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Archive for the ‘South Africa’ Category

Update: Binyavanga Wainaina Travels to India for Further Medical Care

One Day I Will Write About This PlaceKwani?How to Write About Africa

The Kwani Trust has sent an update regarding the health of Binyavanga Wainaina.

The Kenyan author suffered a stroke on 31 October, and owing to complications needed to travel to India for tests.

The first fundraising drive has been a success:

Wainaina founded Kwani?, a Kenyan based literary network, 12 years ago, and since then over 500 writers have been published.

Kwani will also be hosting a #Love4Binya concert in Nairobi, Kenya on 5 December.

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5 Sunday Reads: An Interview with Orhan Pamuk, an Essay from Diana Abu-Jaber’s Upcoming Life Without a Recipe and More

A Strangeness in My Mind1. “I Walk in the City All the Time”: An Interview with Orhan Pamuk

From Hazlitt: Orhan Pamuk knows many things about cities. He’s written a book about the city he calls home, 2005’s Istanbul: Memories and the City, and offers another perspective on the same place in his latest book, the sprawling novel A Strangeness in My Mind. While its scope is vast, incorporating over forty years’ worth of history, its focus is humble: Melvut, the novel’s protagonist, moves to the city from a rural area at a young age, and goes on to make his living largely as a food vendor. This includes time spent selling yogurt and boza, a fermented beverage that, in Pamuk’s telling, takes on a deeper cultural significance.

Letters to Véra2. An excerpt from Letters to Véra

From Literary Hub: My delightful, my love, my life, I don’t understand anything: how can you not be with me? I’m so infinitely used to you that I now feel myself lost and empty: without you, my soul. You turn my life into something light, amazing, rainbowed — you put a glint of happiness on everything— always different: sometimes you can be smoky-pink, downy, sometimes dark, winged—and I don’t know when I love your eyes more — when they are open or shut. It’s eleven p.m. now: I’m trying with all the force of my soul to see you through space; my thoughts plead for a heavenly visa to Berlin via air … My sweet excitement …

Gold Fame Citrus3. On Pandering by Claire Vaye Watkins

From Tin House: The stunning truth is that I am asking, deep down, as I write, What would Philip Roth think of this? What would Jonathan Franzen think of this? When the answer is probably: nothing. More staggering is the question of why I am trying to prove myself to writers whose work, in many cases, I don’t particularly admire? I recently finished Roth’s Indignation with nothing more lasting than a sincere curiosity as to whether Roth is aware that these days even nice girls give blow jobs.

I am trying to understand a phenomenon that happens in my head, and maybe in yours too, whereby the white supremacist patriarchy determines what I write.

4. A Storied Bookstore and Its Late Oracle Leave an Imprint on Islamabad

From The New York Times: ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — After his father died, Ahmad Saeed took over the office on the ground floor of the family’s storied bookstore here, Saeed Book Bank. Then the elderly men started visiting, seeking to settle old debts.

“They all apologized and said they had tried to see my father while he was alive but his office was always too crowded and they were embarrassed,” Mr. Saeed said.

Life Without a Recipe5. Lamb Two Ways by Diana Abu-Jaber

From The New Yorker: Every year between Halloween and Christmas, my grandmother Grace transforms her apartment into a bakery. Tables and chairs are covered with racks of cooling cookies, eight baking sheets slip in and out of the oven — as tiny as something in a troll’s house. The Mixmaster drones. A universe of cookies: chocolate-planted peanut butter; sinus-kicking bourbon balls; leaping reindeer and sugar bells; German press-form cookies from her grandparents’ Bavarian village — Springerle — green wreaths, candy berries; and a challenging, grown-uppy variety named for the uncut dough’s sausage shape: Wurstcakes. All part of Grace’s arsenal: she’s engaged in an internecine war with my father, Bud, over the loyalties of the children. Her Wurstcakes are slim as Communion wafers. Bud dunks them in his demitasse of ahweh and calls them “Catholic cookies.” Her eyes tighten as she watches him eat.


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Sunday Read: Meet the Real Lady in the Van and Listen to an Excerpt from Maggie Smith: A Biography

Maggie SmithThe Lady in the Van: The Complete EditionIn 1974 an elderly and eccentric Miss Mary Shepherd parked her van in writer Alan Bennett’s driveway in Camden Town, where she remained until her death 15 years later.

Bennett and Miss Shepherd had a peculiar bond. In his diary in the London Review of Books, Bennett writes of their first encounter when she coaxed him into pushing her van to Albany Street. The experience left him with the unsettling feeling that “one seldom was able to do her a good turn without some thoughts of strangulation”.

Yet Bennett invited Miss Shepherd to stay, another “good turn” she would not admit to being grateful for. “To have allowed herself to feel in the least bit grateful would have been a chink in her necessary armour, braced as she always was against the world,” Bennett writes in his definitive work on Miss Shepherd, The Lady in the Van: The Complete Edition.

During their 15 years together the writer observed Miss Shepherd, and in 1999 Dame Maggie Smith portrayed her in the hit West End play, The Lady in the Van. The film by the same name, and with Smith in the lead once again, was released in the United Kingdom on 13 November, and will come to South Africa in December this year.

Read an excerpt from Bennett’s diary, in which he remembers their first encounters:

She must have prevailed on me to push the van as far as Albany Street, though I recall nothing of the exchange. What I do remember as I trundled the van across Gloucester Bridge was being overtaken by two policemen in a panda car and thinking that, as the van was certainly holding up the traffic, they might have leant a hand. They were wiser than I knew. The other feature of this first run-in with Miss Shepherd was her driving technique. Scarcely had I put my shoulder to the back of the van, an old Bedford, than a long arm was stretched elegantly out of the driver’s window to indicate in textbook fashion that she (or rather I) was moving off. A few yards further on, as we were about to turn into Albany Street, the arm emerged again, twirling elaborately in the air to indicate that we were branching left, the movement done with such boneless grace that this section of the Highway Code might have been choreographed by Petipa with Ulanova at the wheel. Her ‘I am coming to a halt’ was less poised as she had plainly not expected me to give up pushing and shouted angrily back that it was the other end of Albany Street she wanted, a mile further on. But I had had enough by this time and left her there with no thanks for my trouble. Far from it. She even climbed out of the van and came running after me, shouting that I had no business abandoning her, so that passers-by looked at me as if I had done some injury to this pathetic scarecrow. ‘Some people!’ I suppose I thought, feeling foolish that I’d been taken for a ride (or taken her for one) and cross that I’d fared worse than if I’d never lifted a finger, these mixed feelings to be the invariable aftermath of any transaction involving Miss Shepherd. One seldom was able to do her a good turn without some thoughts of strangulation.

The Guardian has selected extracts from Bennett’s The Lady in the Van: The Complete Edition, with touching illustrations by David Gentleman.

In the article, Bennett reflects on why he invited Miss Shepherd to park her van in his driveway that day, the making of the film and the fine line between the two Alan Bennetts as both observing writer and participating character.

Read the extract:

It’s now over a quarter of a century since Miss Shepherd died, but hearing a van door slide shut will still take me back to the time when she was in the garden. For Marcel, the narrator in Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, the sound that took him back was that of the gate of his aunt’s idyllic garden; with me it’s the door of a broken down Commer van. The discrepancy is depressing, but then most writers discover quite early on that they’re not going to be Proust. Besides, I couldn’t have heard my own garden gate because in order to deaden the (to her) irritating noise, Miss Shepherd had insisted on me putting a piece of chewing gum on the latch.

Watch the trailer for The Lady in the Van:

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Smith is captivating in her poignant portrayal of a vagrant woman who’s touched the life and imagination of a brilliant but self-deprecating writer.

Bennett and Smith were both born in 1934 and have walked a long road together on stage and off, as readers will note in Michael Coveney’s Maggie Smith: A Biography.

In an interview with The Telegraph for his 80th birthday, Bennett recalls attending another 80th back in 1997 with Smith:

In a diary entry for February 1997, published in his memoir collection Untold Stories, Alan Bennett describes an 80th birthday party for the stage designer Jocelyn Herbert at the Royal College of Art. The place is packed.
“I sit on a sofa with Alan Bates and Maggie Smith,” he writes, “thinking that no one would ever arrange such a do for me or get so many people to come. I turn to Maggie and she says: ‘Don’t say it. I know. I don’t think I could even fill the kitchen.’”

Bennett sets the scene, Smith steals it.

Listen to an audio extract from Maggie Smith: A Biography, read by Welsh actress Siân Thomas (Amelia Bones in Harry Potter:


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Image courtesy of The Telegraph

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RIP Mark Behr (1963 – 2015)

Mark Behr
The Smell of ApplesEmbraceKings of the Water

Author Mark Behr has passed away in Johannesburg, at the age of 52, reportedly of a heart attack.

Behr was born in Tanzania in 1963, and grew up in South Africa. His first published novel, The Smell of Apples (1995), appeared first in Afrikaans in 1993 as Die Reuk van Appels, winning the Eugène Marais Prize, the M-Net Award, the CNA Literary Debut Award and The Art Seidenbaum Award from the Los Angeles Times.

The success of the novel compelled Behr to speak publicly about his history as a campus spy for the South African security establishment. In 1996, at a writer’s conference in Cape Town titled “Fault Lines – Inquiries Around Truth and Reconciliation”, he addressed what he called his “betrayal”.

At the Franschhoek Literary Festival in 2010, Behr spoke to Victor Dlamini about what letting go of secrecy meant to him. “Being a spy/informer/betrayer and closeted gay man impacted on my day-to-day life, my relationships with my family and friends and on my writing,” he said, adding that once he had made his secrets public, he could let go of self-loathing and restrictions on his creativity. Behr said he had received unqualified reconciliation from everyone he betrayed: “I answered every question that they wanted to ask me. I allowed them to challenge me and I allowed their suspicion.”

Behr’s second novel, Embrace (2000) was shortlisted for the Sunday Times Fiction Prize and the Encore Award in the United Kingdom. His third, Kings of the Water, was published in 2009.

Behr did his undergraduate and honours degrees at Stellenbosch University in the late 1980s, and three MA degrees at University of Notre Dame in the United States, finishing the last in 2000. He worked at the College of Santa Fe in New Mexico, and at the time of his death was Professor of English Literature and Creative Writing at Rhodes College, Memphis, Tennessee.

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Fiction Friday: A Story by Ghanaian-born Author Yaa Gyasi, Whose Debut Novel Sold for 7 Figures this Year


HomegoingYaa Gyasi, a Ghanaian-born writer raised in Alabama in the United States, made headlines earlier this year when it was announced that her debut novel had been purchased in a seven-figure deal ahead of the London Book Fair.

The North American rights were acquired at auction by Knopf, who fought off competition from nine other bidders.

At the time, Knopf’s Jordan Pavlin called Homegoing “as beautiful and relevant a novel as any I’ve ever read”, adding that Gyasi “writes about race and history and identity and love with astonishing authority”.

Translation rights for the novel have been sold for a “major deal” in Spanish, as well as in Norway, Sweden and Hungary.

Viking have taken on the book in the United Kingdom, with publisher Mary Mount calling it: “enormously ambitious, incredibly moving and deeply resonant”.

“This is a rare novel about how history infuses all of our lives,” Mount told The Guardian. “Yaa Gyasi has an incredible eye for character and sense of human emotion. It will be a hugely exciting novel to publish.”

Gyasi, who was 25 at the time of the book’s sale, is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and lives in Berkeley, California.

Homegoing traces the descendants of two sisters, torn apart in 18th-century Africa, across three hundred years in Ghana and America:

Two half sisters, Effia and Esi, unknown to each other, are born into different tribal villages in eighteenth-century Ghana. Effia is married off to an Englishman and will live in comfort in the palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle, raising half-caste children who will be sent abroad to be educated before returning to the Gold Coast to serve as administrators of the empire. Esi, imprisoned beneath Effia in the Castle’s women’s dungeon and then shipped off on a boat bound for America, will be sold into slavery. Stretching from the tribal wars of Ghana to slavery and the Civil War in America, from the coal mines in the American South to the Great Migration to twentieth-century Harlem, Yaa Gyasi’s novel moves through histories and geographies and captures–with outstanding economy and force– the troubled spirit of our own nation. She has written a modern masterpiece.

The novel is due out from Knopf in June 2016.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, who recently won the National Book Award for Between the World and Me, said:

Gyasi’s characters are so fully realised, so elegantly carved – very often I found myself longing to hear more. Craft is essential given the task Gyasi sets for herself – drawing not just a lineage of two sisters, but two related peoples. Gyasi is deeply concerned with the sin of selling humans on Africans, not Europeans. But she does not scold. She does not excuse. And she does not romanticise. The black Americans she follows are not overly virtuous victims. Sin comes in all forms, from selling people to abandoning children. I think I needed to read a book like this to remember what is possible. I think I needed to remember what happens when you pair a gifted literary mind to an epic task. Homegoing is an inspiration.

He also could help but tweet about the book when he was reading it:

This Fiction Friday, get a taste of what Gyasi is capable of by reading a story she wrote for Guernica recently.

By Yaa Gyasi
June 15, 2015

And as I parted my lips and then, later, my legs, watching the last clouds of smoke slip upward, I kept hearing my mother’s voice say, “Jesus is a fire.”

In the final days of her life, my mother began telling everyone that she was a disciple who had been called upon to write two books for the next testament of the Bible: The Future Testament. The retirement home called me when they found her scrawling on the walls of her apartment, twice in her own excrement, once in the blood of her old dog, Peace.

“It’s just that she’s scaring people,” the Cherry Grove Homes director said in his thin, nasally voice. I could picture him on the other end, a white button-down, a red tie, perpetually smiling. “And we aren’t a nursing home, you know; we’re an independent living facility. I’m afraid we have to ask her to leave.” I flew to Alabama immediately, boxed up all of my mother’s possessions, and flew her away to live with me in California.

She had not spoken more than one sentence since seeing me, standing helpless and frightened on the welcome mat of her apartment. Now, walking around my two-bedroom house in Menlo Park, she began whispering to herself in Twi.

“Why did you kill Peace?” I asked. The retirement home director told me they had found the dog in the backyard with his neck slit, his front paws folded and touching as though he were praying.

She turned sharply toward me. “Sacrifice,” she said, before continuing to pace the house. Her English was deteriorating and, though my comprehension was still good, I hadn’t spoken Twi since childhood. I crushed an Ambien into the tea that I made for her, and when she began to nod off, I tucked her into the guest bed, went into my own room, and cried until morning.

Keep an eye on Books LIVE for more about Homegoing as the publication date approaches.
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Image courtesy of Publishers Weekly

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Suzanne Swart resenseer Lotta se lewe: My skilpad kruip uit sy dop deur Alice Pantermuller

Lotta se lewe 5: My skilpad kruip uit sy dopUitspraak: wortel

Ek sien voor in die boek dat die storie aanvanklik in Duits geskryf is, en toe in Afrikaans vertaal is deur Kobus Geldenhuys. Ek het al ander boeke ook gelees wat hy vertaal het, soos die Hoe om jou draak te tem-boeke deur Cressida Cowell. Ek kan amper nie glo dat hierdie boeke eers in ’n ander taal geskryf was nie, want dit lees regtig baie lekker in Afrikaans.

Kersfees is naby. As ek genoeg geld gehad het, sou ek regtig vir ’n spesiale maatjie die hele stel van Lotta se lewe wou gee.


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Helon Habila Reviews Blackass by A Igoni Barrett

BlackassVerdict: stick

Here the novel, which began as a bold riff on Kafka’s Metamorphosis, begins to turn into a comedy of manners – which in itself, if sustained, wouldn’t have been a bad thing. Igoni Barrett’s greatest asset is his ability to satirise the ridiculous extents people, especially Lagosians, go to in order to appear important. His characters’ every foible is captured and amplified for effect. But his handling of plot is not so masterly; the introduction of Morpheus is one too many transformations.

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Sarie-lesers resenseer Gelyke kans, Adrenalien, eMajuba en nog meer

AdrenalienDie jaar toe Emma begin kook heteMajuba
WoestynroosGelyke kans

Uitspraak: wortels

Die verhaal speel af vanuit die perspektief van beide Jessica en Anton en dit gee baie meer diepte aan die karakters. Dit laat die leser met nogal meer begrip vir almal en ook vir die gelyke kans wat hulle mekaar jare gelede belowe het.

Hierdie aangename debuut is allermins ’n voorspelbare liefdesverhaal.


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Genna Gardini’s Debut Poetry Collection Matric Rage Launched on a Summer Evening at The Book Lounge


Image courtesy of Robyn Cohen
By Rosa Lyster (below left)

Matric RageSummer evening events at The Book Lounge are great, but there is mostly a problem with the sun. It comes through the windows at a cruel-seeming angle, hitting people between the eyes, so that they must squint and frown and hold up books to their faces. At the launch of Genna Gardini’s debut poetry collection, the sun is on especially aggressive form. Gardini and her interviewer, Linda Kaoma, have it on them like a spotlight, a halo. It adds a certain intensity to the proceedings.

The music is doing its best too: a playlist of every massive hit from 2004/2005. It’s playing as the large audience takes their seats, and there is a lot of Busta Rhymes, a lot of late-stage Sean Paul and early Rihanna and peak-of-their-career Pussycat Dolls. It recalls a certain cultural moment with embarrassingly evocative force.

nullThe songs are a nod to the title of Gardini’s debut collection: Matric Rage, and the year that she matriculated: 2004. The title, of course, works on two levels: matric rage as a sort of unseemly social phenomenon, and matric rage as a feeling, a phase. The social phenomenon is described by Gardini as when “well-heeled children” finish high school, and spend a week getting festive and racy at the beach. A strange, extended party that is very fun for some people, less so for others. Gardini survived it, she says, by taking a book. You get the feeling that she has survived a lot of things this way.

Matric rage as a phase, on the other hand, can be taken to describe a specific era in Gardini’s life: age 19 to 29, the age she is now. The collection, she says, is a monument to that strange time, a working through of what it’s like to be young, frustrated, angry, privileged, alive. The poems in the book are divided up into four sections: Junior, Senior, High, and Matric. They correspond roughly. Gardini says, to discrete periods of her life. At The Book Lounge, she reads one or two from each section.

She is a wonderful reader, sitting there with the sun steaming down on her in a way that makes her look a little bit like an angel. She responds to Kaoma’s questions with insight and expansiveness, suggesting interpretations while allowing for the fact that everyone’s reading will be different. The poems themselves are beautiful. Complex and challenging without being obtuse. Straightforward without being crass. Kind and empathetic and shining with goodness, but still angry.

Gardini is a big Joan Didion fan. A sentence from The White Album acts as an epigraph to the longest poem in the collection, “Performance Scale”, and it’s easy to find connections between the two. Like Didion, Gardini will always be the smartest person in the room. They are both listeners. They both watch, and think, and try to understand. They both have a thing about clothes. Unlike Didion, however, Gardini is funny. Has Joan Didion ever made anyone even smile a lot? No. Fact. Gardini, on the other hand, makes the audience properly laugh. She makes them cry, too, but laughter is always there. She laughs a lot herself. It’s important to mention this, I think, because it’s one way to understand the poems. Laughter, the good kind of laughter, is about connecting with other people and finding a way to understand them. It’s clear that this impulse fuels Gardini’s work.

Matric Rage is published by uHlanga Press, a poetry press founded by Nick Mulgrew, dedicated to publishing first collections from young South African poets, supported by a grant from the Arts & Culture Trust. Introducing Gardini at the beginning of the event, Mulgrew points out that uHlanga will never make a lot of money. Probably it will make no money at all. Doesn’t matter, Mulgrew says. The point of uHlanga is to get poems like Gardini’s out into the world. If you can’t buy the book, he says, then find someone who can and photocopy it. It’s clear that he means it. He’s right. Everyone should get a chance to read these poems.


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People have been tweeting about the collection, and the launch:

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Don’t Miss the First International Long Story Short: Hlubi Mboya Reading Zakes Mda at the Ba re e ne re Literature Festival

Invitation to Long Story Short's first reading outside South Africa

The Sculptors of MapungubweLong Story Short is excited to announce its first international reading at the 2015 Ba re e ne re Literature Festival in Maseru, Lesotho.

Hlubi Mboya will be reading from The Sculptors of Mapungubwe by Zakes Mda on Saturday, 5 December. The event will take place at Machabeng College and will start at 11:30 AM.

The brains and drive behind the Long Story Short project, Kgauhelo Dube, was nominated for a Mbokodo award in the category of Promotion of Arts in the Media this year.

“This is a milestone for Long Story Short, our humble foray into digital literature!” she says.

“We are inspired by our continued relationship with Hlubi Mboya – an avid reader and education activist, the fact that she’ll be reading from Bra Zakes’ The Sculptors of Mapungubwe is a treat, an honour and a notable creative collaboration.”

For more information, follow Long Story Short on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Don’t miss the reading!

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Press release

Hlubi Mboya to read from Zakes Mda’s The Sculptors of Mapungubwe at Ba re e ne re Literature Festival in Maseru, Lesotho

#longstorySHORT, an innovative initiative that has raised the profile of African literature on social networks and in the public imagination, has its first reading outside South Africa in December. Launched in March 2015, #longstorySHORT is produced by Pretoria-based boutique content agency Kajeno Media. The project manifests through live readings and recordings by high-profile celebrity performers in spaces like public libraries, book cafes and cultural hubs.

#longstorySHORT Executive Producer Kgauhelo Dube says: “This is a milestone for #longstorySHORT, our humble foray into digital literature! It’s been an invaluable experience to see how thrilled audiences have been to discover writers such as Doreen Baingana, Chibundu Onuzo, Niq Mhlongo, Thando Mgqolozana – to name a few. We are inspired by our continued relationship with Hlubi Mboya – an avid reader and education activist, the fact that she’ll be reading from Bra Zakes’ The Sculptors of Mapungubwe is a treat, an honour and a notable creative collaboration.”

In recognition of the meteoric rise of the #longstorySHORT brand in its launch year, Dube was nominated for a Mbokodo award in the category of Promotion of Arts in the Media. This category celebrates the women who, through their work and practice, strive to promote art and publicise its crucial role in building a cohesive society. The online reach of #longstorySHORT made it easy for the Maseru-based Ba re e ne re Festival organisers to connect with the project and invite the team to this year’s festival.

The Ba re e ne re Literature Festival, founded by the late Liepollo Rantekoa in 2011, is Lesotho’s premier annual literary arts event, bringing writers, readers and artists together. The third edition of the festival in Maseru from 5 to 6 December, 2015 features panel discussions, writing workshops, a keynote lecture, creative performances and arts activities for children.

Ba re e ne re Festival Director Lineo Segoete says: “Ba re e ne re Literature Festival is our flagship project. We have a host of other literacy projects that speak to #longstorySHORT’s objectives – curating and stimulating young people’s literary scope is something we and the Kajeno team are boldly passionate about. This is the beginnings of more cross-border exchange in the sector, I believe.”

Zanemvula Kizito Gatyeni Mda – widely known as Zakes Mda, is an award-winning writer, dramatist and academic. Mda’s The Sculptors of Mapungubwe is a lyrical novel set in the mythical Southern African kingdom of Mapungubwe. This take of a spirited rivalry between two gifted sons of the royal sculptor is an important work based on archaeological evidence and Africa’s oral tradition.

This special edition reading in Maseru also marks the start of corporate sponsorship relationship with Nestlé’s premium coffee brand, Nescafé; which is sponsoring the Lesotho trip.

“As a brand strategist working in the arts sector, I have been very vocal about the need for brand managers to be brave by supporting more imaginative interventions – and not just music concerts. I believe there’s great synergy between coffee culture and reading and we applaud Nescafé for seeing the possibilities and adding their muscle to the illiteracy challenges we are faced with,” Dube concludes.


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