Literary Festival 2012: Meet the authors
No time like the present:
Nadine Gordimer, Nobel laureate and Booker Prize winner, is one of our most telling contemporary writers. With each new work, she attacks – with a clear-eyed lack of sentimentality and a deep understanding of the darkest depths of the human soul – her eternal themes: the inextricable link between personal and communal history; the inescapable moral ambiguities of daily life; the political and racial tensions which persist in South Africa. And in each new work is fresh evidence of her literary genius: in the sharpness of her psychological insights; the stark beauty of her language; the complexity of her characters and the difficult choices with which they are faced.
In No Time Like the Present, Gordimer trains her keen eye on South Africa and what has become of it since Mandela’s jubilant release from prison. At the heart of her story is an interracial couple, Steve and Jabulile, living in a newly – tentatively – free South Africa, he a university lecturer, she a lawyer, both comrades in the Struggle and now parents of children born in freedom. There is nothing so extraordinary about their lives, and yet, in telling their story, and the stories of their friends and families, Gordimer manages to capture the tortured, fragmented essence of a nation struggling to define itself in the post-apartheid world of Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma.
The subject is contemporary, but Gordimer’s treatment is, as ever, timeless. No Time Like the Present is a powerful state of the nation novel with a very human heart.
Mongane Wally Serote
Mongane Wally Serote's latest novel, Revelations, is a narrative journey undertaken by artists and modern-day warriors, who, after the liberation of South Africa, try to understand what was fought for, and why. A South African dance troupe in Chile brings back stories of that country's trials and tribulations and a parallel is drawn with our own struggle to reconcile and to make peace when the time for war is over.
Born in Sophiatown, Johannesburg, Mongane Wally Serote was drawn to poetry and writing towards the end of his high-school career following his connection to the 'Township' or 'Soweto Poets', a literary group involved in the development of Black Consciousness and who produced creative works which centred around themes of political activism, and featured images or revolt and resistance. He was arrested by the apartheid government in 1969 under the Terrorism Act, following which he spent nine months within solitary confinement. He was later released without charge, and went on to obtain a fine arts degree in New York at the Columbia University in 1979. For a time he was unable to return to South Africa due to exile, and so he began living in Botswana and London, where he became involved with the Medu Arts Ensemble. He is the recipient of the 1993 Noma Award for Publishing in Africa, and has also been given the Pablo Neruda Award from the Chilean government in 2004. He is currently CEO of a national heritage site in Pretoria called Freedom Park.
He recently joined Léopold Sédar Senghor of Senegal as the only other African winner of the Golden Wreath Award.
The Youngsters series explores topics of interest to the young and the young at heart, ranging from hair weaves to discovering who you are and what you should do with your life, as well as issues of race and gender, love and sex in the time of social networks, the music and radio industries, comedy, empowering yourself and more. The series shares the reality of being a youngster in South Africa.
In Rustum Kozain’s new collection, Groundwork, this leading South African poet raises his own bar way above ordinary expectations.
Kozain has intentionally retained connections with his early work while simultaneously introducing a group of poems that indicate the promise of work still to come. His voice has strengthened and has a new confidence making the poems (paradoxically) lighter without losing their characteristic trademark seriousness. This is a thoughtful, pitch-perfect collection that resonates with the reader long after the last poem is read.
His 2005 debut collection This Carting Life was widely acclaimed for its gravitas and vigour. With poems such as Kingdom of rain and Talking jazz Kozain firmly established himself as a brilliant new poet in the South African constellation. Several of his poems have been anthologised and, most importantly, read and discussed. Kozain won both the Ingrid Jonker Prize (2006) and the Olive Schreiner Prize (2007) for This Carting Life.
Zapiro (aka Jonathan Shapiro) is the acclaimed editorial cartoonist for Mail & Guardian, Sunday Times and The Times.
He has published 17 annual cartoon collections to date.
His most recent awards 2009-2010 include the MISA Press Freedom Award, the Mondi Shanduka Newspaper award for Graphic Journalism (twice) and the Vodacom Cartoonist of the Year award.
Fight for Democracy is a penetrating and critical scrutiny of the ANC’s treatment of the print media since the inception of democracy in 1994. In this book, M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane) senior investigator and advocacy co-ordinator Glenda Daniels does not hide behind a veil of detachment, but instead makes a passionate argument for the view that newspapers and journalists play a significant role in the deepening of democratic principles.
Daniels goes to the heart of current debates and asks why the ANC, given its stated commitment to the democratic objectives of the Constitution, is so ambivalent about the freedom of the media. What would be the consequences of a revised media policy on democracy in South Africa, and at what cost to freedom of expression?
Chris Wadman was born and raised in Harare, Zimbabwe. He attended high school at Michaelhouse in Kwazulu-Natal, whereafter he studied English and Law at UCT emerging with a BA, LLB. Following university he taught English as a second language in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and later lived in Cambridge, England, working as a dishwasher and call centre attendant. He began his career in law in Harare in 1998, before returning to Cape Town in 1999 to study an LLM part-time at UCT whilst working with what was then Cliffe Dekker Fuller Moore Inc.
In 2001, he moved to Johannesburg and has since then acted as a consultant to various South African companies expanding into other countries in Africa. His first novel, The Unlikely Genius of Dr Cuthbert Kambazuma, was written in part in Zimbabwe, Kenya, Nigeria, Angola, New Zealand and South Africa.
He lives in Parkhurst, Johannesburg, with his wife, Katherine Gibson, a consultant economist to the South African treasury, and two small children.
In 1982, with the discreet assistance of his mother, he correctly guessed the number of humbugs in a jar at the Harare Agricultural Show and was awarded a large chocolate cake, and two tickets to the Hollywood hit, ET. He has won no other prizes or awards since then.
Jo’burg in fiction:
Siphiwo Mahala is a man who needs no introduction. Not only is he an established author, but friend of writers, supporter of readers and writer for thinkers.
His new book, African Delights is a transcendent narrative cycle of short stories that explore the complex ideas of love, truth, acquisition of wealth and human encounters of all sorts.
These wide-ranging stories take us from Sophiatown in the Drum- era to the rural Eastern Cape to the luxury Jozi homes of present-day tenderpreneurs. By turns poignant, raunchy, philosophical and funny, they cast a wry and astute eye on universal human questions and conundrums presented by our particular historical moment.
Siphiwo Mahala is the author of When A Man Cries (2007), a novel which he translated into isiXhosa as Yakhal’ Indoda (2010). His short stories appear in numerous literary journals and magazines locally and internationally. He holds a Masters’ degree in African Literature from Wits University. He is the head of books and publishing at the national department of arts and culture.
Well-known non-fiction author and TV personality Eric Miyeni makes his fiction debut with The Release. The novel is a powerful and unflinching exploration of the psychological minefield in which black middle-aged men often live.
The Release tells the story of a fateful day in the life of Jeremy Hlungwani when he inexplicably perpetrates an act of violence. Flashbacks reveal Jeremy’s biography and build a portrait of his alienation. We follow his early years, culminating in the explanation of how Jeremy has come to be in possession of a gun.
Miyeni addresses a theme which is well due in South African fiction: a psychological portrayal of a particular generation of black masculinity. The story concerns a character of the generation born in the late 1950s to early 1960s and who come to taste the first material benefits of democratic South Africa.
The Release is a delicate tale of human breakdown and serves as a reminder that the legacy of the past runs deeper than the materialistic present would have us believe.
Eric Miyeni is an actor, writer and filmmaker. He is best known for his TV role as Darryl Malgas in the series Molo Fish and as Absalom Khumalo in the movie Cry, the Beloved Country. Miyeni’s work as an author comprises four non-fiction titles, including the bestselling The Only Black at a Dinner Party. In 2010 he produced, co-wrote and co-directed the documentary Mining For Change: A story of South African mining. His first feature film, Frozen Time, is due for release in 2012.
In André Krüger's novel Die Twee Lewens van Dieter Ondracek, railway engineer Dieter Ondracek becomes Gerhard Weber after he flees the ruins of Nazi Germany. In South Africa, two things bring promise of a new beginning: his job at the railways, where he is once again surrounded by his beloved ―flame beasts‖, and little Kietie and her mother Magda, his neighbours. But when his former SS colleague Kurt Wolff arrives, with threats and rumours about ODESSA and Sabine, Dieter/Gerhard realises that his past has come back to haunt him.
André Krüger lives in Pretoria, but comes from Johannesburg. He is a picky bookseller – he sells all types as long as they are made of paper. He has been a theatre usher, receptionist, translator, attorney and semi-professional student. During an extended and dogged attempt to avoid life, he finished four degrees. Of these four, the most pleasurable but also least useful one was a Masters in Philosophy.
Speaking in tongues:
Patrick Chamoiseau was born in Fort-de France on the Antillean island of Martinique in 1953. After studying law in Paris and a Master’s degree in social economics he worked as an educator in rehabilitation projects for children in detention, first in France, then in Martinique. He returned to Martinique, inspired by Édouard Glissant to take a close interest in Creole culture. His readings of Creole literature led Chamoiseau to focus on the ethnological, historical, and linguistic phenomena of the Caribbean, which have formed the subjects and leitmotifs of his literary work.
Chamoiseau’s idea of a writer, as shown in his wide-ranging works, is based on the concept of a Creole identity.
His novel Texaco was awarded the Prix Goncourt in 1992. Chamoiseau may be regarded as one of the most innovative writers to hit the French literary scene since Louis-Ferdinand Celine. His freeform use of French language — a highly complex yet fluid mixture of constant invention and "creolism" — fuels a poignant and sensuous depiction of Martinique people in particular and humanity at large.
He has received numerous literary awards, including the Prix Kléber Haedens, Prix Goncourt, Prix Carbet de la Caraïbe and the Special Prize of the Jury RFO.
Patrick Chamoiseau appears courtesy of the France-South Africa Seasons 2012 & 2013. www.france-southafrica.com
New fiction & SA society
James Whyle takes on the war genre with an eloquent narrative and a command of language and style that captures the fragility and bleakness of the time. There is no doubt that Whyle is a masterful storyteller.
The Book of War tells the story of a boy who comes to manhood in a war. William Kentridge has called it, ―a rare feast‖, and Rian Malan, ―a very good book, possibly great‖. An illiterate European child is stranded on the southern tip of Africa. The British and the Xhosa have been spilling each other’s blood for eighty years and the kid signs up for the conflict in the hope of steady meals and a few shillings a month.
The kid’s new commander, The Captain, is hardly more than a boy himself, but he has money and education behind him. His goal is to prove that the revolutionary Minié Rifle is the most effective killing machine available to the British Empire. His instruments are an assortment of convicts, sailors and drunkards culled from the port at the Cape of Good Hope; his adversary, a strategically brilliant Xhosa general with little left to lose.
The Captain and the irregulars depart on a journey towards a grotesque dénouement around a copper vat on the slopes of Mount Misery. They move through a landscape prowled by wild beasts, a landscape so savage that the mountains themselves are like ―ancient artefacts whose listed purpose is slaughter‖. As they travel, the distinction between man and animal becomes increasingly blurred.
Although it is based closely on first-hand accounts of the 8th Xhosa War, the book creates the effect of an intense defamiliarisation of a history educated South Africans will believe themselves to be au fait with. It converts the bare facts of times past into something terrible and strange. Anyone who has asked themselves why South Africa is a violent country will find a disturbing answer in The Book of War.
Whyle grew up in the Amatole Mountains of the Eastern Cape. Conscripted into the apartheid army, he was discharged on the grounds of insanity. He did everything in his power to assist the authorities in arriving at this diagnosis. His play about the experience, National Madness, has been called ―a simple, subtle and frequently satirical portrait of the condition of militarism‖. It was performed at the Market and Baxter theatres and published in Market Plays.
Whyle has published poetry, short stories and journalism.
Imraan Coovadia, whose novel High-Low In between won both the Sunday Times fiction prize and the University of Johannesburg prize, sets his new novel in the world of Cape Town’s taxis. In this world, there are taxi poets and even an Institute for Taxi Poetry, where they train young people to write poems on the bodywork of taxis.
One of the famous taxi poets, Solly Greenfields, is murdered. It is up to Adam Ravens, who once studied the art of taxi poetry under Solly, to figure out who killed his mentor and friend.
Coovadia’s novel is wonderfully quirky and he uses the Institute for Taxi Poetry not only to poke gentle fun at writing courses, but also to ponder the place of literature and culture in society.
Solly Greenfields is a true visionary, and Adam relates many of the sage-like Solly’s wisdom and values. Of course, Solly’s insights into politics, culture, writing, and society reflect as sharply on the South African reality as it does on the fictional world in the book.
Tragic, funny and intelligent, The Institute for Taxi Poetry is testament to Coovadia’s dazzling originality.
Imraan Coovadia is the author of the novels The Wedding, Green-eyed Thieves, and High Low In-between. He teaches creative writing at the University of Cape Town.
Steven Boykey Sidley
The author of the novel Entanglement has divided his adult life between the USA and South Africa. He has meandered through careers as an animator, chief technology officer for a Fortune 500 company, jazz musician, software developer, video game designer, private equity investor and high technology entrepreneur.
He currently lives in Johannesburg with his wife and two children. Entanglement ranges broadly across the tensions between science and belief, free will and fate, art and artefact, violence and justice, sex and love, arrogance and timidity.
Karen Jayes worked as an editor and journalist on newspapers and magazines in South Africa and London for eleven years before turning to education.
In the UK, she was senior editor of The Middle East Times. In South Africa, she has filled senior writing and editorial positions. She writes features on women and social issues for Fair Lady and has also had work published in the Mail & Guardian.
Karen was awarded the international PEN/Studzinski Literary Award by JM Coetzee in 2009.
Her novel, For the Mercy of Water, is a futuristic look at mankind's reliance on limited natural resources. In a country long gripped and devastated by drought, water has become the priceless commodity over which a deadly war is being waged
The history of the anti-apartheid movement brings up images of boycotts and public campaigns in the UK. But another story went on behind the scenes, in secret, one that has never been told before.
This is the story of the foreign volunteers and their activities in South Africa, how they acted in defiance of the apartheid government and its police on the instructions of the African National Congress.
Ronnie Kasrils started off as a script writer for a Johannesburg film studio and then for Lever Brothers, as television and film director for their advertising division in Durban, until 1962. In 1960 he was prompted by the Sharpeville Massacre to join the ANC, where he served as the secretary of the ANC-aligned Congress of Democrats in Natal until it was banned in 1962. He became a member of Umkhonto weSizwe (armed wing of the Liberation Movement) at its inception in 1961 and participated in many sabotage operations, some of which were with Eleanor, whom he later married. Pursued by the police the couple fled into exile in 1963 after her daring escape from detention. Exiled for 27 years; he was based in London, Luanda, Maputo, Swaziland, Botswana and Lusaka. He worked underground for the ANC in South Africa during Operation Vula.
After the first democratic elections in South Africa, Kasrils was appointed deputy minister of defence from 1994 to1999. He then became minister of water affairs and forestry from 1999 to 2004 and was appointed minister of intelligence services until he submitted his resignation on September 23 2008 following former president Thabo Mbeki’s resignation in the same month.
Songs and Secrets is a personal exploration of the ANC from liberation movement to government. It follows the author into the ANC’s military camps in Angola; to Moscow for intelligence training; to the underground in Botswana and into leadership positions in the intelligence services and administration of the new government. It unpacks the oft-ignored conditions in which the ANC government had to try to turn apartheid around.
The book investigates the personal, political, psychological and historical realities that gave birth to the new South Africa. Songs and Secrets is written in an anecdotal, cinematic style – providing glimpses into the small and big events that marked the author’s journey through the three decades of history that led South Africa and the ANC to the challenges they face today.
Barry Gilder was born in South Africa in 1950. He went into exile in 1976, composed and sang struggle songs, underwent military and intelligence training with the ANC, and served in the ANC’s intelligence structures until his return to South Africa in 1991.
After 1994 he served as deputy head of the South African Secret Service, as deputy head of the National Intelligence Agency, as director general of the department of home affairs and as South Africa’s coordinator of intelligence until his retirement in 2007.
He is currently director of operations at the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection.