Mail & Guardian Literary Festival 2011

Johannesburg’s time has come — or at least its 125th birthday. Founded in October 1886, Jo’burg is the centrepiece and main theme for this year’s Mail & Guardian Literary Festival, which runs at the Market Theatre in Newtown, Johannesburg, from September 2 to September 4.

Under the title Five Quarters: Jo’burg at 125, the festival will focus on the city in the world, and the worlds in the city. The festival programme of panel discussions and readings examines the realities of living in Johannesburg as portrayed in fiction, speculative fiction and non-fiction.

As the launch of the M&G’s annual Literary Festival draws near we chat to our books editor Darryl Accone about why you should be there.

Helping set the tone will be The Johannesburg Moment, the opening address by Professor Karl von Holdt in the Main Theatre at the Market on September 2 at 6.30 for 7pm.

A senior researcher at the Society Work and Development Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, Von Holdt is working with Michael Burawoy on a book on Pierre Bourdieu, the late and massively influential sociologist. Conversations with Bourdieu is subtitled The Johannesburg Moment and will be published by Wits University Press in October this year.

Lauren Beukes, this year’s winner of science fiction’s most prominent award — the Arthur C Clarke — for her novel Zoo City, will feature on the panel “Science Fiction and Fantasy in the City”, chaired by the M&G‘s SFF reviewer Gwen Ansell.

Jon Hyslop chairs the panel “Memories of the city”, which examines rare perspectives of Jo’burg. Panellists include award-winning journalist Ufrieda Ho, whose family memoir Paper Sons and Daughters was published earlier this year.

Memoirs reflecting the convergence of the personal and the political is showcased and discussed in ‘Memory is the Weapon’, with M&G editor Nic Dawes chairing a panel including Hugh Lewin (Stones Against the Mirror) and Ronnie Kasrils, whose memoir The Unlikely Secret Agent, based on the life of his late wife, Eleanor, won the 2011 Alan Paton Award for non-fiction.

Jo’burg past, present and future is the focus of “Jo’burg: Renewing, restoring, reviewing”, chaired by the city’s director of culture, Steven Sack. The panel includes Gerald Gardner and Achille Mbembe.

New writing from the city, chaired by Sunday Independent literary editor Maureen Isaacson, looks at the freshest writing from new and established novelists, while newly minted poetry is delivered by its creators, Ingrid de Kok and Denis Hirson, in a poetry session at Kippies.

Aspects of South African Literature is chaired by Herman Charles Bosman expert and University of Johannesburg professor of English Craig MacKenzie, with a panel including M&G chief fiction reviewer Jane Rosenthal.

“Workers of the world unite”, subtitled Labour, the ANC and History, will be chaired by Dawes. The panel includes South African Labour Bulletin editor Kally Forrest, whose book, Metal That Will Not Bend, a history of the National Union of Metalworkers from 1980 to 1995, is just out, and Susan Booysen, whose book on the African National Congress will be published in September.

“Not in black and white”, chaired by festival co-director and M&G books editor Darryl Accone, is not only about dynamics of race and class in South Africa. The session’s title speaks also of the unclear condition not only of the country but of its literature — and its literary future. The panel includes novelist, cultural commentator and Department of Arts and Culture spokesperson Sandile Memela and public intellectual Andile Mngxitama, the force behind New Frank Talk.

The festival’s partners are the Market Theatre; Boekehuis bookshop in Melville, Johannesburg; Kaya FM 95.9; and Jacana Media, Macmillan, NB Publishers, Penguin, Random House Struik, Wits University Press, Unisa Press and University of KwaZulu-Natal Press.

As in 2010, the festival is directed by Darryl Accone and Corina van der Spoel, manager of Boekehuis bookshop.

The Mail & Guardian Johannesburg Literary Festival hopes to be bigger and better this September. To mark the city’s 125th birthday the festival will focus on Jo’burg as both an African city and a world city. Visit our special report here.


Book your place at the festival here.

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Darryl Accone
Darryl Accone
Darryl Accone has been in journalism for the best part of four decades. He is also a Fellow of the Salzburg Seminar and the International Writers Workshop of Hong Kong Baptist University and the author of ‘All Under Heaven: The Story of a Chinese Family in South Africa’ and ‘Euripides Must Die’.

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