The 23rd Time of the Writer: The First Virtual Literary Festival of 2020

TOW2020The 23rd Time of the Writer International Festival – scheduled to take place in Durban, South Africa from 16th to 21st March – went online this year. In spite of challenges posed by the global pandemic, University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Centre for Creative Arts (CCA) hosted the online event, in partnership with eThekwini Municipality. Launching on the 19th March, the Festival played out across three major social media platforms: Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Like always, the ToW Festival included sessions with writers in conversation, book launches and live readings. You can still access the 2020 streams on the Centre for Creative Arts’ YouTube channel.

AiW also had the chance to catch up with Fred Khumalo, Rémy Ngamije, and Siphiwo Mahala – three writers participating in this year’s Festival – to ask them for some Words on the times…. a series of AiW Q&As connecting our shared experiences of creative work and possibility during the pandemic.


Highlights from the 23rd Time of the Writer

Tips and tricks on writing and the publishing process were an integral part of the festival…

  • Kirsten TOW Kirsten Miller @kirstencreate advised on creative writing via Facebook, saying: “Write for the beauty of language, write for the joy of storytelling, write to heal the world, write to keep your own counsel. There are so many different reasons to write”. 
  •  Fred Khumalo @FredKhumalo gave a great presentation entitled ‘Basic Writing Tips’ via Facebook, which he described as “basic guidelines that I keep in mind when I am back on the writing journey”- his presentation is certainly an invaluable resource for any writers.  
  • On Facebook Siphiwo Mahala @SiphiwoMahala and on Instagram Zanele Dlamini @mazettydlamini and Nozizwe Cynthia Jele @JeleCynthia offered tips concerning self publishing vs. traditional publishing, with the universally acknowledged advice being that “to be a good writer, you must be a committed reader”.

Fred Khumalo in conversation with Thobeka Dhlomo discussed via Facebook Khumalo’s latest book, The Longest March and the importance of writing historical fiction, to bring hidden stories into a new light:

“I am not an academic, I try to take the stories that reside in academia back to the people, climb the ivory towers and say, ‘these are your stories, own them’.” 

On their Instagram Page, ToW held a #Bookfluence series, asking writers, curators and creatives to discuss the books that influence them. Our favourites were:

Philisiwe Twijnstra1

  • Philisiwe Twijnstra discussing books by Amos Tutuola, Carmen Maria Machado and Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi.
  • Similo Gobingca talking about the influence of A.C. Jordan’s The Wrath of the Ancestors.
  • Ashantewaa Ngidi exploring books such as Alex Haley’s Roots, and Black Women in Antiquity by Ivan Van Sertima, where for the first time, I saw my ancient self, which I was never taught.

Siphiwo Mahala in conversation with Musa Hlatshwayo on Instagram on the first day of the virtual festival included the inspirational line from Mahala: “You can’t put a good cause down, we’ll continue talking about books online everywhere”.

Assistant Professor of African American Studies at the University of California, Irvine, Tiffany Willhoughby-Herard was in conversation with Thobeka Dhlomo. They discussed US academia, South African activists in exile, gendered violence, and interrogating philanthropy:

TOW20 Tiffany Willhoughby-Herald and Thobeka DhlomoI think because I was raised in that context of people having to actually fight to hold on to their house, to get their kids eyeglasses, to have transportation that was available and reliable, that has always made me think in terms of politics that work for people as opposed to politics that works for institutions.”

Candice Mama and Refiloe Moahloli had a lively conversation via Twitter about being young writers in South Africa. Follow the thread below to have a look!

ToW also hosted virtual book launches over on their Facebook Page, including:


Words on the Times – an AiW Q&A connecting our experiences of now around our common interests…


Fred Khumalo is a South African writer and journalist. He has an MA in creative writing from Wits University and is the recipient of a Nieman Fellowship from Harvard University. Khumalo’s writing has appeared in various publications, including New African magazine, the Sowetan and Isolezwe. His novels include Bitches Brew, Seven Steps to Heaven and Touch My Blood. Khumalo’s latest book is called The Longest March, featured in our Alternative Advent #24Books last year, and his new short story, called “Mr Big Stuff” can be found here.

AiW: Can you tell us a bit about your work and the ways that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected your plans?
Fred Khumalo: I’m full-time writer, and a freelance journalist. I write both fiction and non-fiction; short stories, novels, essays and biography. To earn a regular income, I write a weekly column (satirical mostly) in the Sowetan newspaper. I have another weekly column in Financial Mail. My Financial Mail column is a food column with a twist. Every week, I visit a restaurant of my choice, eat the food, drink and write a review. I mix up my food review with political events or news of the week. With the advent of Covid-19, which led to establishments such as restaurants being shut down, I thought my bosses at the Financial Mail would tell me to stop writing until the lockdown has been lifted. Needless to say, that would have hit me hard in the pocket. To my surprise, my bosses at FM asked me to continue writing a food column, but without the restaurants. I had to use my once-a-week foray into the shopping malls to see what’s on the shelves, at which malls. This would help people who wanted to go out to get their weekly food essentials know which malls to go to, and which ones to avoid. A fun and creative way of writing about food without going into a restaurant. It has worked wonderfully for me and my readers. I get email feedback. However, with regard to the Sowetan column, I’ve been asked to cut back. instead of delivering a column every week, I now have to deliver fortnightly. The publishing company is being forced to cut back costs. With Covid and the closure of shops, there is no advertising to support our newspapers. It’s a miracle that they are still standing. I know in America a number of newspapers have shut down thanks to the cutback in advertising. Needless to say, my income from the Sowetan has been halved.

AiW: In what ways are you working now that you weren’t before?
FK: Over and above writing my regular weekly column, I ordinarily also do freelance work in speech writing, public speaking and writing press releases for individuals and corporations. These engagements have disappeared completely. Which translates into loss of income.

AiW: What have you found most supportive and/or heart lifting in this time?
FK: The South African reading public has reached out. I am aware that people have bought the e-book versions of my books in unprecedented numbers, so thanks for the support. Others have placed orders of hardcopies with me. and are prepared to wait for me to deliver after the lifting of lockdown restrictions. People at the Swedish Embassy, through the Gothenburg Book Fair, recently asked me to do a live reading on their Instagram page, for which they paid me. That was very emotionally uplifting. Personally, I started doing live readings for children on my Facebook page, every day. The response has been overwhelming. It makes the writer conscious of the lives he is touching. Until Covid lockdown hit us, I’d never considered doing a live reading on FB! Although there is no income deriving from this exercise, it has helped me better appreciate the role of a writer in society.

AiW: How can our communities support you?
FK: Communities can keep buying my books online. All my books are available as e-books. Touch My Blood (autobiography), Bitches’ Brew (novel), Seven Steps to Heaven (novel), #ZuptasMustFall and Other Rants (essays and pieces of political commentary), Dancing the Death Drill (novel), Talk of the Town (short story collection), and The Longest March (novel). If there are groups who are prepared to have me address them through the Zoom platform, I am most open to the idea. People and corporations who need speeches, press releases and other forms of writing done on their behalf, are most welcome to contact me. I also edit books (mainly non-fiction). One of my clients in this regard is Penguin Books South Africa. My contact email: They can also DM me on Twitter @FredKhumalo and I’m also on Facebook and Instagram.



Rémy Ngamije is a Rwandan-born Namibian writer and photographer. His debut novel The Eternal Audience Of One (also one of the texts we looked to for our Alternative Advent #24Books last year) is available from Blackbird Books. He writes for, a writing collective based in South Africa. He is the editor-in-chief of Doek!, Namibia’s first literary magazine. His short stories have appeared in Litro Magazine, AFREADA, The Johannesburg Review of Books, The Amistad, The Kalahari Review, American Chordata, Doek!, Azure, Sultan’s Seal, Columbia Journal, and New Contrast. He has been longlisted for the 2020 Afritondo Short Story Prize and shortlisted for Best Original Fiction by Stack Magazines in 2019. More of his writing can be read on his website. Follow Rémy on Twitter @remythequill 

AiW: Can you tell us a bit about your work and the ways that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected your plans?
Rémy Ngamije: I am, for the most part, a writer. That means I work with words whenever and wherever I find them. I write a weekly column for The Namibian, Namibia’s largest daily newspaper. I also write short stories and some poetry that I try to get published wherever I can. Most of my work happens when I am on my couch reading or at my desk drafting and then typing. The current lockdown has not changed my routine for the most part. I still get to read and write. But what has been changed is the absence of freedom when I am not reading or writing. I cannot, for example, hang out with friends; I cannot go dancing; I cannot visit my favourite bookshops – these are small but intimate freedoms which enrich my reading experiences and help to ease the stress that comes with writing. As for my plans – hahaha – life laughs at plans.

AiW:  In what ways are you working now that you weren’t before?
RN: I guess there is a greater sense of urgency at the moment. There are so many ideas that I thought I could stretch out over a greater period of time, but now I feel like if there is something I have to say now is the best time to do it.

AiW:  What have you found most supportive and/or heart lifting in this time?
RN: I have been fortunate enough to be introduced to a cohort of hilarious, stimulating, and encouraging writers from the continent who keep me laughing and grounded in this strange time.

 AiW: How can our communities support you?
RN: Absent of sending me lottery millions, I think the best thing any literary community can do right now is to keep the passion for reading alive. Books were created for times such as these. They were created to expand our world beyond our four walls. They were written to help us encounter people that we would never meet. The gifts that literary communities provide to the world are not adequately acknowledged. Now is the time to correct that balance. So, the best way to support me is to support my community: buy books, read books, and help to keep your local bookstore from going under.


Siphiwo Mahala profile 2020

Siphiwo Mahala is the South African author of the novel When A Man Cries (2007), which he translated into isiXhosa as Yakhal’ Indoda (2010), and the short story collection African Delights (2011). His debut play, The House of Truth, based on the life of Can Themba, played to sold-out audiences at the 2016 National Arts Festival in Makhanda, and in theatres across Johannesburg. Read an excerpt from Mahala’s newest collection of short stories, Red Apple Dreams and Other Stories (Iconic Productions, 2019) here.  Follow Siphiwo on Twitter @SiphiwoMahala

AiW: Can you tell us a bit about your work and the ways that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected your plans?
Siphiwo Mahala: The most adverse impact of the lockdown for me was being deprived of the opportunity to interact directly with readers. I have missed out on many occasions where I was due to make presentations at conferences, book clubs and festivals like Time of the Writer. However, we were able to make up for this through the use of electronic media. Time of the Writer, for instance, organised virtual workshops, book launches and discussions which were conducted via social media including Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. I believe that beyond the lockdown, these mediums ought to be a permanent part of festivals in order to engender wider markets beyond our immediate environment.

AiW: In what ways are you working now that you weren’t before?
SM: In many ways the lockdown has been a blessing to me because time has always been the prohibiting factor in meeting some of my targets. The lockdown has afforded me plenty of time for reading and writing. As someone who straddles a variety of genres, it is not so easy to hop from one writing assignment to the next. For instance, after writing an academic essay, I often read a short story collection or a novel, before delving into short stories, the same applies before writing a play. I have been able to do this during the lockdown with far less pressure on my shoulders. My days have been predominantly reading and writing, and at times drawing and colouring with my four-year-old daughter.  

AiW: What have you found most supportive and/or heart lifting in this time?
SM: This period is quite affirming for writers and other artists across the board. My cursory view on digital and social media evinces that the arts are humanity’s best companion. Many people spend their days watching films, reading books and telling stories, and all these are the tools of trade as artists. These are activities that we hope will continue beyond the lockdown, as they are in support of our vocation as artists. It is also heart-warming to see many artists reading and performing for free online as a way of sharing their stories. There is no better way to entrench the appreciation of the arts in our lives.

AiW: How can our communities support you?
SM: I would appeal for our society to continue supporting artists the same way they embraced them during the lockdown. Let us buy book books, fill up theatres and watch locally produced films. Our stories do not begin and end with the lockdown. The story has been there, and storytellers will continue to reflect on what is happening now and transmit this information to generations to come.  


Finally, thank you, Time of the Writer, for all your excellent work!

Categories: AiW Featured - archive highlights, Reviews & Spotlights on..., Words on the Times

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

join the discussion:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: