Tuesday 17 July, 7.00pm (6.30pm doors)
Union Chapel, London N1 2UN
Tuesday next week in London (a London fairly humming right now with the large-scale political ramifications of what it is to be ‘free’ in movement, choice and/or speech), sees human rights and freedom of expression charity English PEN marking the centenary of Nelson Mandela’s birth on July 18, with a special one-off evening at the Union Chapel.
Celebrating with the newly launched The Prison Letters of Nelson Mandela (Liveright, July 10), edited by Sahm Venter and with a Foreword by Mandela’s granddaughter, Zamaswazi Dlamini-Mandela, the London event on July 17, produced by award-winning Josette Bushell-Mingo, brings together journalists, novelists, writers, activists and campaigners, actors and directors, and composers and musicians, to read and perform a selection of the letters, with both Venter and Dlamini-Mandela.
Many of the letters curated in the book, documenting Mandela’s imprisonment from 1962 to 1990 through letters sent to family and loved ones, comrades, prison authorities and government officials, have been unpublished until now. Venter, South African researcher and author, and former Associated Press reporter (who covered and was witness to Mandela’s release from prison in 1990), collected the letters from a variety of sources, public and private, state and personal: one of the collections, as Charlayne Hunter-Gault’s New York Times aptly titled review, ‘The Making of a Moral Hero‘, tells us, is named for the policeman who, after Mandela’s release, returned the notebooks that had been confiscated from his Robben Island cell in 1971, and into which Mandela had carefully copied his letters in mind of the censorship they were subject to in the hands of the officials mailing them out.
The capacity of correspondence, the variety of the relationships it bridges and outlines, and so the scope of the text and its portrait of imprisonment, to quote Verne Harris of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, of “the person behind the public figure” – from the intimacy of a family life, of loss and close grief, to the decisions taken, articulated and maintained to eradicate apartheid – each can be felt in readings and comment by Dlamini-Mandela and Venter, among others involved in bringing the project to bear, available on Vimeo.
The book is available here. A second, fuller two-volume set, geared more toward scholars and other specialists, is expected to follow in 2019.
For those who can make it through to Union Chapel on Tuesday, Venter and Dlamini-Mandela will be joined by Gary Younge (@garyyounge), David Lammy (@DavidLammy), Jackie Kay (@JackieKayPoet), Zoe Wicomb (see ‘The Uncompromising Zoe Wicomb’, by Joan Hambidge for africasacountry.com) and Ben Okri, Jay Bernard, Kwame Kwei-Armah (@kwamekweiarmah) and Errollyn Wallen. In addition to Mandela’s prison letters, there will also be readings from the work of other imprisoned writers of concern to PEN – the leading Turkish writer Ahmet Altan and Kurdish journalist and artist Zehra Doğan.
The event will be BSL interpreted.