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Archive for the ‘Open Book Cape Town’ Category

Pretend you are in a dark room: Elnathan John presents 3 questions to ask yourself to avoid the pitfalls of identity politics in writing

Writers should pretend they are going into a dark room and move delicately, slowly, carefully so that they do not disrupt the balance of things. – Elnathan John

Elnathan John’s 3 questions to avoid the pitfalls of cultural appropriation in writing

Born on a TuesdayElnathan John shared his three rules for writing about other people’s experiences and communities.

John was a guest of the Open Book Festival in Cape Town, to chat about his debut novel, Born on a Tuesday.

Born on a Tuesday is a coming of age tale about a young Muslim boy who left his home to study Islam and ended up joining a gang of street kids. He and his friends are recruited to cause trouble during an election, and when violence breaks out he is forced to flee. He finds shelter at a mosque run by a kindly imam who takes a liking to him.

The book has earned praise all over the world and from some high profile authors and critics, including Petina Gappah, Taiye Selasi and Uzodinma Iweala. John was also recently shortlisted for the Nigeria Prize for Literature – along with Chika Unigwe for Night Dancer and Abubakar Adam Ibrahim for Season of Crimson Blossoms – an award worth $100,000 (about R1,4 million).

John grew up in northern Nigeria, but is not Muslim himself. At a panel titled Notions of Nationhood, where he shared the stage with Danish-Norwegian novelist Kim Leine, chair Andrew Brown asked him: “Are we entitled to write about other communities, other nations, from our own perspective?”

The question was topical, as We Need to Talk About Kevin author Lionel Shriver had caused a walkout just days before at the Brisbane Writers Festival in Australia with her keynote address, “Fiction and Identity Politics”, which many other writers considered culturally insensitive.

Elnathan John at the 2016 Open Book FestivalIn answering Brown’s question, John asked: “Is anyone entitled to anything? Does any experience belong solely to one person?”, and shared a story from his childhood to illustrate his point.

“My brother died in 2003. One of the biggest issues I had with my family was that at some point my parents were upset that I seemed to be grieving more than other people. It was almost like they were saying, ‘He was our child, we raised him, we gave birth to him, we put him through school. We have a greater loss than you. You cannot mourn more than us. Stop being a complete asshole.’

“And so the question that has always been in my mind is, to whom does any experience belong?

“I didn’t think I owned this experience, but I thought I was an integral part of it, being that I removed his body from the water, I did mouth to mouth; the last moments of his life were in my hands. I thought, well, I certainly should have a right to this experience. But even in this very close experience, I was being challenged. So you can challenge any experience.

“For me, what is important is not whether a person owns an experience they want to write about. Most experiences are external to us. If you have a female character and you are male, that experience is external to you. If you are writing about other nations, they’re external to you. Even if you are writing about your own nation, most of the experiences will be those you’ve not had.”

John said that instead of agonising over who the experience belongs to, writers should consider three questions before they start writing a story.

“What a writer needs is a certain level of empathy that allows us to show respect for the subject. That empathy, normally, would lead people to determine for themselves: One, if they should write a story. Two, if it is time to write that story. And three, how that story should be written, with the respect that it deserves. And if one cannot answer these three questions, then one should not write the story.

“Often people tell writers to write what they know. I like to say the writer should write what they want to know. What that does is that it pushes you into a dark space. And in a dark space you are more careful.

“Writers should pretend they are going into a dark room and move delicately, slowly, carefully so that they do not disrupt the balance of things.”

Read an excerpt from Born on a Tuesday here

Jennifer Malec (@projectjennifer) tweeted live from the event:

Main author image courtesy of Elnathan John on Twitter; image composite by Books LIVE/Secondary author image Retha Ferguson

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‘The Zulu part of me was taken’ – Nomavenda Mathiane tells her grandmother’s story, beginning as a child during the Anglo-Zulu War

nomavenda mathiane


Eyes in the Night

In Eyes in the Night, respected journalist and author Nomavenda Mathiane tells the story of her grandmother, who was a child during the Anglo-Zulu War.

Mathiane is at the Open Book Festival in Cape Town, where she shared a panel with Daniel Browde, author of The Relatively Public Life Of Jules Browde, and Marianne Thamm, whose memoir Hitler, Verwoerd, Mandela and Me was recently released.

Mathiane explained how she “stumbled” into her grandmother’s story.

“My mother died when I was about 66 years old,” she said, “and after her funeral we were seated at the table with my brothers and sisters, and casually I turned to my older sister, and I said ‘Mum never used to tell us about her mother, why is it so?’ And frankly I didn’t think she was going to answer me, but lo and behold she said, ‘It’s because her mother’s story was too sad.’”

Mathiane says she remembers her grandmother as an imposing and capable presence, but her early years were far more precarious.

“I knew gogo as this big woman who could make cheese, could make butter, could make soap. All the things we could not afford, because my parents were officers in the Salvation Army, so there wasn’t much money around.

“But my sister told me that gogo was 10 during the Anglo-Zulu War. She was hiding in the caves with her mother and her little sister. Her father, who was the chief inDuna of King Cetshwayo, was killed during the war, and when they went back their land had been taken, their homes had been destroyed, she doesn’t have a father, her mother doesn’t have a husband. Then the Zulu culture kicks in. The brother must marry her mother. She says, no ways. They make her uncomfortable, and they flee the homestead.”

There began an extraordinary story, and Mathiane says she felt shocked that she had never heard it before.

“My sister was telling me this, and I couldn’t take it. My mother had died without telling us these stories. When you look at how her mother suffered, you realise that the story was too painful. But more than that, we were growing up in the 70s and the Struggle was gaining momentum. Between themselves my father and my mother decided that they mustn’t tell us the story, because because we would get so angry that we would walk straight into the liberation movements. But we ended up getting involved anyway; you couldn’t live in the township and not get involved.”

Mathiane says at times while writing the book she felt angry that a part of her culture and history had been denied her.

“The story of my grandmother has been a journey for me. I grew up in the townships, and I knew very little about Zulu ways. I’d never been to Zululand except on the occasional visit. Even Zulu language, I knew Zulu as a spoken language, but in a language there are idioms and expressions that I wasn’t familiar with. Of course I had heard of the Battle of Isandlwana, but I never knew about the warriors, the generals, what actually happened.

“The sad part is that our parents didn’t talk to us about these things. So the book took me to various areas. Sometimes I would get so angry that I was denied, I was impoverished by being raised in the township. Because there’s a part of me that was cut off, that I didn’t know about. It was just a Christian upbringing, period. And yet there was the other side of me, the African in me, that was never discussed. None of the Zulu rituals were performed. We were Christian girls. The Zulu part of me was taken.”

Mathiane says she hopes her book helps to “inculcate a sense of questioning”.

“Young children, both black and white, must question their parents, their grandparents: where do we come from? You cannot know where you are going, if you don’t know where you come from. It’s time that we told our own narratives. This is the first book of the victims of the Ango-Zulu War. Nobody has ever written about what ordinary Zulu people went through. I would implore you to talk to your children.”

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Open Book Festival shortlisted for London Book Fair International Excellence Award

Alert! The Open Book Festival has been shortlisted for a 2016 London Book Fair International Excellence Award in the category Literary Festivals.

The other events up for The Literary Festival Award are The Krakow Festival (Poland), Flupp (Brazil) and FLIP (Festa Literaria Internacional de Paraty) (Brazil).

“It is an honour we share with all the authors who have joined us and given so much during events over the years,” the Open Book organisers said on their website. “And of course, the audiences who have been so vital in transforming discussions into meaningful engagement on so many different topics.

Other awards include The Bookstore of the Year Award, The Publishers Weekly Literary Translation Initiative Award, a number of publishers’ awards and The Bookseller Adult Trade Publisher Award.

London Book Fair director Jacks Thomas said: “Now in their third year, the LBF International Excellence Awards are a one-stop showcase for some fantastic innovation and sheer determination to get books and content into the hands of consumers in a variety of classical and creative ways. Just looking at the shortlists makes me want to shout a big three cheers for the global publishing industry and all who work in it!”

The Open Book Festival is held annually in Cape Town.

Congratulations from Books LIVE!

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Photos from the 2015 Open Book Festival

The 2015 Open Book Festival is in full swing with writers, readers and everyone in between gathered in Cape Town for the biggest boekjol Cape Town has ever seen!

Thanks to the wonders of Twitter, you can follow all the social media chatter associated with the event.

The Books LIVE team will be tweeting live from the festival: Jennifer Malec (@projectjennifer), Helené Prinsloo (@helenayp), Erin Devenish (@ErinDevenish811), Annetjie van Wynegaard (@Annetjievw) – so give us a follow for all the latest and greatest.

Liesl Jobson is out and about too and has taken some great photographs of all the action.

See if you can spot your favourite author, or even yourself:

Opening ceremony:

The 2015 Open Book Festival opened with a bang last night at The Book Lounge and Liesl Jobson was there to snap all the action. Can you spot your favourite author?

Posted by Books LIVE on Tuesday, 8 September 2015


Day 1: 9 September 2015

Photos from the first day of the 2015 Open Book Festival, happening in Cape Town from 9 – 13 September.Books LIVE…

Posted by Books LIVE on Thursday, 10 September 2015


Day 2: 10 September 2015

Photos from the second day of the 2015 Open Book Festival, happening in Cape Town from 9 – 13 SeptemberBooks LIVE…

Posted by Books LIVE on Friday, 11 September 2015

Day 3: 11 September 2015


Photos from the third day of the 2015 Open Book Festival, happening in Cape Town from 9 – 13 SeptemberBooks LIVE…

Posted by Books LIVE on Saturday, 12 September 2015

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The 2015 Open Book Festival Starts Today! – Photographs from the Opening Ceremony

Mervyn Sloman and Debbie Poswell

The 2015 Open Book Festival starts today and already the streets of Cape Town are bustling with bookish activity.

This morning, Books LIVE’s deputy editor Helené Prinsloo (@helenayp) and assistant editor Erin Devenish (@ErinDevenish811) started their day by interviewing authors Helen Macdonald (H is for Hawk) and Laura van den Berg (Find Me):

Last night, the Open Book Festival kicked off at The Book Lounge with a smashing authors’ party. Liesl Jobson (@liesljobson) covered the gig:

Have a look at photographs from the opening ceremony:

Facebook gallery


Here’s a round-up of all the activities you can look forward to at this year’s Open Book:

The festival will be covered by Books LIVE editor Jennifer Malec (@projectjennifer), deputy editor Helené Prinsloo (@helenayp), assistant editors Erin Devenish (@ErinDevenish811), Annetjie van Wynegaard (@Annetjievw) and Jennifer Platt (@Jenniferdplatt) of the Sunday Times.

Keep an eye on our Facebook page ( and our Twitter profile (@BooksLIVESA) for more information and pictures!

Follow all the social media chatter associated with the event:

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2015 Open Book Festival Programme (9 – 13 September)

Confirmed authors for the 2015 Open Book Festival

Alert! The programme for this year’s Open Book Festival has been revealed and we couldn’t be more excited!

Activities start on Wednesday, 9 September, and will run until Sunday, 13 September. Venues include The Fugard Theatre (festival hub), the Homecoming centre, The Book Lounge, the Central Library and the President Hotel in Bantry Bay. Poetica and Comics Fest will once again form part of the programme, as well as the youth fest aimed at younger readers.

A wide range of topics will be covered over the span of the festival, from everyday tragedy, poetry, food and fiction to what it means to be a South African abroad, comedy in writing and power relations in general. To single out names on the extensive list of local and international authors would be a crime. Cape Town, you are in for a treat!

View the programme:

2015 Open Book Festival Programme (9 – 13 September) by Books LIVE

* * * * *

Have a look at the jam-packed programme (and find links to the booking site):

See also:

These are but some of the books you will be able to find during the 2015 Open Book Festival:

Home RemediesBroken MonstersShouting in the DarkKopskootDevil's HarvestLion HeartPapwaNaweekThe Last Road TripWhat About MeeraBest White and Other Anxious DelusionsThe Chameleon HouseTo Quote MyselfThe FetchShades of DarknessThe Impossible FiveThe Ghost-Eater and Other StoriesDance with SuitcaseLost and Found in JohannesburgA Renegade called SimphiweThe Search for the Rarest Bird in the WorldBeastkeeperThe Dream HouseJoziTakelwerkThe Space Between the Space BetweenAlphabet of DemocracySynapseGood Morning, Mr MandelaThe Texture of ShadowsDub StepsBlood tiesRusty BellThe Violent Gestures of LifeThe Alphabet of BirdsOne Hand Washes the Other Power PlaySharp EdgesChants of FreedomHere I AmThe Spiral House Green LionWhat Will People SayWhat Hidden LiesA Slim, Green SilenceTokoloshe SongBanquet at BrabazanIn die blou kampA Man of Good HopeSkuldigThe RaftChokers en survivorsThe Swan WhispererJudaskusThis One TimeThings I Thought I KnewWastedIt Might Get LoudNever Tickle a TigerSex and the CitadelWe Are All Completely Beside OurselvesA Place Called WinterThe Book of MemoryWords Will Break CementThe Hormone FactoryUkraine DiariesThe Lights of Pointe-NoireH is for HawkThe House That Jack BuiltLives of OthersForeign Gods, Inc.Into a Raging BlazeDustThe Sleeper and the SpindleOne of UsFind MeReliquariaInvisible OthersIcarusDriftwordPruimtwak en skaduboksersThe Paper HouseThe Seed ThiefParadiseSeven Modes of UncertaintyPens Behaving BadlyBuys – ’n GrensromanThe Arrogance of Power

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Enter the Open Book Raffle and Stand a Chance to Win a Cameo Appearance in Lauren Beukes’ Next Book

What About MeeraThe Last Road TripBest White and Other Anxious DelusionsTo Quote MyselfThe Impossible FiveDub Steps

DustOne of UsH is for HawkThe House That Jack BuiltThe Lights of Pointe-NoireWe Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

nullAlert! The Open Book Festival, in partnership with Lauren Beukes and the Fugard Theatre, is offering you a chance to win a selection of amazing prizes in the Open Book raffle!

From making a cameo appearance in Beukes’ next book, to having the opportunity to watch every production on show at the Fugard for the next two years, the Open Book raffle has prizes that will tickle any literary buff’s fancy.

To enter, simply buy a raffle ticket for R1 000 through Webtickets from 28 July to 2 September. The winner will be announced on Friday, 4 September.

Read the press release for more information:

Enter and stand a chance to win the following:

  • Cameo appearance in Lauren Beukes’s next novel. The internationally acclaimed author will name a character after the winner*
  • A pair of tickets to every production and screening that is presented at and by the Fugard Theatre for the next two years* (from September 2015)
  • A pair of VIP tickets to the opening night of David Kramer’s brand new musical, Orpheus in Africa, where the winners will be invited to meet the cast for drinks and snacks after the performance (22 September 2015)
  • A pair of Open Book Festival passes valid for the next five years that give the ticket holder access to the festival events*

*T&Cs apply

  • Dates: 28 July to 2 September 2015
  • Raffle Tickets: R100
  • Tickets available through Webtickets
  • Winner Announced on Friday, 4 September 2015

And don’t forget the Open Book Leopards Leap Wine Label Competition and Win a Trip to Open Book!

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Open Book Festival Event Details

  • Date: 9-13 September, 2015
  • Tickets: Will be available from Webtickets from August 2015
  • Venues: Fugard Theatre, Book Lounge, and Homecoming Theatre


Related news:

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Firm Friends Make Fierce Critics: Mark Gevisser and Jonny Steinberg

Open Book 2014: My First Reader
Notes from a Fractured CountryA Man of Good HopeLost and Found in JohannesburgThabo Mbeki

Jonny Steinberg, whose new book is A Man of Good Hope, and Mark Gevisser, author of Lost and Found in Johannesburg and Thabo Mbeki, told Mervyn Sloman about their relationship as friends and fellow writers at the Open Book Festival in Cape Town.

Steinberg and Gevisser first met and became friends before they were writers, and told Sloman that at the time they lived 300 metres apart.

Gevisser said he’s had a lifelong respect for Steinberg’s writing –”He understood the world and could write about his understanding in different ways” – while Steinberg said Gevisser was a rare writer.

The two writers told Sloman about how they have read and interacted with each other’s work, and why they did (and didn’t) heed each other’s feedback.

For a blow-by-blow account see Books LIVE’s Liesl Jobson’s Twitter timeline:

  • Start at the bottom and scroll up


Open Book Facebook gallery


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Mike Carey, Dave de Burgh and Raymond E Feist on the Pure Joy of Writing Sci-Fi and Fantasy

Open Book 2014: Fox and Raven Presents: Sci-Fi/Fantasy Rocks!
The Girl with All the GiftsBetrayal's ShadowMagician's End

The second evening of the 2014 Open Book Festival brought a lively panel, billed Sci-Fi/Fantasy Rocks, to The Fugard Theatre where an energetic crowd waited eagerly to hear that writing can be an enormous amount of fun.

And, as promised on the programme, Mike Carey (The Girl with all the Gifts), Dave de Burgh (Betrayal’s Shadow) and Raymond E Feist (Magician’s End) told Marius du Plessis just how much they loved their jobs. Not one of the authors could disguise their glee and the enthusiastic response from the audience, which contained many local writers and aficionados of the genre, was clearly enjoyed by the authors too.

The discussion was led by Du Plessis, the owner of Fox & Raven, and lived up to its promise, delivering a veritable festival of joy like few others. The authors disclosed their secrets to getting started and keeping going. They revealed the tricks they use to navigate writerly challenges and shared their unmitigated delight in the work they do. Their pride and enjoyment was palpable as they talked about the quirks and vagaries of writing science fiction and fantasy. The venue rang with laughter and a motivated and inspired audience departed, encouraged and supported to follow their own dreams and writerly ambitions.

Feist reflected on the dramatic changes in the spec-fic scene since he started writing in the early 1980s. He said two variables are business and the cultural societal evolution of fanboys and -girls. “For one it makes a lot more money now, in books, comics, film and TV games. Societally it has become so rich that there are number sub-genres to it,” he said. He recalled writer conventions of the ’80s when there were maybe 600 guys in bad T-shirts with cardboard boxes of comics in the basement of a sad hotel getting excited to see a woman writer.

“We stand on the shoulders of giants,” he said, “we all look at what came before and figure out how to do it differently. It’s got richer, and better, and there’s way more variety!” He emphasised that there were more opportunities than ever before for genre writers.

Mike Carey spoke about his background in comic book writing and how he got dumped in the deep-end as a writer for the X-Men. It was difficult to get into it because there was such a vast repository of comic books, something like 5 000. As all the cool characters had basically been taken, that freed him to take the characters that were not as popular, giving him terrific freedom to create their backstory and do some world-building. Publishers sent him rejection letters that were extended hilarity. Learning to write for comics, Carey said, helped him structure his stories for the later novels. It was a great learning encounter.

De Burgh shared his early engagement with the novels of David Eddings and Steven Erikson, that meant When he became a bookseller he could speak passionately with the customers. “That changed everything. When I give them a Steven Erickson. If you love it you’re going to hate me because you’ll keep coming back for more! I want to make people want to go back to the books, to make them ask when the next one is coming out.”

Feist affirmed him saying: “That little voice that says you’re better? You are! You are better at writing what you love than anybody else on the planet and you have to hold on to that!”

Echoing the sentiments Sefi Atta, Fiona Leonard and Zukiswa Wanner displayed in their panel, that reading is the most import thing a writer can do, De Burgh turned the conversation to writers who don’t read. He said writers need their writing to be informed by what they read. This is how you learn about writing, via the different kinds of books you read. He said, “Everything I know about writing, I got from reading. The more widely read you are, the more it unlocks your author’s voice … if you don’t read, the only socks you’re going to blow off are the ones you throw in the washing basket!”

Liesl Jobson tweeted live from the discussion:


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Open Book 2014: Pick of the Day One Tweets (Daytime Sessions)

The first day of the 2014 Open Book Cape Town literary festival started with a bang!

To help those who couldn’t make it (including two Books LIVErs, pining away in Joburg) cope with the FOMO, we’ve compiled a list of the top tweets of the day. If you can’t be there in the flesh, you can be there on Twitter!


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