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"Finding your voice": Announcing the 2016 Ba re e ne re Literature Festival in Lesotho (9-11 December)

Invitation to the 2016 Ba re e ne re Literature Festival in Lesotho (9 – 11 December)

 
Alert! The annual Ba re e ne re Literature Festival will take place from Friday, 9 December, to Sunday, 11 December. The theme of this year’s Lesotho-based festival is “Finding your voice” and the proceedings will kick off on Friday evening with a poetry slam event and the launch of the short story anthology Likheleke tsa puo.

This year’s guests include South African wordsmiths Sindiwe Magona, Masande Ntshanga, Ace Moloi and Joe Machina, as well as Efemia Chela, Karina Szczurek and Catherine Shepherd. Lesotho will be well represented by Thato Mochone, Liatile Mohale and Tumelo Moleleki.

The Ba re e ne re Literature Festival was first held in 2011 by the late founder Liepollo Rantekoa. Ba re e ne re is an educational organisation established to enrich the lives of Basotho people through improved literacy and creative platforms for expression. The festival aims to provide literary training for the next generation of writers and leaders, to connect Lesotho’s literary community with the rest of Africa, and to address issues through the use of literature.

The three-day event will close with a writer’s workshop hosted by The Alliance Française of Maseru and Short Story Day Africa.

For more information, visit the Ba re e ne re Literature Festival’s website and Facebook page.

Chasing The Tails of My Father’s CattleTo My Children's ChildrenThe ReactiveThe ReactiveHolding My Breath
Adults OnlyInvisible OthersWaterHer Heart

 
Press release

As the team behind Ba re e ne re, we’re extremely excited to announce that our annual event the Ba re e ne re Literature Festival will be held from 9 to 11 December, 2016. We have some incredible activities and guests lined up. We’ll be hosting a poetry open mic and Likheleke tsa puo short-story anthology book launch at Rockview in Khubetsoana from 6 to 10 PM on Friday the 9th. On Saturday, 10 December, from 10 AM to 5 PM we’ll have panel discussions, kids’ activities, a craft market with Nala Social Market and the annual Liepollo Rantekoa Keynote given by the renowned author Sindiwe Magona at Maseru Preparatory School. On Sunday, 11 December, at Alliance Française we’ll host a writing workshop facilitated by Cape Town-based collective Short Story Day Africa from 12 to 4 PM. The theme of the 2016 edition of the Ba re e ne re Literature Festival is “Finding your voice”.

2016 Ba re e ne re Literature Festival Guest biographies

International guests

Sindiwe Magona is a writer, poet, dramatist, storyteller, actress and motivational speaker. She has published autobiographical works, novels and several children’s books over the years. We are very excited to hear her address on the importance of finding our voices as writers. Until 1994 she presented UN radio programmes about the UN’s role in ending apartheid. She then worked in the UN’s Public Information Department until 2003.

Masande Ntshanga was the winner of the 2013 PEN International New Voices Award. He graduated with a degree in Film and Media and an Honours degree in English Studies from the University of Cape Town. He received a Fulbright Award and a National Research Foundation Freestanding Masters scholarship. His debut novel, The Reactive, was published in 2014 by Penguin Random House South Africa. After much interest in the United Kingdom, publisher Jacaranda Books have acquired the rights to publish Masande’s acclaimed literary novel in the United Kingdom and across the Commonwealth. An American edition of the novel was published earlier this year, and German translation rights have also been sold.

Ace Moloi graduated from the University of the Free State where he obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Communication Science. He was the editor of Young Minds Magazine, a founding editor of Student Leverage Magazine, as well as a former IRAWA Post news editor. In 2013 he self-published his first book, In her fall rose a nation, with New Voices Publishing. His second book, Holding My Breath, was published by Blackbird Books, an imprint of Jacana Media in May of 2016. Ace describes the Exclusive Books (Free State) bestselling memoir as a graveside conversation with his mother.

Joe Machina, born Norman Ncube in Bulawayo Zimbabwe, is a freelance journalist, a member of “Johannesburg writers” and a co-founder of Write Africa. Joe left Bulawayo in search of a new life in Johannesburg. When he first arrived in the new city, he worked as a journalist, and his writing appeared in the Mail & Guardian, and an array of other South African publications. Joe’s work is primarily inspired by the immigrant experience: why do people leave their homes in different parts of the world, to go to foreign lands where they were subject to discrimination, xenophobic attacks and even death? Who drives people to make these difficult decisions? Who is responsible for this suffering? His debut novel Victims of greed was published by Bahati Books.

Short Story Day Africa facilitators

Efemia Chela was born in Zambia in 1991, but grew up all over the world. She studied at Rhodes University, South Africa and Institut D’Etudes Politiques in Aix-En-Provence, France. Her first published story, “Chicken” was nominated for The 2014 Caine Prize For African Writing. Efemia’s subsequent stories and poems have been published in places like Brittle Paper, Jalada, Short.Sharp.Stories: Adults Only, Prufrock and PEN Passages: Africa. Efemia is currently a fellow of the inaugural Short Story Day Africa / Worldreader Editing Mentorship Programme and continues to write fiction whenever she can find a moment on the train and a working pen.

Karina Szczurek was born in Jelenia Góra, Poland, and lived in Austria, the United States and Wales, before finding a home in South Africa when she met and married the author André Brink. She was editor in chief of Water: New Short Fiction from Africa (with Nick Mulgrew, 2015) among many others. Her play for young adults A Change of Mind won the MML Literature Award in the Category English Drama in 2012. She writes short stories, book reviews, essays, and poetry. Invisible Others, her first novel, was longlisted for the 2015 Sunday Times Barry Ronge Fiction Prize.

Catherine Shepherd started writing as a child but it was only recently through projects like Short Story Day Africa and Writivism Literary Initiative that she got the courage to put her writing out there. Catherine has a degree in journalism from Rhodes University. Catherine is currently a fellow of the inaugural Short Story Day Africa / Worldreader Editing Mentorship Programme and is editing an anthology of young writers under the supervision of Szczurek. Her short stories have appeared in various publications including My Holiday Shorts, My Maths Teacher Hates Me, Imagine Africa 500 and the 2016 Writivism Anthology. She lives in Cape Town, but has plans to build a writer’s retreat in Suurbraak.

Lesotho-based guests

Thato Mochone is an ambassador of World Vision Lesotho, a Kaya FM correspondent, Martin Luther King Fellow, Mandela Washington Fellow, media consultant and blogger. She is an advocate for youth and women empowerment as well as the LGBT community, an activist journalist interested in social justice, a volunteer fundraiser for an orphanage in her hometown and an English and Geography tutor. She is currently the Communication and Foundation Specialist at Vodacom Foundation after over five years working as a radio personality on Ultimate FM.

Liatile Mohale is a Fulbright scholar who graduated in May 2016 with an impressive 4.0 GPA for her Master’s Degree in Theatre Arts, at San Francisco State University. Before then she obtained her BA in Drama and Theatre Arts from the University of the Free State. Besides being an avid storyteller who tackles pressing social issues and Sesotho culture through theatre, she is a theatre teacher at Machabeng college and has sat as a judge on the Vodacom superstar contest.

Tumelo Moleleki started writing when she was still young and in high school as an outlet because the creative writing she did then always felt so stifling. She self-published a book called Her Heart after which she received an offer from an American company called Dorrance Publishing. In 2006 she got the opportunity to work in Belgium where she took French lessons and developed her grammar skills. She is currently working on manuscripts in French and Sesotho.

Sponsors

Ba re e ne re Literature Festival 2016 would not be possible without the generous support of Miles Morland Foundation, Vodacom Foundation, Unesco, Maseru Prep School, Alliance Francaise, MXXL radio, Bahati Books, Short Story Day Africa, Nala Social Market and Rockview.

Background

Ba re e ne re is a registered educational organisation whose mission is to enrich the lives of Basotho people by promoting initiatives that support improved literacy and creative platforms for expression. Through our work, Basotho, and youth in particular, access training and outlets to practice literacy and share the unique stories Lesotho has to offer with local and international audiences.

Our flagship project is the Ba re e ne re Literature Festival, first held in 2011 by our late founder Liepollo Rantekoa. The festival is an annual international literary arts event, which brings writers, readers and leaders together to share ideas and creative works.

The three goals of the Ba re e ne re Literature Festival are focused for high impact. Through our programming, we aim to:

  • Cultivate the next generation of writers and storytellers in Lesotho through literary training and platforms for expression.
  • Connect Lesotho’s literary arts community with creatives in other African countries and beyond for creative exchange and improved publishing opportunities.
  • Instigate the use of literature as a tool to address pressing socio-economic and political issues within Lesotho.

For more information please visit our Facebook, our website www.bareenere.com, send us an email at Barelitfest@gmail.com or give us a call on 28322405.

Ke tšomo ka mathetho!

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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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Related stories:

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The extraordinary incident of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's BBC Newsnight interview

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Half of a Yellow SunWe Should All Be FeministsAmericanahPurple HibiscusAmericanahThe Thing Around Your Neck

 

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says she felt “upset” and “ambushed” by her recent interview on BBC Newsnight.

The interview, which took place just after the United States election, made international headlines, as Adichie was horribly mismatched with Donald Trump supporter R Emmett Tyrrell, and made some strong remarks about the president-elect, racism and privilege.
 

 
In a statement on her Facebook page, Adichie reveals that she was given no indication that she would be pitted against a Trump supporter.

In a comment on the post, BBC Newsnight give a half-hearted apology, saying they are “terribly sorry” Adichie “felt ambushed by the encounter”, claiming that it was “an honest mistake” and expressing the hope that the author will return for a one-on-one interview “some time”.

The programme’s intentions with the match-up were made clear, however, by the simple fact that they couched the title of their initial YouTube video of the encounter in antagonistic terms: “Is Donald Trump racist? Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie v R Emmett Tyrrell”. As Adichie says, “It is about entertainment.”

(This is not Adichie’s first unfortunate run-in with the British press. In February 2015 The Guardian erroneously published a very personal piece by Adichie on depression, and had to “apologise unreservedly” for the error.)

Tyrrell, who is editor in chief of the American Spectator, was equally perturbed by the encounter, and wrote a piece for The Washington Times that is nothing short of bizarre. In it, he refers to Adichie and Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis as “two apparently intelligent English-speaking women” – being sure to emphasise their gender – speaking “incomprehensible” “gibberish”. “They showed no sign of drunkenness or of drug abuse so I left the studio perplexed,” he writes.

He refers to Adichie by her first name throughout the article and calls her a “so-called novelist”, “a Nigerian lady of supposedly great gifts”.

“I had never heard of her, and for decades I have kept an eye on the intellectual vistas as editor in chief of The American Spectator,” he trumpets, before switching to misplaced wry amusement and 1920s flapper slang:

“Why on earth she was appearing before a British audience to discuss an American election I have no idea. If the BBC wanted to explore creative writing I suppose she was their gal, but then what was I doing there?”

Tyrrell writes that he even contacted his very good friend and distinguished historian Andrew Roberts, who hadn’t heard of her either.

It is a mystery why Tyrrell did not simply type Adichie’s name into Google. If he had done so, he could have read about her academic and literary background, he would have seen a (very long) list of awards, and would have learnt that she has been based in the United States for 20 years. Further Googling would have revealed that earlier this year Adichie wrote a short story about Donald and Melania Trump for The New York Times Book Review (clearly not enough of an intellectual vista for Tyrrell).

Repeating what was his biggest gaffe in the Newsnight interview, he again refers to Adichie as “highly emotional”, and paraphrases two of the farcically illogical points he made that day as if they prove that he won the debate.

He tops it all off with a gloriously ironic reference to Adichie’s “invincible ignorance”.

Tyrrell hits so many stereotypical notes one would be forgiven for suspecting that he was a very good actor hired to play the part of Fuddy Duddy number one.
 

 
Adichie, meanwhile, showing the same composure and eloquence she did in the Newsnight interview, has written a response on Facebook criticising the BBC’s handling of the interview, reiterating her statements about Donald Trump and racism, and specifically taking issue with Tyrell’s problematic use of the word “emotional”:

He didn’t say my name. Perhaps he didn’t know it because he had not paid attention when we were introduced. Mine is not an easy name for languid American tongues anyway. But that word ‘emotional.’ No. Just no.

Normally I would not think of ‘emotional’ as belittling. Emotion is a luminous, human quality. I am often emotional – gratefully so. But in this context it was coded language with a long history.

To say that I responded ‘emotionally’ to the election was to say that I had not engaged my intellect. ‘Emotional’ is a word that has been used to dismiss many necessary conversations especially about gender or race. ‘Emotional’ is a way of discounting what you have said without engaging with it.

 

Read the full piece, as shared on Adichie’s Facebook page:

ON THE BBC NEWSNIGHT INTERVIEW

By Chimamanda Adichie

Two weeks ago, BBC Newsnight contacted my manager to ask for an interview with me. I would be interviewed by the presenter, they said, and would broadly be asked about the election. I said yes.

When I arrived at their studio in Washington DC, the show’s producer casually said, “You’ll be on a panel with a Trump Supporter. A magazine editor who has supported Donald Trump from the beginning.”

“What?” I said. At no time had I been told that there would be anyone else in the interview, never mind being pitted against a Trump Supporter.

I felt upset and ambushed.

I wanted to walk away, but decided not to. I was already there. And I did want to talk about the election, which I had experienced in a deeply personal way. I was still stunned and angry and sad. I still woke up feeling heavy. Not only because I am an enthusiastic supporter of Hillary Clinton, but also because, with Donald Trump’s win, America just didn’t feel like America anymore. The country that grew from an idea of freedom was now to be governed by an authoritarian demagogue.

“I’m sorry you didn’t know it was a panel,” The producer said. “There must have been some mistake somewhere when your manager spoke to the people in London.”

Some mistake somewhere. My manager had simply not been told.

“We want to have balance,” he said.

But sneakily pitting me against a Trump Supporter was not about balance – we could have easily been interviewed separately.
It is a deliberately adversarial strategy that news organizations use in the pursuit of what is often called ‘good television.’
It is about entertainment.

I told the producer that my condition was that I not be asked to respond directly to anything the Trump Supporter had to say.
We could both air our opinions without being egged on to ‘fight it out.’

The Trump Supporter arrived. A well dressed, well groomed elderly man. The producer greeted him, gushed a little. He introduced me to the Trump Supporter. “She will be on the panel with you,” he said.

The Trump Supporter barely glanced at me.

The producer wanted us to shake hands, and he gestured to complete the introduction. We shook hands.

“How are you?” I said. Something about the tilt of the Trump Supporter’s head made me think that perhaps he had hearing problems – and suddenly his standoffishness was forgivable.

I felt a kind of compassion, while also thinking: why would this man, editor of a conservative magazine, be willing to put America in the hands of a stubbornly uninformed demagogue who does not even believe in classic conservative principles?
We got on air. We were seated uncomfortably close. The studio itself was strange, a flimsy tent on top of a building that overlooks the White House. A strong wind rattled the awning.

The interview began. I was determined to speak honestly, and not be distracted by the Trump Supporter, and be done with it and go home and never again allow myself to be ambushed in a television interview.

Until the Trump Supporter said that word ‘emotionally.’

“I do not respond emotionally like this lady,” he said.

I thought: o ginidi na-eme nwoke a? [“Just what is wrong with this man?” - hat-tip to Brittle Paper for the translation]

He didn’t say my name. Perhaps he didn’t know it because he had not paid attention when we were introduced. Mine is not an easy name for languid American tongues anyway. But that word ‘emotional.’ No. Just no.

Normally I would not think of ‘emotional’ as belittling. Emotion is a luminous, human quality. I am often emotional – gratefully so. But in this context it was coded language with a long history.

To say that I responded ‘emotionally’ to the election was to say that I had not engaged my intellect. ‘Emotional’ is a word that has been used to dismiss many necessary conversations especially about gender or race. ‘Emotional’ is a way of discounting what you have said without engaging with it.

No way was I going to ignore that. Which, predictably, led to an interview in which I found myself, rather than talking about misogyny and populism, responding to a man who claimed that an anti-NAFTA, China-bashing, America-First Donald Trump would be an ‘internationalist’ rather than an ‘isolationist.’

Who presumed that he, a white man, could decide what was racist and what was not. And who insisted that Donald Trump is not a racist, even though the evidence is glaring, even though the House Majority Leader of Donald Trump’s own Republican party condemned Donald Trump’s racism.

So much for responding ‘emotionally’ to the election.

I left that interview still feeling upset. But it made me better see why America no longer feels like America.

 
Related stories:


 

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Margaret von Klemperer reviews The Child Garden by Catriona McPherson

Originally published in The Witness

The Child GardenThe Child Garden has been published with puffs from the likes of Ian Rankin, Val McDermid and Ann Cleeves – all prominent and excellent members of the school of Scottish noir. Maybe they are pleased to welcome another practitioner into their midst, even though Catriona McPherson currently lives in California.

Her novel starts well, with a short, creepy scene of an incident in a remote wood in 1985. Fast forward to the present, and Gloria, the divorced mother of a terminally ill teenager is living in a run-down farmhouse, close to the woods which surround a larger, old house, now a care home where her son lives, but once and briefly a dubious school called Eden, which offered a remarkably alternative education. It was a short lived venture, because after one pupil died, parents, however hippyish, inevitably removed their children.

However, it seems that the former pupils, now in their forties, are dying off at quite a rate. Suicide is the favoured verdict, and so far, no-one seems to have joined the dots that show how connected they are. Then, one dark and stormy night, Stig, an old friend of Gloria’s and a former Eden pupil, turns up at her door. He is afraid that he is being stalked by another of his former classmates … who then turns up dead in the care home grounds in a way that is designed to implicate him. Her mad fantasy, or a chance for someone to kill two birds with one stone? Gloria and Stig begin to investigate.

McPherson creates plenty of red herrings – a few too many, perhaps – and a web of intrigue and connection. But I began to have an inkling of where we were going a little too soon, and the whole thing was a little too convoluted to be entirely believable. It is an enjoyable enough read to while away a wet afternoon, but for those who want their entertainment noir, this one is a little palid.

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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

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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.

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Paulo Coelho chats about his new novel The Spy - the story of the enigmatic Mata Hari

Published in the Sunday Times

The Spy•Paulo Coelho
The Spy (Penguin Random House)

Why did you choose Mata Hari as the subject for your new novel?
Mata Hari was one of the icons of the hippie generation – the bad girl, the different, the stranger, wearing those fancy dresses – and we were all fascinated by her. I was having dinner with my lawyer, and he mentioned the many cases of innocent people who were condemned to death during World War I, which we are only learning about now because they are declassifying wartime documents. Mata Hari was only one of his examples, but because she had always interested me, I did some quick research. The next day I bought some books and spent my weekend compulsively reading anything about Mata Hari. I did not know then that I was (sort of) doing research for a book; I only realised it when I decided, as an exercise of imagination, to put myself in her shoes.

How did you research her life and that era? What did you find most surprising about her life?
The most surprising thing is how a woman who had been abused till she was 20 could overcome this situation and become who she became. As for the Belle Époque Paris, it was an era of “everything is possible”. I was intrigued by it, and I worked to keep the book centered in its main character. The tendency of a writer is to describe too much. I give an idea about her era, and I try to situate the reader without overloading them with information.

Where did you stray from the historical record, and why?
The facts in the book are correct, the historical track is correct, but I did put myself in the shoes of someone else. I believe I was very, very close to what she was thinking. About two months ago, a museum in the Netherlands made public some new letters of Mata Hari. One reviewer said that it was as if I had “channelled” her.

How did it feel to write from Mata Hari’s perspective?
She became my companion, night and day, while I was reading about her era. And I began to understand how, being who she was, she would justify her attitude.

What are the lessons we can learn from this complicated woman?
That 1) every dream has a price; 2) when you dare to be different, be ready to be attacked; 3) even when you face a hostile (masculine) world, you can find a way to circumvent this.

Can you imagine a different outcome for her life?
She fulfilled her destiny, and that is what counts.

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Image: Xavier+Gonzale