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The Magwood On Books Podcast: Carnie Matisonn discusses his book Degas' Dust

Degas' DustYears ago a Johannesburg man set out to recover the art stolen from his family by the Nazis.

Degas’ Dust: Joburg Maverick’s Quest to Regain Nazi War Booty is the story of Carnie Matisson’s quest: a vivid tale that veers wildly from his rough childhood to the glamour of 1970s Hillbrow and the worlds of art and classical music, a story peopled with strippers and art dealers, sanctions-busting pilots and Mossad agents.

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Dancing in Other Words - extravaganza of poetry, music and dance at 2016 Spier Poetry Festival

Keorapetswe Kgositsile & Breyten Breytenbach

The 2016 Spier Poetry Festival, Dancing in Other Words, was a remarkable event, buzzing with vital, vibrant conversations, wonderful fusions of music and poetry, and powerful live performances by living legends.

This, the third festival curated by South African authors Breyten Breytenbach and Dominique Botha, brought local and international poets together for a series of vital discussions held at the wine farm and elsewhere over the course of a week. Saturday, 7 May, was a balmy late autumn day, perfect for the final outpouring of creative conversations that had commenced over the previous week in a range of places, both internal and external.

Dominique Botha

During the week they spent together, poets and songsters, writers and translators, publishers and academics, teachers and students spoke among – and sometimes at – each other. This conversation took place in the present and across the ages. It was old; it was entirely new. An inter-generational and cross-cultural dialogue unfolded, which sometimes resonated and sometimes rattled. This represents a continuation of the discourse commenced at previous festivals held under the Spier banner, and talks to other literary festivals where bright minds have sought to express themselves and wrestle with inconvenient truths.

The Spier Poetry Festival opened, once again, a space for a full and robust creative expression and celebration of that which makes us uniquely human.

Keorapetse Kgositsile


James Matthews

Dominique Botha, Marí Stimie, Neo Muyanga, Catherine du Toit, Breyten Breytenbach, Georges Lory, Maram al-Masri, Efe Paul Azino, Yvette Christiansë, Keorapetse Kgositsile, James Matthews and Hans C ten Berge spent a week travelling The caravan of artists had travelled from Khayalitsha to Kayamandi, holding court with students at UWC and at UCT, and also engaging with rural communities in Darling, Kersefontein and Wellington.

As the caravan meandered along, another layer of art-making was added, as the journey was documented in a stunning dance of images by photographer Retha Ferguson. Their final day was spent at the Spier estate outside Stellenbosch where three final public discourses, all ambitiously and provocatively titled, were followed by stirring performances by the poets, some of whom were accompanied by musicians Neo Muyanga, Schalk Joubert and Laurinda Hofmeyr.

Neo Muyanga


Breytenbach’s greeting, which opened the proceedings, was uttered from all present to those, known and unknown, who once had stood there and recognised those who had called poetry to life, literally and metaphorically:

We, the band of merry minstrels, dancers and shufflers of the word before the wind of eternity, nomads searching for the horizon of the unknowable, dry drunks, low-way robbers, apprentice tricksters, would-be revolutionaries … salute and hail you, our illustrious ancestors and companions who preceded us here to imbue these spaces with beauty and with dignity.

We send you our greetings and regards as we move through the paces and the patterns and the rhythms that you laid out for us. As we fit our feet into your shoes to walk the road, it is with the hope to have lived up to the quality of sound and sincerity that people around here still remember you for.

The ensuing discussion addressed the recent statue removal at UCT, enquiring whether this represented the armed wing of political correctness. “Does destruction of the symbols from the past bind the wounds of the present, or are we tilting at windmills?” asked Breytenbach. “A confident and secure government – and populace – does not find such symbols threatening.”

Breytenbach reflected on how the interrogation of authority is integral to art-making. He reflected how authority has historically imposed a “unitary view of truth, correctness, what we ought to doing, who we should be leading and who we should follow”. The taking down of the statue of Rhodes, the removal of art from the walls at UCT provided fertile soil for impassioned engagement.

Christianse queried whether an opportunity had been missed to explore South Africa’s colonial history, using the statue of Rhodes as a point to talk about the self-perpetuating, haunting nature of power. “Modernism taught us how to incorporate the fragment,” she said, citing JM Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians, which reveals that the fragment is a sign that history was a series of tremendously violent occurrences. “The law is created by violence. If you try to break the law, it will immediately come forward to smack you again. The responsibility of teachers is to show their students how to respond in ways that remain responsive and fresh.

“As conscious community we need to care that slippage doesn’t occur. The removal of statues is symbolically important, but the issue we must urgently address is what’s next? The removal of statue, becomes the removal of a painting, becomes the burning of a library.”

Conversation II: Taunting that powdered death called Respectability. The history of protest in poetry and song, fighting for revolution, against politics.

Hans C. ten Berge


Maram Al Masri


Georges Lory

This session commenced with a slideshow containing images of Syrian refugees. The words of Syrian poet, Maram Al Masri, were read aloud in Arabic and appeared in translation in English.

A vigorous conversation followed, with the Nigerian protest poet Azino and Dutch poet Ten Berge, chaired by the French translator Georges Lory. The discussion focused on how poets speak to power. While Ten Berge was criticising the European response to the Syrian crisis, a member of the public interrupted the discussion, taking issue with him on poverty and racism in South Africa.

In Breytenbach’s words the “would-be revolutionary” had appeared. She was certainly interrogating the authority of those present, but her questions might better have been engaged with by the previous panel, where the topic had been more directly addressed.

Efe Paul Azino



The discussion was summed up by Yvette Christiansë who reminded the gathering and poetry organisers of their responsibility to attending to those in need of every form of articulation.

Yvette Christiansë


The day’s finale commenced with the Siyaya Choristers taking the stage. This young choir showed immaculate musical discipline. Dressed in red and black traditional kikois, they followed their conductor to the letter, singing with excellent intonation and exciting choreography. Their energetic performance was a perfect introduction to the reading by all the poets. Their works appeared in the original languages, projected onto the screen, alongside translations into isiXhosa, Afrikaans and English.

Siyaya Choristers


Liesl Jobson tweeted from the event:


A Red Cherry on a White-tiled FloorIf I Could SingPresent is a Dangerous Place to LiveFalse RiverUnconfessed
ImprendehoraRecumbentsVyf-en-veertig skemeraandsange uit die eenbeendanser se werkruimteParool/ParoleDie na-doodThe Party Is Over

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2016 Open Book Festival: Confirmed international and local authors announced

2016 Open Book Festival: Confirmed international and local authors announced


Alert! The Open Book Festival has announced the first group of confirmed international and local authors for this year’s event.

The sixth annual Open Book will take place from 7 to 11 September in Cape Town.

This year’s festival will comprise more than 100 events, at The Fugard Theatre, the District Six Homecoming Centre and The Book Lounge.

The final programme will be available in early August, and tickets will be available on Webtickets.

“We are thrilled to be announcing the first group of authors for Open Book Festival 2016,” festival director Mervyn Sloman says. “We have confirmed participants joining us from Botswana, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Ghana, Holland, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Reunion, United Kingdom and USA.

“As always we look forward to an outstanding collection of powerful South African writers talking about their work on the international stage that Open Book provides.

“I can’t wait to see the impact the likes of Pumla Dineo Gqola, Fred Khumalo, Bongani Madondo, Mohale Mashigo and Yewande Omotoso are going to have on Cape Town audiences. These writers are the tip of a very exciting iceberg that gives us cause for celebration in the SA book world that has many real and difficult challenges.”

RapeBitches' BrewSigh The Beloved CountryThe YearningThe Woman Next Door


Check out the confirmed international authors:

Adeiye “MC Complex” Tjon Tam Pau is a coach and workshop master for Poetry Circle Nowhere – a collective of writing performers in the Netherlands – and is active in the Dutch and international hip-hop scene.
nullReacher Said Nothing
Andy Martin is a lecturer in French literature and philosophy at the University of Cambridge. Most recently he published Reacher Said Nothing, a book about Lee Child writing his 21st Reacher novel, Make Me
nullThe Bear's Surprise
Benjamin Chaud was born in Briançon in the Hautes-Alpes and he studied drawing and applied arts at the Arts Appliqués in Paris and the Arts Décoratifs in Strasbourg. His award-winning books have been translated into over 20 languages.
nullThe Fishermen
Chigozie Obioma was born in Nigeria and is currently the professor of Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. His debut novel, The Fishermen, was an international hit.
nullWhat Belongs to You
Garth Greenwell‘s novella Mitko won the 2010 Miami University Press Novella Prize and was a finalist for the Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction and a Lambda Literary Award. What Belongs to You is his debut novel.
nullDaydreams of Angels
Heather O’Neill is a Canadian novelist, poet, short-story writer, screenwriter and essayist. Lullabies for Little Criminals, her debut novel, was published in 2006 to international critical acclaim. She has since published the novel The Girl Who Was Saturday Night and the short story collection Daydreams of Angels.

Hippolyte resides in Reunion but was born and raised in the Alps, where he got his interest in comics by reading old American comic books. He gained success with his adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, published in two volumes by Vents d’Ouest in 2003 and 2004.

nullThree Words
Indira Neville is a New Zealand comics artist, community organiser, editor and commentator. She has been making comics for over 20 years. Recently, she co-edited the anthology Three Words, a collection of Aotearoa/New Zealand women’s comics.
nullThe World According to Anna
Jostein Gaarder is the author of several novels, short stories and children’s books, including Sophie’s World, which was translated into 60 languages and has sold over 40 million copies. His most recent novel translated into English is The World According to Anna.


nullThe Prophets of Eternal Fjord
Kim Leine is a Danish-Norwegian novelist. He received the Golden Laurel award and the Nordic Council’s Literature Prize for his novel, The Prophets of Eternal Fjord.
nullThe Scattering
Lauri Kubuitsile lives in Botswana. She has written children’s books, short stories, novellas and several romance novels. The Scattering, her most recent novel, was published this year.
nullThe Gonjon Pin and Other Stories
Martin Egblewogbe is a short story writer, lecturer in Physics at the University of Ghana and the co-founder of the Writers Project of Ghana. His short story “The Gonjon Pin” is the title story in the 2014 Caine Prize collection.

Journalist Michela Wrong has spent nearly two decades writing about Africa. In 2014 she was appointed literary director of the Miles Morland Foundation and is a trustee of Human Rights Watch Africa, the Africa Research Institute and the NGO Justice Africa. She is the author of a number of non-fiction books. Borderlines is her first novel.
Misha Glenny is a distinguished investigative journalist and one of the world’s leading experts on cybercrime and on global mafia networks. He is the author of several books, most recently Nemesis: One Man and the Battle for Rio.
nullWhen the Moon is Low
Nadia Hashimi‘s parents left Afghanistan in the 1970s, before the Soviet invasion. She was raised in the United States and in 2002 made her first trip to Afghanistan. Her debut novel, The Pearl That Broke Its Shell, was an international bestseller. When The Moon Is Low followed in 2015 and her latest novel is due in 2016.
Nnedi Okorafor is an award-winning novelist of African-based science fiction, fantasy and magical realism for both children and adults. Her novella, Binti, recently won a prestigious Nebula Award.
nullThe Winter War
Philip Teir is considered one of the most promising writers in Finland. His poetry and short stories have been included in anthologies, including Granta Finland. The Winter War is his first novel.
Rawi Hage was born in Beirut and lived through nine years of the Lebanese civil war during the 1970s and 1980s. He emigrated to Canada in 1992 and now lives in Montreal. His first novel, De Niro’s Game, won the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. His most recent novel, Carnival, won the Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction.
nullStalin's Daughter
Rosemary Sullivan is the author of 14 books, including biographies, children’s books and poetry. She is currently Professor Emeritus at the University of Toronto. In 2012, she was awarded the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal in Ontario and was inducted as an Officer of the Order of Canada (Canada’s highest civilian award) for outstanding contributions to Canadian Literature and Culture.
nullYour Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist
Sunil Yapa is the son of a Sri Lankan father and an American mother. He received his MFA from Hunter College in New York City in 2010, was awarded the Alumni Scholarship & Welfare Fund Fellowship, and was twice selected as a Hertog Fellow. He is the recipient of the 2010 Asian American Short Story Award. Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist is his first novel.

Book details

Africa is calling: Call for entries for the 2016 Etisalat Prize for Literature - and judges announced

Call for entries for the 2016 Etisalat Prize for Literature - and judges announced

Etisalat has announced its call for entries for the 2016 edition of the Etisalat Prize for Literature.

The Etisalat Prize for Literature is a Pan African prize that celebrates debut African writers of published fiction. Previous winners are Zimbabwe’s NoViolet Bulawayo (2013), South Africa’s Songeziwe Mahlangu (2014) and Democratic Republic of Congo’s Fiston Mwanza Mujila (2015).

We Need New NamesPenumbraTram 83

The winner receives a cash prize of £15,000 (about R325,000) in addition to a fellowship at the prestigious University of East Anglia, UK, under the mentorship of Professor Giles Foden, the award-winning author of The Last King of Scotland.

The Etisalat Prize also incorporates an award for Flash Fiction; an online-based competition for non-published African writers of short stories.

Matthew Willsher, CEO of Etisalat Nigeria, said at a press briefing in Lagos, Nigeria, that the prize is designed to serve as a leading platform for the discovery and encouraging of creative writing talents as well as the celebration of literary arts by African writers.

“We are delighted to champion the cause for celebrating the richness and strength of African literature,” he said. “The Etisalat Prize for Literature is about discovering and bringing to the world stage the many creative talent Africa boasts of.

“The Etisalat Prize is about creativity, excellence, empowerment and reward; it is about celebrating our African diversity in very innovative ways through various forms of art, literature being one of them.”

Willsher added that only books by debut writers, published not later than 24 months before submission, will qualify for entry. “They must also be by registered publishing houses not less than six years as incorporated publishers with registered ISBN Number or the equivalent, and who must have published a minimum of six authors. All entries should be accompanied by seven copies of the book entered along with an acceptance of our publicity terms. A publisher may submit a maximum of three books.”

The rules and guidelines for entry are available on the Etisalat Prize website.

Willsher also announced the judging panel for the 2016 Etisalat Prize. The panel comprises Nigerian novelist and poet Helon Habila (chair), South African writer and activist Elinor Sisulu and Ivorian writer, Edwige Rene Dro.

About the judging panel

Waiting for an AngelMeasuring TimeOil on WaterThe Granta Book of the African Short StoryNigerian-born Helon Habila is a writer, poet, author and an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at George Mason University, USA. His novels include, Waiting for an Angel (2002), Measuring Time (2007), and Oil on Water (2010). He is the editor of the Granta Book of African Short Story (2011).

Habila’s novels, poems, and short stories have won many honours and awards, including the Commonwealth Prize for Best First Novel (Africa Section), the Caine Prize, the Virginia Library Foundation Prize for fiction and most recently the Windham-Campbell Prize.

Habila has been a contributing editor for the Virginia Quarterly Review since 2004, and he is a regular reviewer for The Guardian.

The Day Gogo Went to VoteWalter and Albertina SisuluElinor Sisulu is a Zimbabwean-born South Africa writer and human rights activist. Sisulu combines training in history, English literature, development studies and feminist theory from institutions in Zimbabwe, Senegal and the Netherlands.

She is the author of the award-winning children’s book The Day Gogo Went to Vote. Her biography on her parents-in-law, Walter and Albertina Sisulu: In Our Lifetime secured her the prestigious 2003 Noma Award for publishing in Africa.

Sisulu’s involvement in book promotion and literary development efforts for many years has culminated in her work with the Puku Children’s Literature Foundation. She has been a judge for the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize, the Sanlam Youth Literature Prize and the Penguin Africa Writer’s Competition.

Africa39Edwige-Renée Dro is an Ivorian writer and a translator. She is one of the 39 most promising voices under 40 from Africa, south of the Sahara as decided by the Africa39 project. She was the 2015 PEN International New Voices award judge.

Dro currently works as the director of Danbé Collection, a new imprint of l’Harmattan Editions with a focus on the promotion of Ivorian literature in Abidjan. Her short stories have been published in anthologies and literary journals.


Book details

Jacket Notes: David Cornwell on using 'common language in uncommon ways' in his debut novel Like It Matters

Published in the Sunday Times

‘Grittily realistic and acutely observed’ – Damon Galgut on Like It Matters, the debut novel from David Cornwell (Plus: Excerpt!)

Like It MattersLike It Matters
David Cornwell (Umuzi)

Like It Matters was, in a sense, born out of a collection of short stories I wrote while studying a Masters in Creative Writing at UCT in 2011. The timbre and the sad, but optimistic, quality of Ed’s voice I had originally discovered in a story called “Movers”, while (a version of) the central event of the novel first appeared in a published story from that collection called “Honey Truck”. In the beginning, before Ed’s story got a life of its own and my job came to feel, gloriously, like transcription – as though I was simply writing down the story Ed was telling me – this is how I proceeded: with the sound of Ed’s voice, and a concrete narrative situation to drive towards.

Stylistically, the book is influenced – as it must be – by my literary heroes, many of whom belong to the “Dirty Realism” school of American fiction. I hope – if you like Raymond Carver, Richard Ford, Denis Johnson, et al. – that you will recognise similarly gritty and acutely-observed narrative detail in my work, and will experience the same curious joy of witnessing common language used in uncommon, surprising, at times poetic ways.

What I hope will be distinct, however, is the irreducible South Africanness of Ed’s voice. It was my greatest labour with this book: how to write a voice that was capable of being lyrical, while always preserving inside it the real sounds, textures and rhythms of South African English. There are not many literary forebears in this regard. I was about two chapters in when I discovered that experimenting with the punctuation of the narrative – specifically, the use of run-on lines – seemed an effective way to manipulate the “reading rhythm” of the story. I am lucky to have a publisher brave enough to print the book with this eccentric punctuation in tact, and I hope the result is that anyone who reads the book will have to do it with a South African twang.

Why this preoccupation? I’m not sure I can explain it, so much as aver that it was there throughout the construction of Like It Matters. Stephen Watson’s essay “A Version of Melancholy” has been profoundly influential on my thinking: perhaps, in some way, everything I write – novels, plays, songs, films – is a form of response to his thoughts on the “thinness” of (particularly English-speaking) white South African culture. I should probably also acknowledge that I read a lot of Kierkegaard and Camus trying to get to the crux of what’s eating at Ed, and the book’s central philosophy – a kind of world-weary argument against fatalism – owes much to the thinking of these two men.

Finally, I will always be grateful to Damon Galgut for editing the book. I have learned so much from Damon over the last five years (he also supervised my MA dissertation), but he was finally able to teach me the most valuable lesson of all during the lengthy revision and rewriting stages of Like It Matters: never to be afraid of better ideas. It’s difficult advice, requiring honesty, devotion and persistence, but it is lapidary all the same. Never be afraid of better ideas.

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Barry Ronge Fiction Prize shortlist: Henrietta Rose-Innes discusses the genesis of her novel Green Lion

Published in the Sunday Times

Barry Ronge Fiction Prize shortlist: Henrietta Rose-Innes discusses the genesis for her novel Green Lion

Green LionGreen Lion
Henrietta Rose-Innes (Umuzi)

My “spark” was a lion in a glass case. The South African Museum in Cape Town has always been a potent place for me: my mother worked there, and I’ve been visiting it pretty much since birth. There’s a picture there that entranced me as a child – a black-and-white photo of a stuffed Cape black-maned lion, a subspecies that was hunted to extinction in the 19th century. There are no such specimens remaining in South Africa, and only a handful in the world. (One of the most satisfying episodes in researching Green Lion was tracking down that very same diorama in the depths of the London Natural History Museum.) That lost lion is a poignant emblem of species destruction, and was for me a natural and personally affecting starting point for a novel about our estrangement from the non-human world. It was also clear that the story had to play out on Table Mountain, which looms large in my relationship with Cape Town.

I’m interested in how this city lays claim to our patch of semi-wilderness: the competing demands of access, ownership, exclusion and conservation. In the world of the novel, these problems have been “solved” by fencing off the mountain to keep out all but a few privileged tourists – with predictably troubling results.

Green Lion was written at a time when I was very preoccupied, because of family circumstances, with ageing, mortality and the attempt to rescue what we love from time and oblivion. These old dilemmas are intertwined with the anxiety of environmental change, and are ultimately what drive Con’s hopeless pursuit of Sekhmet, his beloved, impossible, soon-to-be-gone-from-this-world lioness.


Soon Con had established a routine. Each day he was at work early to do an hour or so of e-mailing and to listen for the lioness’s first groans and rumbles. Then he’d go out to the refrigerated shed, where a bloody bucket had been set aside by the nightshift. It would be heavy with meat: a big beef bone, two whole plucked chickens. The corridor to the den would still be in shadow, cool and pungent.

He’d pause at the exterior bars, smelling, watching. Unlike Isak with his whistles and bangs, Con didn’t have to make a sound. She knew he was there.

Movement in the shadowy back of the cage – nothing dramatic, just a kind of lolling, side to side. She could be very silent when she wanted to be, almost delicate. Then two large lemon-yellow eyes, pale moons, materialising in the gloom. The suggestion of a massive head, lowered from the shoulders. Bigger, much bigger than the lion statues at the memorial; she might take his whole skull in her mouth. A guttural rumble filled the air between them and vibrated through his flesh – in his throat, in his eyeballs, in his groin. His heart sped up, pumping a rich new mixture. He could feel his pupils expanding, the hairs standing up on his arms and the back of his neck. Not a purr: a lush, continuous growl.

“Hello, girl,” he’d say, although he couldn’t hear his own words; the lion’s voice enveloped any other sound. It made the bars tremble like tuning forks. Beyond them, one layer of wire mesh, as thin as skin, separating the human from its ancient enemy. The animal on that side of the wire was designed to do one thing: demolish the animal on this, on his side. Con wasn’t brave enough to touch the bars. He took out the big key and tapped it once on the metal: a formal click of greeting. Now, the next part of the game.

He hauled the bucket up to the ramparts and cranked open the gate, whistled softly through his teeth, and tossed the meat down into the arena. He didn’t bother with the gloves these days, and his hands were red to the elbow and chilled by the time he’d cleaned out the pail. Above him on the slope he could hear the groan of the first tour bus pulling up. Although there was only one unco-operative lion left to pull the punters, still they came.

His communion with the lioness was unpredictable. Sometimes, he was allowed to glimpse only significant parts: a paw, a flank, an eye; as with the elephant in the fable, he could never see the whole. She’d wait for him to look away, then slip out and snag the meat, pulling it inside or into the shelter of a rock or bush. Often, though, she’d let him watch her eat through the observation window. Sometimes she’d lift her eyes momentarily from her bloody meal to meet his gaze through the glass.

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