohn.

    To listen to the winning stories, or to find out more about Story Bosso and the Nal’ibali campaign, visit the Nal’ibali website on

    » read article

    “Poetry has a unique way of humanising the players in a political story” – a Q&A with slam poet and performer Siphokazi Jonas

    Nal’ibali Column 29: Term 4, 2018

    Sunday World 4 November 2018, Daily Dispatch 5 November 2018, Herald 8 November 2018

    By Carla Lever

    Slam poet par excellence, Siphokazi Jonas

    Your poetry engages very deliberately with political and personal questions of identity. What kinds of ideas are you most passionate about spreading through it?

    It’s all about the importance of autonomy in telling your story. I’m really interested in writing about and staging narratives which are not seen regularly, particularly about the lives of black women.

    Do you think that there’s a space for poetry to reach people politically where newspaper reports or debate can’t? How can we all use or be open to that space?

    Absolutely – poetry has a unique way of humanising the players in a political story. There is room for publishing poetry in newspapers and other media which could widen the scope of who has access to our work.

    We come from a long history of protest poetry – literature, storytelling, theatre and so on. But now, it feels like there is a generational shift: a group of passionate young people who are ready to make their own political points outside of the traditionally political works of the past. Does this feel to you like a good time to be a young poet?

    This is a fantastic time to be a poet! The shifts happen as politics and concerns change. Poetry gives us a platform not only to wrestle with past and present but also to engage with an imagined future.

    Sometimes, no matter how familiar we are with a work, we can still read something and have a strong emotional reaction to it. Can you give us a couple of lines of your own poetry that still hit home for you?

    Sure. Here’s an extract from my poem Making Bread:
    Every December, in exchange for Tupperware full of roosterkoek
    Tried over coals, I present uMama with English poems
    To match the decadence of the season.
    (English, with its heavy hand of sugar, corrodes my vernacular,
    English poems do not let me forget that the bowl I work in is borrowed)

    It’s always a challenge to get work out into the public, particularly as a poet. In 2016 you released some of your poetry in a very unusual format: a DVD. Can you tell us a little about why you did that and how it’s been received?

    The DVD was to capture the verve and fire of spoken word which often disappears once you leave the stage. Although the work was received well, we didn’t quite account for the move away from physical DVDs and CDs – the best platforms for distribution are now online.

    You’ve had some great successes in big slam poetry competitions. What has been the most exciting experience for you?

    Slam is quiet a competitive format of performance and poses a challenge to the poet because of all the rules and time constraints placed on a performance. My favourite thing is how the slams tend to feel like collaborations instead of competitions.

    I first encountered your work when you performed with the ‘Rioters in Session’ poetry collective. Can you tell us a little about them?

    I’ve had the pleasure of being part of a number of their performances, though I’m not officially part of their collective. In their own words, Rioters in Session was “organized [as] an intuitive community for POC poetry womxn to share their work in a soft and safe space with a gentle audience”.

    Why is it important for poets, storytellers, performers to have spaces to share their work and for people to be able to share and discuss it together? What does sharing stories do for communities of people?

    We have an incredible history of storytelling and poetry in this country which has been integral as a way of archiving history, holding communities together, holding leaders accountable, protesting injustice, etc. I believe that we are seeing the same in the contemporary moment.

    How can we encourage young people to get involved with poetry and storytelling? Are there resources or organisations you could direct them to?

    The best way is to read poetry and also watch material online, follow poetry houses on social media such as Hear My Voice, Word and Sound, Poetry Africa, Poet in a Suit, Inzync Poetry, Grounding Sessions, Current State of Poetry, Words in My Mouth Poetry Slam. If there are no existing book clubs or poetry groups, start them right where you are!

    Reading and telling stories with your children is a powerful gift to them. It builds knowledge, language, imagination and school success! For more information about the Nal’ibali campaign, or to access children’s stories in a range of South African languages, visit:

    » read article

    Magical, inspirational, life-affirming – notes on the 12th Book Dash, held in Johannesburg

    By Anna Stroud

    Photographer Urvesh Rama was there from start to finish, capturing all the action. Visit Book Dash on Facebook for more images.

    Energy crackled in the air – the kind that makes every hair on your body jig, from your nose to your toes.

    It’s a powerful sensation watching nine teams brainstorm, craft and chisel away to create nine beautiful children’s books in less than 12 hours. And that’s exactly what happened on Saturday, 27 October, as volunteers drove into the heart of Johannesburg to participate in the 12th edition of Book Dash.

    The Streetlight Schools in Jeppestown was the perfect home for the Book Dash crew. The schools started in October 2013 in a small store-room in Bjala Square and their aim is to create globally competitive schools in the most underserved areas in South Africa.

    In 2016, they launched the flagship Streetlight Schools: Jeppe Park where we hung our hats for the day. Judging from the drawings on the wall and the wholesome menu on the blackboard, it’s a nice, caring place to learn.

    The nine teams of three – writer, illustrator and designer, plus one editor for two teams – experienced that care first hand. The school’s support staff kept us fed, hydrated and happy as we worked our way to the finish line.

    “Everything we do today is a gift to the world,” said Book Dash founder Arthur Attwell at the start of the day, while his six-year-old son (and unofficial Book Dash cheerleader) beamed at us from across the room.

    Book Dash originated in 2014 from the founders’ belief that each child should own 100 books by the age of five. The books are available for free under the Creative Commons Attribution licence and in all 11 official South African languages.

    The Book Dash model has been replicated by various groups in and outside South Africa, and the Android app recently hit just over 100 000 downloads worldwide!

    This 12th edition was made possible by the Otto Foundation Trust, which allows Book Dash to print and distribute the books.

    One of the reasons why I volunteered as a Book Dash editor is the feeling of positivity and goodwill that permeates the room.

    Throughout the day, the love spreads from writer to editor, designer to illustrator, facilitator to support staff, barista to photographer to videographer, and back again, like a never-ending cycle of good vibes. (Yes, we had our own barista!)

    In the morning, all the writers and editors gathered in the library to read their stories aloud and to give each other feedback. I’ve never experienced such an affirming group of people, who gave each other advice on how to make their stories better and built each other up every step of the way.

    It wasn’t an easy feat.

    As the day progressed, illustrators’ hands started to cramp, designers started to see double, writers and editors went back and fro with coffee, snacks and kind words to motivate them to the finish line.

    Then the final stretch: proofreading for wayward punctuation, frowning at fonts with their own free will, and watching the clock count down to the final minutes.

    And then – sweet release – the work was done and we could bask in each other’s glory.

    The teams took to the stage and the writers read their stories aloud to roaring applause. The final book caused all the tired creatives to collapse in fits of laughter: somewhere in the night, a car backfired just as one writer read the line: “What’s that noise behind the tree?”

    The books will be available soon – but here’s a sneak preview of the magical titles that came to life during the day:

    • I don’t want to go to sleep!
    • The Great Cake Contest
    • The very tired lioness
    • Dance, Mihlali!
    • Let’s have an inside day!
    • Mali’s Friend
    • Auntie Boi’s Gift
    • Lions are always brave
    • What’s at the park?

    To experience some of the magic, follow the hashtag #BookDash for live coverage on the day or visit their website to find out how you can get involved.

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