M&G Literary Festival aims to provoke

Reputation, race, city futures, political economy, decolonising culture and institutions, the politics of publishing and the South African novel at 21 – these are among the topics that make up the sixth M&G Literary Festival.

Authors, activists, academics and public intellectuals will join in two days of discussion and debate, spread over eight panels of 90 minutes each, on Saturday August 1 and Sunday August 2 at the Turbine Hall in Newtown, Johannesburg. The Litfest – as it is affectionately abridged – moves this year from its traditional Market Theatre venue to a new home and, significantly, with a new partner, the South African Book Fair.

The book fair treks up from Cape Town, where it has run almost annually since 2006, to be held in Johannesburg for the first time. Managed by the Publishers’ Association of South Africa, the fair is South Africa’s largest such gathering of writers, readers, publishers and book lovers.

Programmed by Batya Bricker, the book fair will see more than 150 authors, writers, poets, publishers and playwrights in a three-day event that runs at the Turbine Hall from Friday July 31 to Sunday August 2.

The Litfest brings together more than 40 writers and thinkers to examine the state of the republic of letters in South Africa and the state of the nation’s politics and economics.

Aptly, the festival begins with a session on decolonising culture and institutions. The #RhodesMustFall movement turned a hot academic buzzword and idea – decolonising – into action on campuses and in the streets. Xolela Mangcu of the University of Cape Town, Achille Mbembe from Wits University and the University of Johannesburg’s Thaddeus Metz and Salim Vally (chair) will broach this issue, no longer the proverbial elephant in the university common room.

Panel discussions 
Bookending the event is the last panel, titled The Monuments Men: Rewriting Reputation – Rhodes, Malan, Mandela & EM Forster. Chaired by novelist Achmat Dangor, it brings together Dean Allen, Damon Galgut, Lindie Koorts and Mandla Langa.

Galgut’s novel Arctic Summer, winner of this year’s Barry Ronge fiction prize, is inspired by Forster; Koorts’s book is an acclaimed biography of DF Malan; Langa’s The Texture of Shadows is a profound examination of past and present, truth and lies, and character; and Allen’s Empire, War & Cricket in South Africa is social and political history focused on how empire works (Rhodes writ large, of course).

As pervasive as debates around decolonisation and deconstructing reputations are questions of sustainable urban futures and political economy. Given its roots as the M&G Johannesburg Literary Festival, the Litfest devotes one panel each year to Johannesburg.

Encouraging necessary provocations
Can what aspires to be “Africa’s world-class city” (advertising it as such denotes that it is not) really overcome the spatial inequalities set up by apartheid and some problems of more recent making?

Chaired by Rashid Seedat, head of the Gauteng planning division in provincial government, the panel Future Perfect sees Wits academics David Everatt and Zeblon Vilakazi in conversation with Zayd Ebrahim of the City of Johannesburg and Nechama Brodie, whose books on Johannesburg have made her one of its best but unblinkered advocates.

The programme has some of South Africa’s greatest novelists, from Galgut and Langa to Niq Mhlongo, Henrietta Rose-Innes and Ivan Vladislavic, winner of the 2015 Windham-Campbell prize for fiction.

We have aimed to keep the national literary and books conversation lively, and to encourage necessary provocations. Please join us at the Litfest.


Darryl Accone is books editor of the Mail & Guardian and director, with Corina van der Spoel, of the Mail & Guardian Literary Festival

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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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