Hitting the books in Franschhoek
Up to 750 bookings have been received already for the Franschhoek Literary Festival (FLF)—double the number booked this time last year. The bibliophile’s delight which director Christopher Hope calls “a street party for those who write, read, review, publish—or simply love books”, is expected to draw at least 2 500 visitors to the picturesque village from May 16 to 18.
This year the literary line-up of recently published South African writers will be spiced up with a sprinkling of international authors—including, for the first time, the six regional winners of the illustrious Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. They’ll be in South Africa to take part in a week-long programme of readings, community activities and other public events. This will culminate in the announcement of the overall Best Book and Best First Book awards—worth £10 000 and £5 000 respectively—on the final day of the festival.
The core festival events are panel discussions bringing together a diverse range of voices on subjects ranging from the state of book reviewing to the dividing line between chic lit and chick lit.
“At many literary events, publishers often choose the speakers and there’s a tendency for panellists to come from the same stable,” said programme manager James Woodhouse, one of the six-member voluntary organising committee.
“We mix all the writers up and also get them to choose their own topics. After months of promoting their books, they don’t want to talk about themselves; instead they prefer subjects like who their favourite writers are and their relationship with literature, instead of describing their own personal circumstances.
“A good mix on a panel ensures the audience may be familiar with one writer, but be introduced to others they might not know or expect; and people spark with one another.”
Some of the panel discussions will include:
o Crimes of passion: Deon Meyer (Devil’s Peak), Margie Orford (Blood Rose) and Imraan Coovadia (Green-Eyed Thieves) will discuss what it takes to write about crime and where their stories originated;
o The style council: Damon Galgut (The Good Doctor), Ingrid Winterbach (To Hell with Cronje) and Kgebetli Moele (Room 207) will describe their own writing styles and those of their favourite writers;
o Mamphela Ramphele (Laying Ghosts to Rest—Dilemmas of the Transformation) and Mark Gevisser (Thabo Mbeki: The Dream Deferred) will talk about South Africa and what the next two years could hold; and
o Shaun Johnson (The Native Commissioner), Kopano Matlwa (Coconut) and Maxine Case (All I Have Left Unsaid) will talk about the writers they most admire.
There will be one-on-one interviews with Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Ford, talking to publisher Toby Mundy about his life, work and most recent novel, The Lay of the Land, while journalist Heidi Holland will discuss Dinner with Mugabe, her study of the Zimbabwean leader, with Jenny Hobbs.
Shows include the multimedia project, Lifelines, by poet Chris Mann, based on a new book about animals that brings together science, literature and art; Rayda Jacobs’s movie of her book Confessions of a Gambler; and the premiere of the second instalment of Mike van Graan’s satirical sketch, Bafana Republic.
There’s also a creative-writing workshop with storyteller and poet Dorian Haarhoff, the cost going towards sponsorship of another participant and a donation to the FLF literary fund.
“Involving and uplifting the local community is very important,” says Franschhoek literary director Jenny Hobbs. “We need to start with schools and engage young people in reading and writing.”
The main beneficiary will be the new Franschoek community library planned for the outlying Groendal area. Many residents can’t afford the R5 one-way ticket to the central library. Last year’s festival raised more than R100 000 towards this fund, further boosted by Wordsworth Books’s donation of 10% of its festival takings. The Exclusive Books Reading Trust also donated a fully fitted and stocked 12-metre container of English, Afrikaans and isiXhosa children’s books—“a giant step towards our goal of making books in local languages available to everyone,” says Hobbs.
One of the first literary fruits of the festival, however, comes from a somewhat unlikely source—the nearby Groot Drakenstein Correctional Facility. Award-winning journalist, film director and crime novelist Margie Orford has been running a weekly three-hour writing workshop for prisoners since August. Her project is funded by a $2 000 donation from New York writer Siri Hustvedt, a guest at last year’s festival who was so inspired by her writer outreach prison visit that she donated a pile of books to the prison library and made the substantial donation.
Fifteen Men: Images and Words from Behind Bars, the resulting 120-page collection of writing from 15 maximum security prisoners, will be published by Jonathan Ball in time for the festival.
“They resisted the inertia that creeps into the bones and turns one’s knees to water when one thinks of 25, 30 years in the same, small scrap of space,” says Orford, who finds the project “an intensive experience for me and for them”.
“That slow, carefully accumulated effort has produced this work — evident in many of the pieces is a reaching back for lost goodness and a terrible grief for that lost self, for that other life not lived.
“They gave up being the Chuck Norris of their own lives and began to express a range of feelings and their roles in their own lives. In their imaginations they could set up boundaries, compared with the limitations of institutional life.”
The writer outreach programme of authors’ visits to local schools and the Groot Drakenstein prison will happen again this year, with other community projects such as a valley-wide poetry competition in four categories—primary school, high school, adults and learners from the Groot Drakenstein facility.
Underpinning the festival is huge support from sponsors as diverse as the local NG Kerk, guesthouses and the hospice. Core sponsorship of R250 000 which will be upped to R500 000 annually for 2008 and 2009 depending on matching funds—comes from the Delta Trust. This initiative of the Solms and Astor families (owners of the local Solms Delta wine estate) has already funded projects such as the Museum van de Caab, which records the complex history of South Africa through the individual people who lived and worked on the farm from its pre-historic past to the present.
“There is the recognition that, in South Africa, we are dealing with a very divided and unequal society, but on a local scale, people are doing their bit,” says Mark Solms, a founding figure of neuro-psychoanalysis and himself an author of books and numerous journal papers in his field.
“We prefer funding in a very small and local way — that is more likely to succeed than big national projects. It’s difficult to deal with subjects such as a lack of self-esteem and hopelessness in a large way on a big scale. We focus on internal aspects of work to be done to build a sense of community.”