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Power of the written word

Durban’s Time of the Writer festival, now South Africa’s leading literary festival, has a new satellite event in Johannesburg.

The festival runs at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre on the University of Natal campus from March 11 to 16. It is now linked to three other major festivals, the Poetry Africa festival (April 29 to May 5), the Durban Inter-national Film Festival (September 2 to 15) and the Jomba! Contemporary Dance Festival (August 22 to September 1).

Migrating Words is the central theme of this year’s Time of the Writer festival, celebrating the power of literature to transcend borders. This year’s programme features about 20 participants from 15 different countries, with a strong presence of African and women writers.

Among them are Nobel prize-winner Nadine Gordimer, Egyptian activist-writer Nawal el Saadawi and Ama Ata Aidoo, who served as Ghana’s minister of education and who later came into conflict with the Ghanaian regime for her outspoken commitment to women’s rights. Then there is much-loved South African performer and writer Gcina Mhlophe, Nigerian Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo winner two major literary awards for her 2001 book House of Symbols, and Senegal’s Ken Bugul.

Also in attendance will be Togo’s Kossi Efoui; poet-novelist-essayist Nimrod, from Chad; Martinique’s Raphaël Confiant; Sudanese-born Jamal Mahjoub, author of The Hour of Signs; Indian author and publisher David Davidar; Zimbabwean Shimmer Chinodya, winner of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for the African Region; and South African Achmat Dangor.

A partnership with the Winternachten Literature Festival of The Hague has meant the inclusion of several writers from former Dutch colonies: Cynthia McLeod (Surinam), Frank Martinus Arion (Curacao), Henk van Woerden (the Netherlands) and Seno Ajidarma (Indonesia).

Readings and panel discussions take place at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre from 7.30pm, with book lunches most evenings from 6.15pm. Literary personalities who will host the reading and panel discussion sessions at the theatre include Mail & Guardian journalist John Matshikiza, SAfm presenter Alan Swerdlow, writer-activist Ashwin Desai, and author/playwright Ashraf Jamal. During the day writers give workshops and seminars at schools, tertiary institutions and other venues in the area. There are also publishing forums focusing on publishing issues in Africa.

The Johannesburg wing of the festival takes place at Alliance Francaise in Parkview at 6.00pm on March 18, with an English session at Alliance Francaise of Pretoria at 6pm on March 19.

The first is a talk by Africa Series editor Bernard Magnier on “The Immigrant Workers of French Literature”, followed by a debate with Franco-phone writers Bugul, Efoui, Confiant and Veronique Tadjo of the Ivory Coast. The second is a talk by Pierre Astier, director of French publisher Le Serpent à Plumes, on “African Writers in French Publishing”, followed by a debate with Bugul, Efoui, Confiant and Achille Mbembe of Cameroon.

Also in March, Homebru, a month-long focus on black South Africa, takes place at Exclusive Books stores. Four auth-ors, Sandile Dikeni, Gcina Mhlope, Willie Kgositsile and Shabbir Banoobhai, will launch new books. Other participants in this series of author tours, interviews, in-store promotions and book displays are Zakes Mda, Wally Serote, Mandla Langa, Lesego Rampolokeng and K Sello Duiker.

For more information on Time of the Writer: Migrating Words visit for

programme details and participant’s biographies or call the Centre for Creative Arts at the University of

Natal on (031) 260 2506.

For information on the Johannesburg wing of the festival, Alliance Francaise can be contacted at

17 Lower Park Drive, Parkview, or on (011) 646 1169.

For further information on Homebru visit

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Shaun de Waal
Shaun De Waal

Shaun de Waal has worked at the Mail & Guardian since 1989. He was literary editor from 1991 to 2006 and chief film critic for 15 years. He is now editor-at-large. Recent publications include Exposure: Queer Fiction, 25 Years of the Mail & Guardian and Not the Movie of the Week.

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