AiW are gearing up for Edinburgh International Books Festival – beginning tomorrow Aug 11 – and this year’s series of books events on the theme of freedom, through which the Festival “calls upon its authors, participants and audiences to consider the importance of freedom in a world where democracy and capitalism, long the staples of western society, are being brought into question”, considering “free speech, freedom of movement, freedom of expression and freedom of identity”.
The Programme and events tickets are available on the Books Fest website. There is, as ever, a range of our highlight events and authors – Ngugi Wa Thiong’o returns to the Fest; Zindzi Mandela will be there in this, Nelson Mandela’s centenary year, as will: Kenyan writers, Nairobi-based Maimouna Jallow and Edinburgh-based Mara Menzies; South African writer SJ Naude (whose Alphabet of Birds was reviewed for us by Carli Coetzee back in 2015); Olumide Popoola and Chitra Nagarajan – editor of the queer anthology She Called Me Woman (Cassava Republic, 2018 – see Kasia Kubin’s piece on the anthology at Africa Writes), who will be on a panel, ‘Queer Africa’, together; Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel (of publishers And Other Stories), and more.
Also standouts, we’re looking forward to being there for a few more (‘In Light of What We Write’, ‘Retelling the Stories of Africa’, and a ‘Playing with Books’ series live staging, Life & Times of Michael K)…
Edinburgh Books Fest are presenting chapter 2 of this ‘cutting-edge, multi-discipline, multi-media arts event with a literary core’, the first performed in Cape Town in February this year, led by co-curators Linda Kaoma – writer, poet and project manager for the brilliant Badilisha Poetry X-Change (both incredible online audio archive and Pan-African poetry radio show) – and Michael Pederson – poet and a co-founder of the award-winning literary collective Neu! Reekie! (which has birthed a number of performances, national and international, a developing publishing house and micro record label).
‘In Light of What We Write’ aims to showcase the accessibility of literature and the literary scene through its innovative curation and unique and experiential content – “giving voice to the concerns and dreams of our future generations”.
Taking this opportunity to highlight, again, the indictment of the British HO that is the cultural events/exchange visa issue currently facing the Books Fest, and with AiW’s hopes for the full resolution the Fest have been working to achieve, the authors and artists scheduled to take part include:
Sabrina Mahfouz – South London based British Egyptian poet, playwright, performer and writer;
Iona Lee – performance poet (Scottish Slam Champion in 2015 no less, although has self-described as “not much of a slammer”) and visual artist;
Julie Nxadi – ‘an observer, thinker and a writer’, you can read her exquisite short fiction in the Johannesburg Review of Books, The Mail & Guardian (and her ‘Letter to the Academy‘ may be of interest to some of our AiW readers);
Madzitatiguru – a Zimbabwean spoken word poet, who recites poetry in Shona and English;
and Botswana born ARTivist, Katlego Kolanyane-Kesupile – founder and artistic director of the Queer Shorts Showcase Festival, Botswana’s premier LGBTQ+ themed theatre festival.
We’ll also be with Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi & Novuyo Rosa Tshuma, ‘Retelling the Stories of Africa’, in high anticipation of an AiW piece to follow in the later (UK) Autumn on these fiercely smart writers’ novels – Makumbi’s Kintu – the epic tale reimagining Uganda through the bloodline of the Kintu clan that has propelled Makumbi into a series of high profile literary spotlights, and Tshuma’s House of Stone – a wildly entertaining and bitter-sweet telling of Zimbabwe’s modern history, including Mugabe’s rise and the post-independence Gukurahundi genocide in the 80s. Timely, in the many echoes of that term, this will be a lively, engaged exchange and we look forward to sharing more discussion on these books, together in the same space.
Also timely, although in a different kind of sense, is the revisiting of JM Coetzee’s 1983 novel The Life and Times of Michael K at the Books Fest, in the premiere of a live staging based on the book, featuring film, performance and live reading. A novel that was articulated from a cultural moment under the restrictions of 1980s apartheid – an imagining of a slightly earlier moment, a South Africa of the late 70s that is a brutalised landscape of war and the violences of martial law, of disrupted but poignantly strong family and filial bonds as well as their often silenced histories, of the possibilities of simplicity of purpose, in growth and life – both human and of the earth (‘K’ is a gardener), ultimately of suffocating prejudice and its extreme limits and ways, means and agencies of resistance, this seems an interesting moment in itself for a staging of this book and in this particular kind of space – these lives and times.
As the Books Fest publicity has it, Michael K ‘walks this fallen land in search of peace, [asking] what it means to live in harmony with the land and the times we find ourselves in. Can we live a life of dignity when lies, division and repression are all around us?’. The performance is part of the ‘Playing with Books‘ series at the Fest, which includes a WhatsApp based live digital text event, The Right Kind of Chaos,where a mysterious political strategist who claims to be an old friend teaches you how to survive in the land of the free (! details for sign-up on the Books Fest site); and ‘Small Country‘, an event based on writer and musician Gaël Faye’s novel Petit Pays (2016),a coming-of-age novel of growing up in Burundi, but, more particularly, a childhood account which revolves around a specific date, 7 April 1994, trigger of the Rwandan genocide, fueling the Burundian civil war (see Florian Alix on the novel at Cairn.info International Edition – where the translation has the novel’s title at Tiny Country).
Watch this space – and our Twitter feed – for more and follow-on info. on these and other Edinburgh Books Festival events to come. And for our previous coverage see our reviews and events posts on Festivals past here.