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M&G Literary Festival: Being here or being square

Mail & Guardian Reporter

The M&G Literary Festival will consider Nadine Gordimer's notion 'Being here: in a particular time and place.'

Nadine Gordimer. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

The fifth annual M&G Literary Festival will be held at the Market Theatre in Newtown, Johannesburg, on Saturday August 30 and Sunday August 31. 

The festival will be book-ended by two events that form the Friday Festival: a jazz concert at The Orbit on Friday evening (August 29) and a “meet the authors” cocktail party at David Krut Bookstore on Sunday August 31, after the festival’s final session. This year’s festival is dedicated to the memory of Nadine Gordimer, who made such memorable appearances at the 2012 and 2013 festivals.  

In her speech accepting the Nobel prize for literature in 1991, Gordimer noted: “Being here: in a particular time and place. That is the existential position with particular implications for literature.”  

The panels and the themes at the festival will draw on that notion, as well as being inspired by Gordimer’s short fiction, her non-fiction essays and her many campaigning causes for freedom of thought, speech and expression. 

The festival’s special guest is Okwiri Oduor, the winner of the 2014 Caine prize for African writing, who will take part in sessions on Gordimer and on the short story.  

The session “Why Gordimer is essential to South Africa today” will open the festival on Saturday August 30. It will begin with a reading of Gordimer’s famous short story The Train to Rhodesia, performed by Fiona Ramsay.  

Chaired by festival co-director and Mail & Guardian books editor Darryl Accone, the panel will be made up of Oduor; writer and freelance journalist Maureen Isaacson, a long-standing friend of Gordimer’s; struggle veteran and Congress of South African Writers stalwart Colin Smuts, also a Gordimer confidant; and Bongani Kona, a contributing editor at pan-African quarterly Chimurenga Chronic

A session on political memoir will follow, featuring Dennis Cruywagen, author of Brothers in War and Peace (a life of Constand and Abraham Viljoen, published by Zebra Press), and Glenn Moss, author of the memoir New Radicals (Jacana). M&G news editor Charles Leonard will lead the discussion. 

Saturday afternoon will see a session on new fiction in South Africa. On the panel, among others, are the award-winning novelist Ingrid Winterbach, whose latest novel, The Road to Excess (Human & Rousseau), translated from Afrikaans, has just been published; and Perfect Hlongwane, whose Jozi is out from the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) Press. 

The day’s panels will round off with a session about freedom of ideas, chaired by Darryl Accone, the M&G‘s books editor. The panel will comprise Siona O’Connell, a lecturer at the University of Cape Town’s Michaelis School of Fine Art, and editor of a book on the poetry and photographs of South African poet James Matthews; Peter Vale, editor of Intellectual Traditions in South Africa: Ideas, Individuals and Institutions (UKZN Press); Lawrence Hamilton, author of Are South Africans Free? (Bloomsbury) and a contributor to the Vale book; and John Higgins, author of Academic Freedom in a Democratic South Africa (Wits University Press). 

“Looking back, looking forward: 20 years of democracy” will kick off Sunday, with the M&G‘s Comment & Analysis editor Shaun de Waal in the chair. The panel will be made up of Songezo Zibi, editor of Business Day and author of the forthcoming book Raising the Bar: Hope and Renewal in South Africa (Picador Africa); Frans Cronje, chief executive of the South African Institute of Race Relations and author of A Time Traveller’s Guide to Our Next Ten Years (Tafelberg); and Jane Duncan of the University of Johannesburg, whose book The Rise of the Securocrats will be published by Jacana soon after the festival. 

The festival’s final session will be on the short story. Chaired by festival co-director Corina van der Spoel, the panel will comprise Oduor; crime novelist Joanne Hichens, editor of the short-story anthology Adults Only (Mercury/Two Dogs); and Karabo Kgoleng, literary journalist and a jury member of the Twenty in 20 South African short-story project. Books by authors on panels at the festival, as well as other new and recent fiction and non-fiction titles, will be on sale at a stall in the Market Theatre foyer run by Bookdealers. 

The event is in its fifth year under the directorship of Accone and Van der Spoel of the Book Concierge fame. It is presented by the M&G in association with The Market Theatre and SAfm.  

Programme and bookings online at www.redballoon.biz/mglitfest/

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