City’s Articulate Africa Book Fair is the place to be for book lovers
A DECADE ago you could count the literary festivals in South Africa on one hand. But in the past decade there has been an explosion of literary festivals in every corner of the country.
So people could be forgiven for thinking – just another book festival. But this year’s Articulate Africa Book Fair at the Durban ICC is being seen as a pilot run for the holy grail of literature – the title of Unesco City of Literature.
Only 20 countries have been accorded this honour over the past decade. If Durban’s bid is successful, the city will become the first city in Africa to do so.
The eyes of the world are on Durban – firstly, to judge just how articulate this eastern corner of Africa is, and secondly, to see whether the city has the organisational nous to stage a truly international literary festival.
On the first point, Durban has an undeniable strength. Known for being a melting pot of cultures, Durban is not only known for being the Kingdom of the Zulu, but also “Little India”. Nowhere in the world, besides India, will you find so many Indians as in Durban.
The line-up for the second chapter of Articulate Africa will reflect the rich diversity of voices. To borrow the title of Durban writer Deepak Panday’s book, The Kings of Durban, at this year’s Articulate Africa are two Sunday Times Prize winners in Masande Ntshanga (The Reactive) and Sifiso Mzobe (Young Blood). The latter also won the Wole Soyinka Prize, the Herman Charles Bosman Award and the SALA award as a firsttime published author.
Added to this, Durban has not seen so many Afrikaans writers in almost a decade: Etienne van Heerden, considered the greatest Afrikaans novelist of his generation; new kid on the block Hemelbesem (what a stage name!) and Deon Meyer, probably among the top crime writers in the world.
Then there is Greg Marinovich, this year’s Alan Paton Prize winner for his book on Marikana.
And more in such prize-winning authors as Kobus Moolman, Carol Mashigo, Chris Mann, Ronnie Govender, Gcina Mhlophe, Fred Khumalo, coupled with literati of the calibre of Jonathan Jansen, Chris Nicholson, Ashwin Desai, Bongani Madondo and many more. Almost 80 in total.
But no festival can afford to be insular. While we want to show the world how articulate Africa is, we want to be invigorated by voices from distant shores.
Leading the international brigade is Chris Merrill, director of the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa, a man who has conducted cultural diplomacy missions to more than 50 countries and who, in April 2012, was appointed by President Barack Obama to the National Council on the Humanities.
Eliot Weinberger describes Merrill’s Self-Portrait with Dogwood (the book Merrill will speak on at Articulate Africa) as “an arboreal memoir, an autobiographical dendrology: Merrill, like the dogwood seeds and seedlings, roams the planet, appearing or pausing at unexpected moments in history. The migrant trees sink their roots in various foreign soils; the man, though wandering, even in zones of war, remains rooted in the humus of poetry.”
And Luis Alberto Urrea: “Christopher Merrill is a national treasure, both as a writer and a global warrior for literature and witness. In a fine career of making exquisite books, Self-Portrait with Dogwood might be his most moving. Beauty rises from every page… A quiet classic.”
Andrew Harding, the second international writer we want to profile, has been a foreign correspondent since 1991, living in Moscow, Tbilisi, Nairobi, Singapore, Bangkok and Johannesburg. His reporting for BBC News has won him many awards, including a US Emmy. This is what some literary luminaries have said about The Mayor of Mogadishu, Harding’s first book.
“I can’t recommend this book enough. Written by one of the best foreign correspondents of the past 25 years. An exceptional literary achievement.” – Eusebius McKaiser, Radio 702.
“Africa can be explained in dry prose, in figures, in newspaper reports; or it can be explained, as Andrew Harding does in this book, through an astonishing personal story, vivid and utterly memorable. This is a triumph of a book: surprising, informative, and humane.” – Author Alexander McCall Smith.
There is also a star on the rise: Winnie M Li. Winnie M Li is an author and activist around the issue of sexual assault. Her debut novel, Dark Chapter, was published in the UK in June. Partly inspired by her own assault, it explores a rape from the perspective of victim and perpetrator. The book is currently shortlisted for The Guardian’s Not The Booker Prize, and will be published in more than nine languages worldwide.
The Guardian describes it thus: “A powerful debut novel… A defiant re-telling of personal trauma… A tense, dramatic reading experience… Conveyed with skill and emotional force.”
These are just some of the highlights of the upcoming Articulate Africa Book Fair at the Durban ICC from September 29 to October 1. All talks are free.
And did I mention it will be the best literary festival of 2017? I hope to see book lovers, like letters on a page, at this year’s Articulate Africa Book Fair.
David was formerly head of Afrikaans at the UKZN and is now head of English on the Pietermaritzburg campus. He is the founder of Booktown Richmond in the Karoo, an experienced curator of literary festivals in South Africa and the curator of this year’s Articulate Africa. He is interim director of Durban’s bid for Unesco City of Literature.