The announcement of the finalists for the 2015 Man Booker International Award (MBI) also saw enlightening conversation around the topics of global literature, fiction, translation and the selection of the finalists.
Professor Marina Warner, chair of the panel of judges, opened the discussion, remembering that when she asked the panel what they were looking for, one responded: “Fiction that consoles strangely.”
In commenting on the final list, Warner said: “Fiction can enlarge the world for us all and stretch our understanding and our sympathy. The novel today is in fine form: as a field of inquiry, a tribunal of history, a map of the heart, a probe of the psyche, a stimulus to thought, a well of pleasure and a laboratory of language. Truly, we feel closer to the tree of knowledge.”
Fiammetta Rocco, literary editor of The Economist and administrator of the prize, called the judging an immense task indeed. She pointed out that the relationship between the Man Booker and South Africa goes back “even further than André Brink, to the day when Nadine Gordimer won the annual prize for The Conservationist in 1974″.
Rocco explained that the prize at hand, however, differs greatly to the Man Booker in that it honours a body of work, not just a single work. She quipped that these judges have indeed been reading for a very long time. Since its inception the award has traversed many countries, including the US, Australia and India – “and now we are here in Cape Town”.
“In its time the Man Booker International Prize has honoured two great African writers. Naguib Mahfouz, from Egypt in the initial year in 2005, and Chinua Achebe from Nigeria, who won in 2007. They were giants of their time. They are granddaddies of African literature, and they have both since died. And it’s a sense of how incredibly powerful and redemptive and renewing literature is that this year for the first time we have a whole new generation of African writers. Four out of 10 come from this continent.”
A look at the MBI archive reveals that out of a total of 60 nominees, awarded bi-annually since 2005, only six have been from Africa – the two mentioned above, and four included in this year’s shortlist. Marlene van Niekerk is also the only South African honoured by this relatively young prize.
After Rocco’s brief address the floor was opened for questions. John Higgins, UCT academic and author of Academic Freedom in a Democratic South Africa, asked: “Books are taxed as a luxury item in South Africa, would you endorse that measure?” Edwin Frank, editorial director of the New York Review Classics series and fellow judge, responded: “No, that seems very unfortunate. Books are a bare necessity.”
Warner noted that in England there is a strong defence against VAT in England, books aren’t subject to that. She explained that they aren’t classified as luxury items and therefore do not attract tax. “I would say this is an extremely important measure.” She went on to make a call for more initiatives to disseminate books, remembering initiatives like the BBC’s Caribbean Voices “which had an immense effect and brought all kinds of wonderful, rich voices” to the attention of the reading public, like Derek Walcott, for example.
Award-winning British Pakistani novelist and fellow judge Nadeem Aslam pointed out at this stage that projects in the preservation and spread of oral traditions are equally important, especially when low levels of literacy in places such as Africa is considered. “Spoken word is important,” he said.
South African UK-based judge and Professor in World Literature Elleke Boehmer added that the BBC also had the Eastern Voices programme, which presented literary voices to the wider world.
Frank noted the importance of government support in translation at this point, saying that it would provide infrastructure for translation and aid in getting more voices heard. He also said that much of the hostility towards translation from the English language has dwindled, creating a more welcome atmosphere for the production of translated texts.
“I agree, and think that translation is going to become more and more important and one of the issues that we sort of face as readers of world fiction is that, as you know, many of the important authors have not been translated into in this case English,” noted Taiwan-born Libyan-raised Wen-chin Ouyang, the final member of the panel of judges and Professor of Arabic and Comparative Literature at SOAS, University of London.
Frank added that many authors are translated because of the support from funding bodies and governments.
“We are very aware that books here are very expensive,” Warner said in closing of this topic, adding that PEN International is very active in looking at alternative ways to get books to people.
The judges were then asked to what extent this year’s shortlist is different in terms of the judges’ commitments, with reference to Carmen Callil distancing herself from the prize in 2011 because “To give this prize to yet another North American writer suggests a limited vision, to say the least”, as well as what having the announcement in South Africa contributes to the prize itself.
Boehmer responded first, saying that she can’t comment on Callil but “we are incredibly proud of the variety and range and spread and diversity of the writers and the languages that they are writing in that we have chosen for this list.” Warner, who is a close friend of Callil, said that she was sure that when she was chosen to chair this panel they had her background and context in mind, fully aware of the fact that she is not committed to a certain kind of novel or tradition. Rocco pointed out that a new panel is chosen for every MBI cycle and that this year’s panel is “the most international panel we have ever had” to stress the fact that the issue that Callil had might not be relevant this year.
Boehmer picked up on the second part of the question, saying that the MBI is very proud of the fact the Achebe was an early prize winner and that “this prize got in where the Nobel didn’t so it’s fitting, really, to announce the shortlist here”. Ouyang spoke briefly about her experience in working with this selection of judges and said “if you look at our profiles we somehow make up different parts of the world in terms of traditions and reading the novel”.
She went on: “There is lots of knowledge and expertise here that complements each other.” She explained that they set out looking for novelists who embrace the multiplicity of global literature, that encourages different voices “and for that reason Cape Town is very important to this prize”.
Frank brought up translation again: “As an editor I am very much committed to publishing works in translation.” He noted that prize has given them the opportunity to “reflect the variety of things going on out there” and the different forms in which the novel can be digested.
Warner added, “I think that it was a very good call to us to think beyond our books, or in my case beyond my books, and I really welcomed that. I wanted to think beyond the most conventional definitions of the novel.” She said the challenge of the MBI afforded her the opportunity to cross geographical boundaries and explore magnificent uncharted territories: “If you look at the literary pages of the modern London newspaper, there are some invisible barriers there, I think, and this prize tried to make them visible and then jump over them.”
Aslam raised an important point at this stage: “I was very suspicious of the word ‘global’, in that I’ve read a myriad of novels which appear to be global, which are set in New York, move from New York to London to Sydney to Cape Town to Egypt and yet the mindset of the writer and the mindset of the character or characters are really narrow. So, you can have a novel which appears to be global, but actually is deeply provincial. And yet you can have a novel set in a small village in Africa which deals with all the important issues that are going on around the planet.”
He went on: “We frequently congratulate ourselves with this word ‘global’. We must recognise the fact that this is the reality for only a very small amount of people. Let’s ask the people who cleaned this floor this morning, how easy it is for them to go to New York next week, it might as well be a different planet that they are talking about. People are dying off the coast of Italy to get into Europe, people are being shot to get into the States, so we have to remember these things and then we have to remember what do we mean by global and by that I mean, what is the inclusive vision?”
The next question was about the large contingent of nominees being from Africa. Warner raised an important point: “We have been mentioning the African continent as a geographical space, but in fact they are so different, these writers, that I am not sure that I see them as such.”
Warner explained that the judges were not thinking in terms of nation states and geography. “We were looking for terrific writing. They are so different, those four writers who happen to be geographically born on this continent, from Egypt down to South Africa. They are utterly different. There is no resemblance between Van Niekerk and Al-Koni. They really are so so generous and such blazing voices each in their own right.”
Boehmer also pointed out that the nominees reflect a great celebration of African writing, representing north, east, south and west.
Alexandra Dodd, an independent writer, asked about the panellists’ views on being in Cape Town at UCT “here, right now, at this particular historical moment” where a strong and active decolonial thrust is being made on campus. Frank said that it is a valid debate “that must go on” and reiterated that they “weren’t thinking in terms of national boundaries”.
That concluded the rich discussion at the announcement of the finalists for the 2015 MBI. In closing, Warner quoted WH Auden’s famous question, “Can poetry make anything happen?” and shocking conclusion that “poetry makes nothing happen” and said that it has haunted her all her life. She went on to say: “I think we are living at an odd moment where he wouldn’t say that anymore. I think it isn’t just poetry. I think we have witnessed literature making things happen. Not always the best, but the undeniable power of the word is part of our present mediatic world in which communications are very fast. So the task, for example, the response to the Rhodes statue is an urgent one and words are one of the ways to do that.
The conversation continues tonight at The Book Lounge and tomorrow, again at UCT.
The finalists for the Man Booker International Prize were announced in Cape Town on 24 March by judges Marina Warner…
Posted by Books LIVE on Tuesday, 24 March 2015
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Liesl Jobson (@LieslJobson) tweeted from the celebrations that evening:
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Long Story Short, a project that seeks to showcase African literature through a combination of live readings and free podcasts, kicks off on Friday.
A popular actor will read a short story in front of an audience within the intimate setting of their community library. These readings will be packaged into podcasts that the public will be able access as free downloads both online and on mobile platforms.
Some of the storytellers who will be featured as part of the pilot project include Khulu Skenjana, Abena Ayivor, Quanita Adams, Lindiwe Matshikiza and Mbali Kgosidintsi.
As Books LIVE reported earlier this month, the first podcast will feature Hlubi Mboya reading Nozizwe Cynthia Jele’s tense short story “Tender”.
The official Long Story Short launch is this Friday, 27 March, at Olievenhoutbosch Community Library.
The writers chosen for the long story SHORT project represent a huge variety of nations within Africa, genders, social concerns, beliefs and experiences. Kajeno Media enlisted the services of award-winning author Yewande Omotoso to curate a representative, entertaining and contemporary collection of short stories, excerpts and flash fiction.
The styles and genres of the writing are varied,” Omotoso says. “This was very important in selecting the content.
“Rather than prescribe what young people should and should not be reading about, literature is both about entertainment as well as reading as widely as possible about a range of matters that concern us as human beings, Africans, men, women, girls and boys and so on.
“Literature, as understood by the Long Story Short project, is about humanity, compassion and exposure. Through listening and engaging with the range of stories within this first round of the project, young Africans will be encouraged to grapple with society, the world and most importantly with themselves. It is an invitation for their imaginations to thrive.”
Produced by Pretoria-based arts consultancy Kajeno Media and funded by the Department of Arts and Culture, the project will roll out in community libraries within Tshwane thanks to a strategic partnership with The City of Tshwane’s Library Services Division, with one reading happening a month, on a Saturday morning.
“It was really important to harness strategic partnerships leading up to the roll-out of the project. Because we are producing a digital product, the technical production of the actual podcast has to be perfect – hence the inspired partnership with The Academy of Television of Television and Screen Arts, who have plugged us into their top students to shoot, edit and package the podcasts,” producer Kgauhelo Dube explains.
This important literary intervention is Kajeno Media’s response to the alarming statistic that 92 percent of public schools do not have libraries.
“It was important for us to come up with an artistic project that speaks to a very basic infrastructural challenge that young people within our communities are faced with.
“If you don’t have a school library – where on earth do you access literature, let alone African literature? We hope that this is a modest step in pushing young people into their community libraries and once in there, they can now explore literature from our talented writers from all over the continent and in the diaspora,” Dube says.
Most readings will happen on a Saturday morning around 11am, as libraries usually close at 1pm on Saturdays, however the launch event will take place on Friday, 27 March, at Olievenhoutbosch Library, Cnr Legong and Rethabile Street, Olievenhoutbosch, from 1.30 to 4.30 PM.
- Date: Friday, 27 March 2015
- Time: 1:30 to 4:30 PM
- Venue: Olievenhoutbosch Library
Cnr Legong and Rethabile Street
Centurion | Map
Marlene van Niekerk het in ‘n artikel vir Netwerk24 gereageer op haar benoeming vir die 2015 Man Booker International Prize. Sy is een van 10 op die kortlys en die eerste Suid-Afrikaner wat vir hierdie prys, wat vanjaar vir die sesde keer oorhandig word, in aanmerking kom.
In die beoordelaarsverslag word Van Niekerk geloof vir haar suggestiewe en soms ontroerende wyse waarop sy die pyn en ergernis van die oorgang van Suid-Afrika beskryf vanuit die oogpunt van diegene aan die verloorkant – in die besonder arm blankes. Volgens die beoordelaars is haar visie ambisieus, onwrikbaar en onweerlegbaar. Die moedige eksperimentele aard van haar Afrikaans neem die leser dieper in die psige van apartheid en vra of sekere historiese seerplekke ooit heeltemal uitgewis kan word.
Willem de Vries het kort na haar benoeming met die skrywer gepraat om haar reaksie te meet en sy het kort en kragtig geantwoord:
Die Afrikaanse skrywer Marlene van Niekerk is vanjaar ’n finalis vir die Man Booker- internasionale prys.
“Al wat ek wil sê is dat ek dit sien as ’n baie groot voorreg en dit ervaar as aanmoediging om nog verder te probeer,” het sy gesê.
Van Niekerk skryf vandag in ‘n meer volledige reaksie-artikel op Netwerk24 dat sy haarself “liewer ‘n ondersoeker en ‘n eksperimenteerder wou noem” en plaas haar vinger op die “moeilike en gekontesteerde aktiwiteit om ’n sogenaamde skrywer te wees in hierdie gewelddadige en onveilige land”. Lees haar verduideliking om te verstaan wat sy bedoel:
Hoe meer druk daar op vryheid van meningsuiting gaan kom in hierdie land, hoe belangriker word die kunstenaars, skrywers en intellektuele as openbaarders van die totale effekte van die stadige slopende dreiging van hierdie soort fascisme wat sy progressiewe grondwet nou gereduseer het tot ideologie waarmee hy sy misstande verhul, verdraai, legitimeer en reïfieer.
Authors who attended the Time of the Writer Festival in Durban recently have sent messages of support to ZP Dala.
The morning after an event in which she expressed admiration for Salman Rushdie’s literary style, Dala was attacked, hit in the face with a brick, and called “Rushdie’s bitch”.
Because of the injuries and trauma she suffered, Dala was forced to postpone the launch of her debut novel, What About Meera.
Authors: If you would like to add your name to the list on the PEN South Africa open letter, please let Books LIVE know by email, on Facebook, Twitter, or in the comments below.
The natural state of man, that is human beings, is Freedom. Given the history of the world, all the policy instruments to safeguard, protect and promote freedom of thought and expression, by governments and multilateral organisations, media houses and religious formations, it is appalling, in the crudest and most tragic of extremes, that a fellow writer, an artist, suffered such violence and curtailing of her God-, Allah-, given liberties. The attack on ZP Dala points to concerning tendencies in our world, our nation: those of expressing dissent through intimidation and violence. It would be unfair and shortsighted to limit triggers to religion or ideological grounds – for that would be neglecting the terrible, sad and bordering on predatory aggression some men display against women and children. No one, not a soul, deserves that kind of disrespect and violation of her being. It is, in a word, simply unacceptable.
As the days pass I still can’t quite believe what happened to you during Time of the Writer. When I came back to work after the festival everyone wanted to know about you and if you were okay. I am sure it will take time to heal and for the rest of your life the experience will linger at the back of your mind. What you must know is that every decent South African is behind you. Writers express the soul of a nation in their words, so, this is an attack on every free thinking person.
I hope we can meet for lunch soon – maybe at Spiga since you missed our TOW farewell party – and talk about books, kids and new friendships. Love Carol Campbell xxx
I was with Dala at Chatsworth so I just couldn’t make sense of the attack. She didn’t say anything provocative, or anti-Islam in any way. Its a frightening that you get beaten for liking a writer, but Dala, I pray you get the strength to keep moving, to hold your head up high without fear. Don’t allow such cowardly attacks to break your spirit, for the stuff you are made of is hardcore.
Margaret von Klemperer:
On the opening night of Time of the Writer, I said that we are lucky in South Africa to have freedom of expression enshrined in the Constitution. Two days later the irony of that statement and the fragility of that freedom were brutally exposed by the cowardly attack on Zainub Dala. I wish her a speedy physical recovery and the strength to carry on standing up for what we all believe in – the freedom to say and write what we wish.
I was with Zainub at the schools’ forum in Chatsworth when she made an innocuous, off-the-cuff remark about admiring Salman Rushdie’s literary style. Within a short time she was receiving abusive tweets and the next day we heard of the horrific physical attack. As writers it is our responsibility to be truth-tellers, something Zainub emphasised more than once at the festival, and as Ousmane Diarra said, sometimes we put ourselves at risk. However, there is a chasm between debate over a differing opinion and verbal and physical abuse. These are both shocking and unacceptable. I stand in solidarity with Zainub, and I condemn her attackers in the strongest terms.
I’m in support of fellow scribe, ZP Dala, during this difficult time. No one deserves to be hit with a brink in the face for what they love, and much less when it is punishment for the sins of others that aren’t even sins.
What happened to ZP was horrible. Resorting to violence because of a difference of opinion worsens the situation. I am concerned for her and family, especially since some of the comments are not helping but just adding fire to an already volatile situation. I also think that others are using the situation to express long-held hate against a religion that has nothing to do with those who are committing crimes.
I never got to meet Zainub as I arrived in Durban towards the end of the festival. However, I noticed her photograph immediately at the top of the poster promoting Time of the Writer. She seemed to be looking out on the world with a disarming frankness and curiosity. I was saddened, as we all were, to learn of the attack on Zainub. Not only do such acts come from a place of deep cowardice, they entrench the muscle memory of intolerance that afflicts so many of us. Writers like Zainub dissolve that hatred with their frankness and their love. We all stand united behind her, unafraid and as curious about the world as ever.
You did not ask to be made an example of, either by those who hurt you, or those who have defended your right not to be hurt. When life moves on, when people forget, when freedoms are found and lost, discovered again, when others neglect to remember the name, the fear, the shape of the brick, I hope that you retain some faith in humanity, and your soft heart. I am deeply sorry for what happened to you. Wishing you strength in your recovery.
The savage attack on Zainub Dala shows the terror of the freedom to use words, and the desire to obliterate them.
On Wednesday March 18 author, Zainub Priya Dala was violently attacked as she left her hotel during the Time of the Writer Festival in Durban. A woman driving alone, she was harassed by three men who forced her off the road, cornered her, held a knife at her throat, smashed a brick in her face, and called her “Rushdie’s bitch”. The day before she had been asked about writers she admired: Salman Rushdie’s name had figured on a long list of others. People walked out in protest.
Writers do not fear difference of opinion. On the contrary, we thrive on difficulty, on complexity, on posing vexed questions and exploring unresolved ideas. We sketch characters with conflicting emotions, fraught relationships with their families, their lovers and their gods, we place them in troubled circumstances, sometimes offer them redemption. This is the stuff of good drama, of engaged fiction. We gravitate towards, not away from, debate and nuance, knowing that the more considered the idea the better the text.
But what we do not thrive on, and what we will not tolerate, is violent intimidation. Like us, Dala is a writer. She is a reader. She is both a consumer of and producer of words. She would not have avoided a conversation; she would not have shut down a debate. But debate, conversation and engagement are not possible in the face of violence.
And this type of violence – cowardly, sinister, designed to create fear in the moment and silence in the future – is the sort that simultaneously demonstrates its terror of words and its desire to obliterate them. In South Africa, our freedom of speech and movement is a fundamental right. Our Constitution insists on them. It is the same Constitution that protects the rights of those uncomfortable with or offended by Rushdie’s work.
The question of freedom of expression, of speech, has occupied South African writers for decades and is one that has changed shape over the years as we’ve moved from repression to democracy and into the troubling era of the “secrecy Bill”. As South Africans, as writers, we have not always experienced freedom but we have always known what we were fighting for, sometimes at a fatal cost.
We have always known that freedom of expression is, at its deepest, most profound level, the right to speak without fear. It is the knowledge that sharing an opinion with the public should at best be met with passionate engagement, at worst with disinterested dismissal. It is, in its simplest form, the right to speak. It is also the right to listen and to be heard.
There is no glory to be had in attacking an unarmed woman alone. There is nothing heroic about attempting to intimidate people into silence. This was an unconscionable and shameful act. Above all, it was criminal.
As writers, as South Africans, we wish to make this plain: we will not be silenced and intimidated by brutish thuggery. We stand in solidarity with Dala. She is one of us, and in the tradition of our country’s resistance and resilience, we say clearly and unanimously that an injury to one is an injury to all.
- PEN South Africa, the local chapter of PEN International, a worldwide association of writers; Njabulo Ndebele, Nadia Davids, NoViolet Bulawayo, Rustum Kozain, Mandla Langa, Margie Orford, Phillippa Yaa de Villiers, Imraan Coovadia, Gabeba Baderoon, Fourie Botha, Imran Garda, Kirsten Miller, Thando Mgqolozana, Ben Williams, Tshifhiwa Given Mukwevho, Dilman Dila, Siphiwo Mahala, Fiona Snyckers, Helen Moffett, Nthikeng Mohlele, Percy Zvomuya, Jacob Dlamini, Zakes Mda, Ivan Vladislavic, Elinor Sisulu, Rachel Zadok, Louis Greenberg, CA Davids, Futhi Ntshingila, Tony Eprile, Mark Winkler, Charlotte Otter, Beverley Naidoo, Elaine Proctor, Bettina Wyngaard, Sumayya Lee, Margaret von Klemperer, Hettie Scholtz, Danie Marais, Liesl Jobson, Henry Jack Cloete, Ingrid Glorie, Marita van der Vyver, Isobel Dixon, Jackie Phamotse, Lili Radloff, Adeline Radloff, Antony Loewenstein, Melt Myburgh, Laurie A Claase, Kagiso Lesego Molope, Theresa Papenfus, Pieter Schoombee, Dominique Botha, Estelle Neethling, Rachelle Greeff, Beverly Rycroft, Bernard Odendaal, Patricia Schonstein
Authors: If you would like to add your name to the list, please let Books LIVE know by email, on Facebook, Twitter, or in the comments below.
Readers: If you would like to express your support for Dala, you can sign the open letter from concerned citizens over at The Daily Vox.
Published in the Sunday Times
Which book changed your life?
More than any other, One Hundred Years Of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It made me realise what writing could do, that it wasn’t just words in a clever order on a page.
What music helps you write?
In the Aeroplane Over the Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel is one album I listen to a lot.
What is the strangest thing you’ve done when researching a book?
My first book, Bed, featured a man who weighed a hundred stone. I’ve read more medical textbooks about the extreme states that the human body can get into than I thought I would.
What is the last thing that you read that made you laugh out loud?
There are two British cartoonists called Mick and Jon who go by the name ‘Modern Toss’. Everything they write and draw makes me laugh.
What is the best piece of writerly advice you’ve received?
There is only one piece of advice and that’s to write. If you’re not writing, you’re not writing.
What novel would you give a child to introduce them to literature?
Anything by Road Dahl. Or, if they’re really young, The Jolly Christmas Postman by Janet and Allan Ahlberg. Now that’s how you publish a book.
Whose sentences are your favourite, and why?
Ben Fountain writes my favourite sentences. There is so much vital energy to them, it’s like they enter through your bloodstream rather than your eyes.
What books are you embarrassed not to have read yet?
There are many and I barely know where to start. I own a copy of The Luminaries and haven’t got to it yet. You could name any classic and would be massively lucky to name one I’ve read.
What book were you surprised you loved? What book were you surprised you hated?
The only books I’ve ever truly hated are my own for finite periods of time while I’m writing them. I was surprised by a book called All Involved by Ryan Gatiss, which comes out later in the year. I thought it’d be a decent crime story. It is so much more than that, and has enlightened me on to what might be possible with a certain kind of storytelling.
What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned from a book?
If you read The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales by Bruno Bettelheim, you’ll realise that there is badness in every story, and so there is badness in life.
David Whitehead’s novel The Mobile Library is published by Pan Macmillan