More – Open Book Literary Festival, Cape Town, and the World Writers’ Conference

Further to the previous post, other events joining ‘Censorship Today’ as part of the World Writers’ Conference at Open Book, Cape Town: 

Excited to see that Njabulo Ndebele and Antjie Krog will be in discussion – ‘Should Literature be Political’, 20 September 2012, 6:00 – 8:00pm (BST +1 hour). This event will be chaired by Judith February, columnist and political analyst, and head of the Institute for Democracy in South Africa’s Political Information and Monitoring Service (PIMS), a program launched in 1995 to monitor South Africa’s democratic institutions.

Anjali Joseph will deliver a keynote address on ‘A National Literature’, Friday 21st September at 3.30pm (BST+1 hour), to be chaired by South African prize-winning author Imraan Coovadia.

Both events join the World Writers’ Conference conversation originated at the 1962 Conference under the platform ‘Commitment’, with the 2012-13 discussion kicking off in Edinburgh by Ahdaf Soueif (17/08/12 – video), who added to the the debate on the duty of the novelist, and the efficacy of fiction writing to further a cause – a set of concerns clearly still salient for writers from the African continent, as recent discussions on the African renaissance and Caine Prize attest.

Soueif’s address ranged from George Eliot to Mahmoud Darwish, the late, great Palestinian poet and activist; the effects of the internet on the hyper-awareness of politics and the activist impulse in fiction; didacticism, polemic and the ‘veneer of fiction’; and a poignant evocation of the discontent and revolution in Egypt, where some of the situations of gross rights violations exposed by the revolution happened metres from her home.

All three South African fiction writers, Ndebele, Krog, and Coovadia, are lively participants in the debate about literature and politics: Coovadia has spoken out about the novel and its viability to the present moment in the Sunday Independent’s 3 part ‘Political Novel’ debate; Krog’s internationally acclaimed work, Country of my Skullwhich details her experience of recording and reporting on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as a radio journalist, began what her publisher called a trilogy, a series of meditative, experimental, creative non-fiction works on politics, creativity and responses to a post-apartheid South African society; in the last of the series, Begging to be Black, she tells an academic in conversation, ‘‘I want to suggest that at this stage imagination for me is overrated’’; Ndebele urged fiction writers under apartheid to move away from a constricting focus on politics and to redefine the relationship between literature and art – this was back in the 80s, and the seminal Rediscovery of the Ordinary has since been republished a number of times. Ndebele has also commented on Krog’s position and the representation of white South African identity in her writing in an interview with Mary West, (English in Africa, Grahamstown: May 2010. Vol. 37, Iss. 1;  pg. 115).

Both presentations at Open Book, but particularly Joseph’s by title, will also relate to that given by Irvine Welsh, ‘A National Literature’ (19/08/12 , video) whose local, Scottish focus followed the concerns of the ’62 conference, whilst discussing the implications for culture in the shifting wider frame of ‘internationalism’ and globalisation.

Looking forward to seeing how these conversations develop at Open Book, and as they journey on through 2012-13. It’s worth checking back on the site for further info and developments – Georg Klein’s keynote address from International Literature Festival Berlin is now up (from 15/09/12) – and various other events may well be live-streamed but not necessarily advertised as such in advance.


ANJALI JOSEPH – A National Literature?

Antjie Krog and Njabulo Ndebele

NDEBELE & KROG – Should Literature Be Political?


KEITH GRAY – Censorship Today

Anjali Joseph was born in Bombay and grew up in England. She has lived and worked in London, Paris and Bombay. Her first novel, Saraswati Park, won the Desmond Elliott and Betty Trask Prizes and the Vodafone Crossword Book Award for fiction. Her second novel, Another Country, has just been published

Njabulo S Ndebele: The writer of ‘Fools’ and Other Stories (1983) which won the Noma award as the best book published in Africa in 1983; Rediscovery of the Ordinary: Essays on South African Literature and Culture (1991, 2006) a seminal collection of essays; the novel The Cry of Winnie Mandela, (2004), received the Noma Award Honorable mention for 2005; and Fine Lines from the Box: Further Thoughts About our Country (2007) received the K. Sello Duiker Memorial Award. The two books can be viewed as interacting with each other from the perspectives of literary practice and theoretical reflections on it. How much is the social in the art, and the art in the social? The children’s story Bonolo and the Peach Tree (1991) is a tributary of some of the issues that have flowed from such a question. He is a commentator on a range of public issues in South Africa. He has received honorary doctorates from universities in the UK, USA, The Netherlands, and Japan for achievements in literature, creative writing and higher education leadership.

Antjie Krog: Antjie Krog is a poet, writer, journalist and Extraordinary Professor at the University of the Western Cape. She published twelve volumes of poetry in Afrikaans, two volumes in English, and three non-fiction books: Country of my Skull (1998), on the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission; A Change of Tongue (2004) about the transformation in South Africa after ten years and Begging to be Black (2009) about learning to live within a black majority. Country of my Skull And A Change of Tongue have been nominated by South African librarians (LIASA) as two of the ten most important books written in ten years of democracy. Krog has also co-authored an academic book There was this Goat (2009) with two colleagues Prof Kopano Ratele and Nosisi Mpolweni, investigating the Truth Commission testimony of Mrs Notrose Nobomvu Konile. Her work has been widely translated. Krog had been awarded most of the prestigious awards for non-fiction, translation and poetry available in Afrikaans and English, as well as the Stockholm Award from the Hiroshima Foundation for Peace and Culture for the year 2000, as well as the Open Society Prize from the Central European University (previous winners were Jürgen Habermas and Vaclav Havel).

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2 replies


  1. Nick Barley on the Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference at Open Book Festival, Cape Town « Africa in Words

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