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Archive for the ‘Poetry’ Category

Imagining ourselves into existence: First ever Abantu Book Festival in Soweto a roaring success

Words and images by Thato Rossouw

My Own LiberatorUnimportanceSweet MedicineAffluenzaNwelezelangaThe Daily Assortment of Astonishing Things and Other StoriesRapeFlying Above the SkyNight DancerBlack Widow SocietyThe Everyday WifeOur Story Magic

 
“A conquered people often lose the inclination to tell their stories.”

These were the words of former Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke at the inaugural Abantu Book Festival, in discussion with readers about the importance of black people telling their own stories and having spaces where they can share them with one another. “We have stories to tell, they are important, and they are liberating in nature,” he said.

 
Moseneke’s words came as a preamble to compliment the authors Thando Mgqolozana and Panashe Chigumadzi, and the rest of their team members, for organising a festival that not only celebrated black writers, readers, pan-African book stores, and online platforms that celebrate African literature and narratives, but also gave them a safe space to speak freely about the issues they face in their struggle to liberate themselves.

The festival, which was themed “Imagining ourselves into existence”, came as a result of Mgqolozana’s decision early last year to renounce white colonial literary festivals. In an interview with The Daily Vox in May last year, Mgqolozana told Theresa Mallinson that his decision to reject these festivals came from a discomfort with literary festivals where the audience was 80 percent white. “It’s in a white suburb in a white city. I feel that I’m there to perform for an audience that does not treat me as a literary talent, but as an anthropological subject,” he said.

 
The three-day festival took place at two venues: the Eyethu Lifestyle Centre, which hosted free events during the day, and the Soweto Theatre, which hosted events in the evening. These evening festivities cost R20 per person and featured over 50 poets, novelists, essayists, playwrights, literary scholars, screenwriters, performing artists and children’s writers from across Africa and the diaspora. Some of the writers and artists who were present at the festival include Niq Mhlongo, Unathi Magubeni, Lidudumalingani Mqombothi, Thandiswa Mazwai, Pumla Dineo Gqola, Lebogang Mashile and Chika Unigwe, among many others.

 
The first day of the festival began with a discussion featuring four black female Fallist writers, Dikeledi Sibanda, Mbali Matandela, Sandy Ndelu and Simamkele Dlakavu, titled “Writing and Rioting Black Womxn in the time of Fallism”. The discussion covered topics ranging from the role of the body, particularly the naked body, in challenging old narratives, to writing and rioting as acts of activism. It was then followed by a highly attended talk with Justice Moseneke entitled “Land and Liberation”, a concert by the group Zuko Collective at the Soweto Theatre, as well as speeches and performances at the opening night show.

Some of the riveting discussions at the festival were titled: “Land and Liberation”, “Women of Letters”, “Writing Today”, “Cut! Our Stories on Stage and Screen”, “Ghetto is Our First Love”, “Creating Platforms for Our Stories” and “Writing Stories Across and Within Genres”. The festival also included seven documentary screenings, poetry performances, a writing masterclass with Angela Makholwa and Phillippa Yaa de Villiers, and performances every night at the Soweto Theatre by Zuko Collective.

 
Dr Gcina Mhlophe gave the keynote address at the festival’s opening night, which was preceded by the singing of the decolonised national anthem and a rendition of the poem “Water” by poet Koleka Putuma. Mhlophe reminded the audience that, while it is important for us to celebrate young and upcoming artists, it is also important to remember and celebrate those that came before them. She sang and told stories about people like Mariam Tladi and Nokutela Dube and spoke about their role in the development of the arts. Dube was the first wife of Reverend John Langalibalele Dube who was the first President General of the South African Native National Congress (SANNC) which was later renamed the African National Congress (ANC).

 
The festival ended with a sold-out event at the Soweto Theatre that featured a discussion on “Native Life in 2016” between Chigumadzi and I’solezwe LesiXhosa editor Unathi Kondile, facilitated by Mashile; a performance by Zuko Collective; and a Literary Crossroads session with Unigwe, facilitated by Ndumiso Ngcobo.
 

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The hashtag #AbantuBookFest was on fire for the duration of the festival and long afterwards:


 
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Happy Birthday to The Book Lounge

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Like It MattersIncredible JourneyThe Daily Assortment of Astonishing Things and Other StoriesMede-weteTjieng Tjang Tjerries and other storiesnullThe Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Anthology: Vol. VI

 

This Thursday, 1 December, The Book Lounge turns nine years old!

To celebrate, they are giving 10 per cent off everything in store for the day, and free tea and coffee.

From 6 PM there will be drinks and readings from David Cornwell, Bongani Kona, Antjie Krog, Jolyn Phillips and Koleka Putuma.

Don’t miss it!

Event Details

Book details

  • How Free is Free? Reflections on Freedom of Creative Expression in Africa
    EAN: 9780992225216
    Read online for free!

Image: Book Lounge on Facebook


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2016 Morland Writing Scholarship shortlist announced

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The Gonjon Pin and Other StoriesFeast, Famine and PotluckIncredible JourneyStationsThe Myth of This Is That We're All in This TogetherThe Daily Assortment of Astonishing Things and Other Stories
Mr. and Mrs. DoctorSeason of Crimson BlossomsSaturday's ShadowsReading the Ceiling

 

Alert! The Miles Morland Foundation has announced the shortlist for the 2016 Morland Writing Scholarships.

There are four South Africans on the shortlist this year: Amy Heydenrych, Lidudumalingani Mqombothi, Nick Mulgrew and Bryony Rheam.

Of the 22 names, 11 are from Nigeria, four from South Africa, two each from Somalia and Kenya, and one each from Gambia, Ghana, and Zimbabwe.

There are two Caine Prize winners on the list, 2016 winner Lidudumalingani and 2014 winner Okwiri Oduor.

Lidudumalingani was also awarded the 2015 Short.Sharp.Stories Judges’ Choice Runner-Up Award.

Mulgrew is deputy chair of Short Story Day Africa and the man behind uHlanga Press, and has had a productive 2016, publishing both a collection of short stories and a poetry collection.

Bryony Rheam had a short story featured in Where to Now? Short Stories from Zimbabwe in 2011, and her debut novel This September Sun was published in 2012.

Other published authors on the list include Julie Iromuanya, whose debut Mr. and Mrs. Doctor has just been longlisted for the Etisalat Prize for Literature; Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, who recently won the $100,000 Nigeria Prize for Literature for his debut, Season of Crimson Blossoms; Ayesha Harruna Attah, author of Saturday’s Shadows, who was also shortlisted last year; and Dayo Forster, whose debut Reading the Ceiling was published in 2008.

Miles Morland says: “The standard of the shortlist is always high but this year we had an even greater depth of talent than before, making the choosing of a shortlist particularly difficult.

“We had over 500 entries, up from 385 last year and they came from 37 countries, compared with 27 last year. We have two Caine Prize winners on it, and a number of writers who have received global recognition. We are pleased also to have writers early in their career who show terrific promise.

“We have been blown away by the talent, imagination, energy, and humour that characterises African writing. Our only disappointment is that, although we had a number of non-fiction submissions, only one made it to the short list. We are actively trying to encourage non-fiction, Africans telling Africa’s story.”

This year’s judging panel is Ellah Wakatama Allfrey (Zimbabwe, chair), Femi Terry (Sierra Leone) and Muthoni Garland (Kenya). The judges will meet on 12 December to select the five 2016 scholars. The winners’ names will be announced shortly afterwards.

The scholars each receive £18,000 (about R310,000), paid over the course of a year, to allow them to take time off to write the book they have proposed.

2016 Morland Writing Scholarships shortlist

Abdul Adan – Somalia
Jekwu Anyaegbuna – Nigeria
Ayesha Harruna Attah – Ghana
Rotimi Babatunde – Nigeria
Dayo Forster – Gambia
Amy Heydenrych – South Africa
Abubakar Ibrahim – Nigeria
Nneoma Ike-Njoku – Nigeria
Julie Iromuanya – Nigeria
Hamse Ismail – Somalia
William Ifeanyi Moore – Nigeria
Lidudumalingani Mqombothi – South Africa
Nick Mulgrew – South Africa
Otosirieze Obi-Young – Nigeria
Okwiri Oduor – Kenya
Adeola Oeyemi – Nigeria
Olawale Olayemi – Nigeria
Troy Onyango – Kenya
Mary Ononokpono – Nigeria
Koye Oyedeji – Nigeria
Bryony Rheam – South Africa
Sandisile Tshuma – Zimbabwe

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uHlanga open to unsolicited submissions of poetry manuscripts in February 2017

uHlanga New Poets Series Launches with Collections by Genna Gardini and Thabo Jijana
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Calling all poets!

For the first time, uHlanga will be open for submissions of unsolicited manuscripts of poetry for the month of February 2017.

The press will be accepting submissions of any book length in English, isiZulu, isiXhosa, Afrikaans, or a combination of those languages. Poets must either be South African or permanent residents of South Africa.

uHlanga are the publishers of Nick Mulgrew, Genna Gardini, Thabo Jijana, Helen Moffett, Stephen Symons and Rosa Lyster.

Jijana won the 2016 Ingrid Jonker Prize for his collection, Failing Maths and My Other Crimes.

Read: uHlanga Press Poetry Special, Featuring Thabo Jijana, Genna Gardini and Nick Mulgrew

* * * * *

Read the submission guidelines:

uHlanga does not accept unsolicited poems or manuscripts for publication outside of our announced reading periods.

Our first open submissions period for original chapbooks and collections of poetry from South African poets, or poets living in South Africa, will take place from 1 February to 28 February 2017. Manuscripts must be predominantly written in English, Zulu, Xhosa, Afrikaans, or a combination of those languages. Every manuscript will be read, and all will be considered for publication.

There is no indicated length for manuscripts, although most books published by uHlanga contain 20-40 poems. (Manuscripts envisioned as chapbooks, for example, may be shorter, while epic poetry may contain very few poems.) The more coherent, structured and economical your manuscript is, the higher the chance of it being published – so do not simply include every poem you have ever written. Successful manuscripts will be published in the manner and format – eg full collection, chapbook – that uHlanga deems most appropriate for the content.

Please note that anthologies or retrospective collections will not be accepted. Manuscripts containing poems previously published in magazines, anthologies, journals, or online will be accepted, as long as each previously-published poem is acknowledged in the manuscript, and as long as the writer has the rights to reprint such poems. Manuscripts that have already been published previously as a whole will not be accepted.

We accept manuscripts from writers of any experience, whether they have published a collection of poetry before or not. The only criterium for eligibility is that writers either be South African, or a permanent resident of South Africa.

Only writers of successful submissions will be replied to, and will be offered our standard contract. Please note that this is not a competition: we reserve the right to publish none of the manuscripts received during this submissions period.

Submissions will only be accepted through our email address, submissions@uhlangapress.co.za, as either .doc or .pdf attachments, with all text in Times New Roman. Include your name and contact information on a cover letter attached alongside the manuscript. Being familiar with our books is essential: feel free to mention to us why you think your manuscript will be a good fit for uHlanga.

There is no reading fee. Agented submissions are discouraged, but not strictly disallowed.

Do not submit your manuscript before 1 February 2017 or after 28 February 2017 – it will be discarded without being read. Good luck!
Where can I publish poetry outside of reading periods?

Your best way to get noticed by us is to be an active poet, publishing as many poems in as many places as you can. There are a number of excellent periodicals and websites in South(ern) Africa that accept unsolicited poems for publication. Here are the periodicals that uHlanga reads most often:

Prufrock
Aerodrome
New Contrast
Stanzas
New Coin
The Kalahari Review

You likely won’t publish any poems, however, if you don’t read poems! Support local literary magazines.

Ends

 
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Dashen Naicker appointed New Coin editor

dashen naicker  900kb
Dashen Naicker appointed New Coin editorDashen Naicker appointed New Coin editor

 

Writer, publisher and critic Dashen Naicker has been appointed editor of poetry magazine New Coin from 2017.

Naicker, founder and editor of the South African poetry e-journal The Park Bench, is a poet who has read and has performed at festivals in South Africa, Sweden, and France. His own work has been published in international and local magazines, including New Coin, where he was one of the Dalro prizewinners in 2012. He is also a performance poet and three-time winner of the Poetry Africa SlamJam.

“Since 2014, New Coin has achieved considerable reach and range under the committed stewardship of Gary Cummiskey,” Naicker says.

“With his guidance the journal has made varied voices visible, even in the shifting sands of South Africa in the 21st century. My aim is to continue, and construct from, this investment in South African poetry.

“Beyond this, I would like to bring into the journal extended interview pieces that engage with the craft and concerns of South African poets. This will take the form of a series of conversations in which young South African poets interview established writers who have influenced or inspired them in some way, highlighting the sense of community and history that is a part of South African poetry.

“I hope to achieve these aims by drawing on my skills and experiences as a poet, academic, and editor, in consultation and conversation with poets and poetry lovers of South Africa. I want to ensure that New Coin journeys into and through spaces aware and appreciative of the multiple modes and varying voices that characterise life and poetry in this country.”

New Coin was founded in 1965 by Guy Butler and Ruth Harnett and is published twice a year by the Institute for the Study of English in Africa (ISEA) at Rhodes University. Naicker will work with an editorial board of poets and former editors.

If you subscribe now, you will receive both the June and December 2016 issues of New Coin for R200.

For subscriptions and information, email isea@ru.ac.za or call 046 603 8565.


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Don’t miss La Nigritude – an evening of paintings, photography and poetry in Abuja, Nigeria

Don’t miss La Nigritude – an evening of paintings, photography and poetry in Abuja, Nigeria

 

Nigerian-German visual artist and writer Numero Unoma will be exhibiting at the Thought Pyramid Gallery in Abuja, Nigera.

The exhibition is entitled La Nigritude and will run from 28 November to 1 December.

The show takes its inspiration from Wole Soyinka’s quotation “a Tiger does not proclaim its tigritude”.

Don’t miss La Nigritude – an evening of paintings, photography and poetry in Abuja, Nigeria

 

Read the press release for more:

Abuja comes alive with art as the La Nigritude solo exhibition by Numero Unoma, the artist also known as No1, arrives at the Thought Pyramid Gallery from the 28th November to the 1st of December, 2016. Taking inspiration from those of whom Wole Soyinka once said “a Tiger does not proclaim its tigritude”, the Nigerian-German visual artist’s body of work is a huge roar, of laughter and expression, protest and pain. Tigers come from Asia, whereas in Africa we have lions, which, unlike tigers, can roar.

The pieces are not shy of colour, or texture, or punch. Symbols and graphics are employed to convey messages that often seem vibrant and innocuous, whilst taking sniper shots at those things that invariably define our society and cultures. In this exhibition, money, marriage, status and power mirror their prominence in everyday Nigerian life. Philosophy, humour, and angst, as well as generosity and hospitality, also find their place in drawing parallels with the experiences of the ‘ordinary’ Nigerian. The prevalence of consumerism, the huge impact of technology and the desperation of migration, or even just immigration, all find expression in a satirical collection that takes the edge off introspection and self-critique.

The Thought Pyramid Centre, located in Libreville Crescent, in the Wuse II district of Abuja, has become the city’s highest profile exhibition space. Comprising an exhibition space and a restaurant, it has curated the work of Bruce Onobrakpeya, Diseye Tantua and other great Nigerian artists. Numero Unoma’s La Nigritude exhibition will open on the 28th of November with a centerpiece dedicated to Ken Saro Wiwa Jr (1968-2016) and his father, Ken Saro Wiwa (1941-1995). Ken Jr would have been 48 on the day of the opening.

Complementing and amplifying the paintings will be a series of intimate time-lapse photographs of recognisable locations, spoken word poetry and odes to Nigeria, as well as a celebration of the humble and ubiquitous bench. The wooden benches, on which our country and our continent are run, serve as central pieces, artworks on which to sit and rest while taking in the visual cornucopia of the exhibition.

Don’t miss La Nigritude – an evening of paintings, photography and poetry in Abuja, Nigeria

 

Notes on some of the featured work

Many of us will recognise ourselves, and our experiences in this series of paintings, which employs brands as idioms, colloquialisms as mottos and symbols as metaphors. Texture, colour and geometry feature heavily in concealing the gravitas of sociopolitical critique, whilst at the same time celebrating the indomitable spirit, humour and optimism of the Nigerian people.

Despite the lack of infrastructure, opportunity and economic stability, an “ordinary” Nigerian will never sit down to a meal without inviting one to join him or her, much unlike the corrupt power brokers, who actually do the big time ‘chopping’ with no regard for the next man, or the next generation (“Join Me I & II”).

In a city like Lagos where life is crowded and lean, the ordinary man and woman still stand tall with pride, turn themselves out flamboyantly and subject themselves, among a milieu of yellow cabs, molues and danfos, to a hectic daily grind which promises the hope of improvement (“Lagos Vida Loca”).

Nigeria is a country where it is normal to have multiple income streams, where payment for one’s service cannot be taken for granted, and where corruption is endemic at all levels of society. The question of where the money is, remains a perennial backdrop to the struggles and hustle of the average Nigerian (“Paperwork I, II & III”).

Marriage and sex are also major social vectors, and therefore also feature significantly in the series (“Privatised” and “Who Dash Monkey”).

About the artist

“My work comes forth from that space between the spaces. The proverbial message in the bottle, corked lovingly, and cast out in the hope that it will be found, engaged with and understood in the context of a timely, emotive and relevant narrative. The perspective is personal, and the gaze is a very subjective angle on universal themes pertaining to identity, displacement and sometimes just simply pondering the imponderable. My work is born of the vast wealth of energy and inspiration gathered from a life of travel, work and relationships in various parts of the world.

“I am mother, wife, sister, lover, grandmother, creator, friend, guardian angel and nemesis all rolled into one.

“I approach each work respecting the process, layering on texture, vibrancy and color to give life to the subject matter I am treating. Inherently, my method is organic in its development, and I would like to think that this lends itself to the raw messages therein. The work is sometimes visually misunderstood, as being of shock value, and subtleties are at times missed, simply because of my no holds barred approach.

“The media I use mimic the technologies of my lifetime, the analog and the digital, employing paper, or a tactile canvas as comfortably as an intangible digitally manipulated projection with audio augmentation. These are the building blocks of the creative world in which I have developed: vinyl LP’s, cassettes, mini discs, mp3s, mp4s, 35mm film, 6×7 medium format silver halide, jpegs and pdfs.

“I am that Nigerian – that mixed race Nigerian – who, having had the chance to hold German, British and American citizenship, have found my Nigerian passport, (more than a green card, it is a green book), the symbol of my belonging, to be more than enough to represent my identity. We Nigerians know that we cannot profess that deep and voluminous love we have for our country without the counterbalance of our pet hates and real resentments, those things that represent the other side of our relationship with our young troubled nation, indeed with our very identity. They are inextricable, and will remain so, along this trajectory of so-called development toward (again, so-called) civilisation on which we presently find ourselves.”


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2016 Abantu Book Festival programme announced

Black Widow SocietySigh The Beloved CountryPowers of the KnifeNight DancerThe Short Story is Dead, Long Live the Short Story!Memory is the WeaponWalter and Albertina Sisulu
Run Racist Run#ZuptasMustFall and Other RantsHave You Seen Zandile?The ScoreTo Quote MyselfThese handsIn a Ribbon of RhythmA Half Century Thing

 
Alert! The programme for the inaugural Abantu Book Festival has been revealed.

The festival will be happening in Soweto, 6-10 December 2016, with a very impressive line-up.

Have a look at the programme:

2016 Abantu Book Festival programme by Books LIVE on Scribd

 

The Daily Assortment of Astonishing Things and Other StoriesMemoirs of a Born FreeRumoursEat, Drink and Blame the AncestorsAffluenzaWe Need New NamesHappiness is a Four-Letter Word
The Everyday WifeRapeEndings and BeginningsWhat Will People SayGa ke ModisaAlmost Sleeping My Way to TimbuktuWhen a Man Cries
Ukuba MtshaThe Woman Next DoorLondon – Cape Town – JoburgSweet MedicineNwelezelanga

 
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‘I have become a language warrior’ – Ngugi wa Thiong’o receives the 2016 Pak Kyongni Prize in South Korea (Exclusive Report)

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o wins 2016 Pak Kyongni Prize
A Grain of WheatWeep Not, ChildPetals of BloodDecolonising the MindDevil on the CrossSecure the Base

 
Alert! Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o recently visited South Korea where he received the prestigious Pak Kyongni Prize, an international literary award established in 2011.

With a cash prize of 100 million Korean Won (about US$90 000 or R1.2 million), the Pak Kyongni Prize is one of the richest literary awards in the world.

The award ceremony took place on Saturday, 22 October, 2016 at the Toji Cultural Center in the picturesque city of Wonju in Gangwon Province. Books LIVE’s Annetjie van Wynegaard witnessed the historic event.

Read Wa Thiong’o's complete acceptance speech below and scroll down for tweets and photographs!

The legendary Kenyan author was accompanied to the ceremony by his wife Njeeri, who radiated poise and elegance as the couple was welcomed with a Daegeum Sanjo (traditional bamboo flute) and dance performance by national cultural assets Woo Jang-Hyun, Jung Hwayeong and Jung Songhui.

KBS World and Arirang TV anchor Young Kim moderated the events of the evening, which included congratulatory speeches by Jung Chang Young, member of the Pak Kyongni Prize Committee, Choi Moon Soon, governor of Gangwon Province, and Won Chang Muk, mayor of Wonju.

Also in attendance were the late Pak Kyongni’s daughter and Chair of the Toji Cultural Foundation’s board of directors, Kim Young-joo, and her husband and celebrated poet Kim Chi Ha. The evening was well attended by delegates from the Kenyan Embassy in Seoul, expatriates and university students who came to support the author.

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o wins 2016 Pak Kyongni Prize

 

Who was Pak Kyongni?

LandMayor Won Chang Muk welcomed the audience to Wonju, the city where Pak Kyongni wrote her seminal work, Toji, or Land as it was translated into English, which consists of 20 volumes. Pak Kyongni was an influential writer whose work shaped the discourse of modern Korean literature. Her legacy, the Toji Cultural Foundation, offers a residency programme for writers and artists from all over the world. The Toji Cultural Center is situated just outside Wonju, surrounded by majestic mountains and breathtaking scenery.

Jung Chang Young offered some background to the late author in his speech:

“Pak Kyongni endured the chaotic cycle of Korean modern history, witnessing Japanese imperial rule, the Korean War, and the division of the Korean peninsula. Nevertheless, she continued to dedicate her infallible writing spirit to the observation of the human condition and to delve deeper into the pursuit of the meaning of life. Through her observations of Korea’s turbulent history and people striving to live in irrational circumstances, Pak Kyongni managed to transcend Korea’s reality by turning it into a striking literary topic.”

Turning his attention to the man of the evening, Jung Chang Young said: “Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o is a writer and intellectual who takes action and received a lot of love and respect from people around the world. He is a doctor of the mind and the soul of the community, and paints a picture of the human’s willingness to move on to a better world through his writing. He experienced colonialism, the Mau Mau Uprising, the chaos and conflict of founding a newly independent country, and exile, all of which have melted into his works.

“We have read his books such as Weep Not, Child, A Grain of Wheat and Petals of Blood, which reminds us of our past and present, and helps us to think about matters of freedom and oppression, resistance and surrender, and hope and despair,” he said.

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o wins 2016 Pak Kyongni Prize

 
How Wa Thiong’o was selected as winner

Kim Uchang, Chair of the selection committee, could not attend the ceremony but his speech was made available to the audience. Wa Thiong’o was selected from a preliminary compilation of 90 authors from over 20 different countries. “The selection committee, while bearing in mind literary standard as the most important of all criteria, tried to keep the field of vision as wide as possible, in order to include writers of diverse nationalities, ages and genders,” Kim writes. The final selection included Wa Thiong’o, Isabel Allende, AS Byatt, Ha Jin, Louise Erdrich and Leslie Marmon Silko.

Kim Uchang explains that “the multicultural and multi-civilisational themes” explored by these writers encourage the reader to “rethink … the place of the West in the historical evolution of humankind as a whole”. He adds: “While modern western civilisation has become a dominant player, the writers who cross its borders, ask their readers to review its significance, including what has been excluded and missed out by its dominance.”

Kim Uchang says: “A writer whose work distinctively exhibits the broadest and complicated boundary-crossing is Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. The main part of his stories is often set in a world that involves various evils of imperialism and colonialism as well as struggles for independence and their complex consequences … his work reflects a world in which many different borders, boundaries and conditions overlap, and confront each other, manifesting the process of globalisation which humankind faces today.”

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o wins 2016 Pak Kyongni Prize

 
Wa Thiong’o is the sixth recipient of the Pak Kyongni Prize – the first international literary award in Korea – since its inauguration in 2011. Previous winners were Choi In-Hoon (2011), Ludmila Ulitskaya (2012), Marilynne Robinson (2013), Bernard Schlink (2014) and Amos Oz (2015).

In his acceptance speech, the author drew parallels between the Kenya in his novels and the Korea in Pak Kyongni’s work. He also told the tale of how he first heard the news of winning the Pak Kyongni Prize from Njeeri, who asked him: “Who is Pak Kyongni?”

Read Wa Thiong’o's acceptance speech:

Language and Culture Contact as Oxygen of Civilisation

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o wins 2016 Pak Kyongni PrizeCry of the people and other poemsI am Distinguished Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Irvine, USA but I am here as a writer not academic. Creative writing is a lonely business. One communed with oneself for hours, days, months and even years, wrestling with doubts with no help from their most intimate friends. It is more akin to the experience of prophets and seers of old who had to retreat to the wilderness for long periods wrestling with daemons of temptation, including calls to give up their quest. Only that for the writer, instead of retreating into the mountains, they descend into their consciousness and dive deep into their subconscious to give shape and form to chaos. And even then they can never be sure of how their work will be received by the reader, for in the end, it’s the reader who completes the creative process.

One does not write for awards other than the reward of recognition by the reader. So to get an award, any award, especially one for which the writer has not applied, is very satisfying. I am very grateful that the Toji Foundation have found my work worth the 2016 Pak Kyongni Prize, which also makes me join the company of the five other luminaries who have received the prize before me. It makes it all the more satisfying to receive it in the company of my wife, Njeeri, my first reader and critic, who endures all the early rough drafts of my work. She was also the first to hear the news and she asked me: “Who is Pak Kyongni?” Well, I confess that I did not know.

So I went to the internet to find out more about the writer and her work. Certain parallels between the Korea of her novel, Toji, Land, and the Kenya of my own works struck me. The Japanese colonial occupation of Korea, 1910 to 1945, and the Korean people’s resistance to it reminded me of the British colonial occupation of my country and Kenyan people’s resistance to it. Even the Japanese suppression of the Korean language has parallels in the British suppression of Kenyan African languages. I was about 12 years old when I first heard of the Korean War 1950-1953; those were also the years the Kenyan people’s war against the British colonial settler started.

Hardly had I begun to wonder about those parallels of history when I read that Pak Kyongni was the mother-in-law of another Korean writer, Kim Chi Ha. The prize ceased just being another prize, special though it is, it became personal.

It was in 1976 on the occasion of the Emergency International Conference in Tokyo to which I had been invited by the late Japanese novelist Oda Makoto, when, in a tiny bookshop attached to my hotel, I picked up a volume of poetry, Cry of the People by Kim Chi Ha. It was the only English text in there, and I bought the last copy. I believe that Kim Chi Ha was in prison at the time for his writings. I became fascinated by his work including the famous poem “The five bandits” that I came across later in the conference. I returned to Kenya and introduced Cry of the People to the literature syllabus at the University of Nairobi where I was then professor and chair of the department of literature. It became very popular, especially the poem “Groundless rumors”. The peasant character An-Do became a folk hero among the students. But a year after that, in December 1977, I found myself also in a maximum security prison in Kenya for my writings.

Alone in prison without trial, I decided to start a novel in Gĩgĩkũyũ. Before this, I had written all my previous novels in English. The novel, Caitaani Mũtharabaini, written on toilet paper, the only writing material I could access, was later translated into English as Devil on the Cross. The novel was very much influenced by Kim Chi Ha’s famous poem “The five bandits”. Writing that novel in prison made me endure my one-year incarceration, my high spirits. So the spirit of Kim Chi Ha became my companion in prison. The novel was later published in 1982, and it became the first modern novel in Gĩgĩkũyũ language. Since then I have written all my novels, drama and poetry in the language. I have also become a language warrior for African languages and marginalised languages in the world. The thoughts that later went into my theoretical text, Decolonising the Mind, had origins in that period of my life when Kim Chi Ha’s work acted as my inspiration.

I hope you can now appreciate why this award is so special and personal. It brings back memories. It takes me back 40 years ago, the beginning of a literary and intellectual journey that has taken me all over the world, an unrepentant advocate of African languages and all marginalised languages in the world. If this award reminds the world that I now write my creative work in Gĩgĩkũyũ and that African languages do exist and that, like all other languages in the world, have a right to a literary and intellectual production, that, indeed, they have much to contribute to world culture, then I am more than grateful for the award.

Monolingualism suffocates the growth of the human spirit. Language and culture contact on the basis of equality, is indeed the oxygen of civilisation. It is in that spirit that I gratefully accept the 2016 Pak Kyongni Prize.

The formalities gave way to a dazzling dinner in the cool autumn evening, where Wa Thiong’o broke bread with Kim Chi Ha and Kim Young-joo, who later presented him with a gift of calligraphy. This star-struck writer nervously made her way through the crowd to meet the author. We took a photograph together and spoke a little, and he instructed me to read his short story “The Upright Revolution”. The evening concluded with dancing under the stars.

Look at the photographs from the event:

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o wins 2016 Pak Kyongni Prize

 

 
Annetjie van Wynegaard (@annetjievw) live tweeted the occasion:

 

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Hedley Twidle interviews Rustum Kozain for Wasafiri 86 – Unsettled Poetics: Contemporary Australian and South African Poetry

Hedley Twidle interviews Rustum Kozain for Wasafiri 86 – Unsettled Poetics: Contemporary Australian and South African Poetry
This Carting LifeGroundwork

 

The publishers of Wasafiri magazine have kindly shared an excerpt from issue 86: a conversation between Hedley Twidle and Rustum Kozain.

This special issue of WasafiriUnsettled Poetics: Contemporary Australian and South African Poetry – features poetry by Kozain, Harry Garuba, Ingrid de Kok, Antjie Krog, Mxolisi Nyezwa and Karen Press – among others – articles by Kelwyn Sole and Finuala Dowling, as well as reviews, interviews and art. Guest editor Ben Etherington calls it “a significant undertaking, with 24 contributors, new works from 13 poets, essays and interviews”.

Wasafiri 86 - Unsettled Poetics: Contemporary Australian and South African Poetry“It is the first issue of Wasafiri focused on either Australian or South African poetry,” he adds.
 
If you are interested in purchasing Wasafiri’s Special Issue Unsettled Poetics: Contemporary Australian and South African Poetry (no. 86 Summer 2016) please email wasafiri@open.ac.uk
 
Below is an excerpt from Twidle’s contribution: “An Interview with Rustum Kozain”, in which the two discuss the decline of literary criticism, the perils of nostalgia, and the exhaustion of imagination in the current South African moment, as well as the influences and aesthetics of Kozain’s poetry.

We would recommend you order the magazine so that you can enjoy the interview in its entirety.

Twidle is a senior lecturer in the English Department at the University of Cape Town, who writes regularly for the New Statesman, Financial Times and Mail & Guardian.

Kozain is the author of two award-winning books of poetry, The Carting Life and Groundwork, and the only person to win the Olive Schreiner Prize twice in the same genre.

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An Interview with Rustum Kozain

By Hedley Twidle

Rustum Kozain was born in 1966 in Paarl, South Africa. He studied for several years at the University of Cape Town (UCT) and spent ten months (1994-1995) in the United States of America on a Fulbright Scholarship. He returned to South Africa and lectured in the Department of English at UCT from 1998 to 2004, teaching in the fields of literature, film and popular culture. Kozain has published his poetry in local and international journals; his debut volume, This Carting Life, was published in 2005 by Kwela/Snailpress.

Kozain’s numerous awards include: being joint winner of the 1989 Nelson Mandela Poetry Prize administered by the University of Cape Town; the 1997 Philip Stein Poetry Award for a poem published in 1996 in New Contrast; the 2003 Thomas Pringle Award from the English Academy of Southern Africa for individual poems published in journals in South Africa; the 2006 Ingrid Jonker Prize for This Carting Life (awarded for debut work); and the 2007 Olive Schreiner Prize for This Carting Life (awarded by the English Academy of Southern Africa for debut work).

The following conversation took place on 31 July 2015 at Rustum Kozain’s flat in Tamboerskloof, Cape Town. Prior to my arrival, Rustum had prepared a chicken balti with cabbage according to a recipe from Birmingham, and also a dry cauliflower and potato curry. During our discussion (lasting one and a half hours, condensed and lightly edited here) he occasionally got up to check on the dishes – which we ate afterwards with freshly prepared sambals.

Hedley Twidle  Rustum, you wrote an article for Wasafiri twenty-one years ago (issue 19, Summer 1994) in which you discuss the reception of Mzwakhe Mbuli’s poetry. There you were sceptical of South African critics who were lauding his work and its techniques of oral performance as if these things had never happened before. You suggested that if one looks at Linton Kwesi Johnson (LKJ), there is an equally established and perhaps more skilful tradition of this in another part of the world. My response after reading the article – because you take issue with several critics of poetry – my response was: ‘Well, at least people were discussing South African poetry.’ I can’t think of a similarly invested debate around the craft of poetry going on now. Or am I not seeing it?

Rustum Kozain  That’s an interesting question, especially as so many people now seem to consider poetry as this casual activity, which is dispiriting. There isn’t a discussion of, to use the basic terms, whether a poem is a good poem or whether it is a terrible poem. My sense is that we talk about poetry, and literature more generally, simply in terms of its content or its thematic concerns. Some of the controversy around the Franschhoek Literary Festival – or one of the points raised by younger black writers – was that they (the writers) are treated as anthropological informants. They link it specifically to a history of apartheid and racism in South Africa where the black author is there to answer questions about what life is like for a black person, to a mainly white audience. But I think it goes beyond race. In general, literary criticism has kind of regressed into simply summarising a content that is readily available. Part of the reason I think poetry disappeared off syllabuses in South Africa towards the late 1980s and early 1990s is that fewer and fewer teachers at university were prepared for or knew how to engage with teaching poetry beyond analysing its contents.

I had been listening to Linton Kwesi Johnson since I was a teenager, so when Mzwakhe Mbuli exploded onto the scene in South Africa and people were hailing him as someone who had revolutionised English poetics, I thought: ‘These people must be talking crap; have they not heard Linton Kwesi Johnson who was doing it ten years before and in a much better way?’ So my argument was partly about how people are evaluating literature and it was clear that Mzwakhe Mbuli was hailed also because his politics were seemingly progressive and he was on the side of the anti-apartheid struggle. That wasn’t enough for me to want to listen or read his poetry again and again – one wanted to talk about the aesthetics of his poetry.

HT  I suppose we’re getting closer now to the thematic of the issue which is about poetic craft at a time of cultural contestation. You’ve mentioned Linton Kwesi Johnson and you’re often referring to musicians in your poetry; obviously you are drawing a great deal from an auditory response or imagination, but your poetry is not like LKJ’s at all. In fact, I read it as quite a written form of poetry; I think Kelwyn Sole had a nice phrase for it. He said it has a ‘deliberative sonority’ – which I like because even that phrase sort of slows you down and I find that your poetry slows a reader down. I wonder if you could speak a bit about the fact that you’re in some senses devoted to the sonic, auditory, to sound, to jazz. I think Charles Mingus was playing when I arrived – you’ve written poems about him – and yet there’s quite a disciplined – I want to say almost modernist – restraint to a lot of your poetry.

RK  I think a large part, if not the largest part, of my influences would be modernist and what comes after modernism. I studied at university in the 1980s when modernism was still a significant part of the English literary syllabus at the University of Cape Town, so that is a part of me. But even before I enrolled for English, an older friend introduced me to ‘Prufrock’ [by TS Eliot]. And I thought this poem was remarkable because it was something completely different from what we were used to at school, which were typically a few Shakespeare sonnets, some Victorian poetry, I don’t think any of the Romantics.

The idea of sonority – I have to agree with you. I do have a thing for the sound of words. So the sound of a word often plays a large part in its choice in a line or a poem. Why don’t I sound like Linton Kwesi Johnson? That’s one of my greatest frustrations in life [laughs] – that I can’t write like Linton Kwesi Johnson in any believable way. Part of that is because I don’t have a Caribbean background. A large part of Linton Kwesi Johnson’s charm has got to do with the language he is using, which is tied so closely to drum rhythms in the Caribbean. He has a gift but he also has that legacy or that inheritance that he can work with. I’ve tried writing parodic poems in [my reggae-sourced] Jamaican Creole, but it’s rubbish. I’ve tried writing hip hop as well, but there is a particular skill in composing for oral performance that I don’t have.

HT  I was raising the question of slowness, but certainly not as a lack. Because, in a sense, what I find when reading poetry nowadays is the need to remind myself to slow down. I think we’re all programmed to read so fast now – online and on screens – to read instrumentally and for content. So I sense the kind of syntactical mechanisms you put in place to ensure a certain productive slowness.

RK  There are two things that definitely lie behind the slowness in much of my poetry. The one thing is that I feel myself to be a frustrated filmmaker, so my poems are often visual and it’s often as if a camera were panning across a scene. The other thing that lies behind this kind of slowness was something Kelwyn Sole said – or someone said in a blurb on one of his books – it has to do with his poetry looking at the quiet or the silent moments and trying to unpick what goes on in those moments; to think about what happens on the edges of normal events.

HT  At the end of your essay ‘Dagga’ you talk about the question of nostalgia, around which there have been a lot of debates recently, especially following from Jacob Dlamini’s Native Nostalgia in which he reminisces about growing up in Katlehong outside Johannesburg. He begins the work with quite a complex rhetorical position, he asks: ‘What does it mean to remember elements of a childhood under apartheid with fondness?’ It’s a question that was often taken up by reviewers (some of whom refused to read the book at all) as evidence that his book should be filed in the ‘apartheid wasn’t that bad’ genre, that he was pining for bad old days. I don’t think you’ve ever been accused of that in any way; but I wonder if you can talk a bit about the perils of nostalgia in our cultural moment, in which certain forms of subjectivity and expression are being policed in some ways?

RK  It is an interesting and, for me, a very central question. At times I get despondent about what I’m doing because I think that it could just be dismissed as exercises in nostalgia. I think we tend towards nostalgia as we grow older. Whether nostalgia in general is a pathology or whether it’s something positive, I don’t know. For me the moment we are living in in South Africa is a nightmare moment. So part of my looking back is also to try and deal with this weird and perverse relationship we have between the present – which is a nightmare – and the past – which was a nightmare, but during which we had this hope or this dream of an escape from a nightmare. The thing we looked forward to, that added something to our lives. But that added value is nowhere to be found in the present moment. When I write in ‘Dagga’ about growing up in Paarl, yes it is partly the nostalgia of a man turning fifty and it’s a nostalgia for a place partly because of biographical migrations away from that place and away from the social relations of that place as well. So those are two properly nostalgic impulses. Part of this – and I’ve come across this idea in many writers, most prominently in Mandelstam – is the desire to freeze time. For me that’s what I try almost every time I write a poem, to freeze time in the non-fiction, in the prose – to freeze time at that time when there was still hope, in a way, that’s part of it.

HT  So why is the present a nightmare?

RK  Do you have to ask? I never studied politics or sociology or political economy so I’m very reticent to talk politics as such. That’s probably why I write poetry, because in poetry you can get away with associative meanings. You don’t have to be completely rational, analytic, precise, so you can make political statements under the cover of the associative meanings that poetry allows you. I’m happy to expose myself in my poetry because, I think, there I can say things – maybe it’s a lack of courage, but there I can say things that people can’t challenge me with, with the whole locomotive and carriages of expert knowledge. So I’m reticent to talk about politics straight up, but South Africa is not the place that we imagined in the seventies and eighties that we were going to create. On the one hand conservatives and reactionaries can laugh at us and say ‘Well, what did you expect? What did you expect from a liberation movement that was communist inspired?’ and all that nonsense. But at the same time we had a dream and we lost a dream. What do we do now?

HT  A poem that really struck me when reading across your work was ‘February Moon’, Cape Town, 1993. I was quite taken aback when I saw the date because at the time it must have seemed pessimistic. But now this kind of discourse and this kind of dissatisfaction is gaining ground; in a sense it has become our daily bread. So my question then is about rhetorical exhaustion. Because how can you, on the one hand, ‘make it new’ in the Poundian sense; but, on the other hand, how do you (any ‘you’ that is politically aware) keep saying the same thing for years and years and years? There’s a line from Arundhati Roy that I often think of at the end of her essay ‘The End of Imagination’ – which is about India and its nuclear programme. She says

Let’s pick our parts, put on these discarded costumes and speak our second-hand lines in this sad second-hand play. But let’s not forget that the stakes we’re playing for are huge. Our fatigue and our shame could mean the end of us. (Roy 122)

How does one deal with or ward off a kind of exhaustion about having to say the same things which, in a sense, is what politically astute people have had to do for over two decades now?

RK  If you find yourself repeating yourself, what do you do? For me there is an exhaustion, but not of the imagination. Much of my poetry is not written from the imagination – I don’t imagine scenarios and portray characters in a particular scenario or events. My poetry is directly about a certain reality, my reality or something I see out there, but I understand what Roy means by an exhaustion of imagination and I think our state, our government, our civil servants, the service industry, the way people interact with each other, the advertising industry, representations of South Africa in the media, by our own media, how we see ourselves and how we understand our relationship with each other – there’s no imagination, there’s no vision, there’s no forethought. So my surroundings, my context, my circumstances exhaust me. Especially if they cohere around certain ideas of the nation and what has happened politically in South Africa – that I would have touched on in previous poetry. So you just sit there and you go: ‘Why does no one read my poetry?’ [laughs] It is not just me. This has been one of Kelwyn’s hobby horses; that when you read South African poetry, there has been a constant and continuous fatigue since the early nineties about the new South Africa running through our poetry. But since no one reads poetry, no one’s hearing the poets and no one’s listening to the poets.

At the moment I’m in a kind of trough where it concerns my own writing because a lot of my poetry now has a wider focus; it’s not only about South Africa, it’s about other things as well. And they’re difficult subjects, it’s difficult to treat these subjects with the kind of gravitas that they require and to resolve that treatment in the poetry. And it is not only South Africa; the rest of the world seems to have lost that foresight, vision, imagination in the way global politics and economics are run. My exhaustion is globally inspired, though it may only have a local impact [laughs].

For the full interview, purchase Wasafiri’s Special Issue Unsettled Poetics: Contemporary Australian and South African Poetry (no. 86 Summer 2016) by emailing wasafiri@open.ac.uk

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‘We are each the narrators of our own truth’ – Read Craig Higginson’s 2015/16 University of Johannesburg Prize acceptance speech

Craig Higginson, Eliza Kentridge and Nkosinathi Sithole win the 2015/16 University of Johannesburg Prizes
The Dream HouseSigns for an ExhibitionHunger Eats a Man

 
Craig Higginson, Eliza Kentridge and Nkosinathi Sithole were recently awarded their University of Johannesburg Prizes at a ceremony at the university’s Bunting Road Campus in Auckland Park, Johannesburg.

The R75 000 UJ Prize is awarded to the writer of the best South African work in English published in the previous calendar year, while the R30 000 Debut Prize is awarded to the best debut South African English work in the same time period.

Higginson won the Main Prize for his third novel, The Dream House, while Kentridge and Sithole shared the Debut Prize for her poetry collection Signs for an Exhibition and his novel Hunger Eats a Man.

 

Higginson has kindly shared his eloquent acceptance speech with Books LIVE:
 

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I was recently struck by this quote from Tennessee Williams:

We live in a perpetually burning building, and what we must save from it, all the time, is love.

Talk of love often feels sentimental and ineffectual – especially in the context of a burning house. What we should probably save first from a burning house is our spouse, our children, our pets (with the possible exception of the hamsters), and (in the days we wrote letters and printed photographs) our letters and our photographs. In other words, our computers.

But where does love reside if not in our family and our repositories of memory? These are some of the things that make us human. When we live in a perpetually burning building, what we need to save from it, time and time again, is our humanity.

Our humanity is not a constant. It is something we earn. When someone drives a truck into a crowd of children and their parents who are looking at fireworks by the sea – that is a moment when someone of the human race has set aside what we might call their humanity – and decided on a different path, where everything that every generation since the beginning of time has worked towards – wherever they might have lived in the world – is set aside and we become not as bad as animals but worse than animals – for no animal behaves as we do when we are at our worst.

And the problem is that we are never at our best – or never for long. We humans are incapable of sustaining anything. Perhaps we are best defined by our laziness, our complacency. Perpetually, we have to refresh ourselves. Love has to be looked for and regained – if neglected or taken for granted, it soon fades away again. We have to work in order to retain our humanity. Iris Murdoch said we are the only animals that create a picture of what we want to be and then try to become it.

What picture do we want to move towards? Because in choosing a picture for ourselves, we are also choosing a picture for the world – we are giving life to a vision that does not yet exist, and will probably never exist – but in that work towards some form of redemption or home, we discover ourselves – what we are capable of – what a miracle a single life can become.

And that is what Tennessee Williams means by love, I think.

This is also why I continue to write. Not because I have an abundance of love to offer the world. Often, it feels like the opposite. I feel dejected, disillusioned, disappointed with myself, my country, the direction of our humanity.

I have to work hard to regain that path towards hope, and one way I do it is through the fictions I write – the imagined lands that do not yet exist, and will never exist, but that might – at their best – help us to see ourselves and our potential more clearly and urgently.

At the moment our world feels particularly frightening – whether it is in this campus or in the campus next door, where thousands of young people are feeling impotent, incoherent, full of rage – at their worst – and full of hope, courage and righteousness – at their best. Because both are true – both impulses are competing at present. If we look a bit further into the heart of our country, there are further reasons to fear, to recoil from what we have become. And of course we are also in the middle of a third world war – a war that nurtures the idea of terror, a war that seems to dance only to the sound of hate.

For me good writing has always been an activity that goes in the opposite direction of hate. And that is why literature is difficult to achieve. Our worst impulses want to drag us well away from it. We like to hate, we like to fear – because then (being the lazy, complacent creatures we are), we can respond with unambiguous action. The world suddenly appears simpler, more manageable. We can draw lines in this direction and that – and, as Susan Sontag said somewhere, drawing lines can be an act of violence.

But in the end writers are no different from anyone else. We are each the narrators of our own truth – or our own failure. Right now each of us – and each of our stories about ourselves and each other – is being tested. What kinds of storytellers would we like to become? What stories would we like to leave in our wake?

Literature remains to show us how language – and the pictures it creates – can be used as an instrument for restoring hope, for finding grace in the least likely of places.

We live in a perpetually burning building, and what we must rescue from it, time and again, is love. And yes – that definitely includes the hamsters.

I am honoured to be receiving this award. I’d like to congratulate Nkosinathi and Eliza – and feel proud to be standing with them today.

I would like to thank my wife Leila for tracking me down in each of my burning buildings – whether they be real or imaginary.

And thanks also to my PhD supervisor Michael Titlestad, my editor Alison Lowry, my publishers Terry Morris and Andrea Nattrass – and to everyone at Pan Macmillan for continuing to carve out places for hope.

Finally, I would also like to extend my gratitude to the University of Johannesburg and the judges of this award.

University is where I first came up with the unlikely idea of myself as a writer and started to write. At the age of 19, I decided I would be an artist for the rest of my life.

Universities are dream houses – places for dreaming. Let’s hope we can imagine a country where each of us has the opportunity to arrive at themselves, as I did, and know the place for the first time.

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