Despite the gloom in the political arena, authors and publishers continue to produce a wide array of high- quality, topical books. The Wordfest programme, which runs from July 1 to 7 and is part of the National Festival of the Arts in Grahamstown, is packed with a variety of genres and events, all of which allow the audience to interact the authors.
Poet Chris Mann, the convenor of Wordfest, said this will be the best Wordfest yet, featuring several national and international award-winning publications. Among them are Nkosinathi Sithole’s Hunger Eats a Man, which won the Sunday Times Literary Award for fiction in 2016, and two books shortlisted for this year’s Sunday Times Literary Award for nonfiction, Justice Dikgang Moseneke’s My Own Liberator and Christa Kuljian’s Darwin’s Hunch.
Journalist Thandeka Gqubule will launch her biography, No Longer Whispering to Power: The Tenure of Thuli Madonsela and the timeless insights of Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s and the Dalai Lama’s The Book of Joy, which was placed second on the New York Times bestseller list, will be keenly examined by Christian and Buddhist representatives alike.
#FeesMustFall is still a contentious issue, and a panel discussion will follow the launch of Susan Booysen’s Fees Must Fall: Student Revolt, Decolonisation and Governance in South Africa, which explores the debate.
There will also be interactive workshops, most notably one by leading tax authority Matthew Lester. Hazel Crampton, who is launching her book Dagga: A Short History, will lead a discussion on the licensing, legislation and taxation of the drug in South Africa.
Also being launched is Always Anastacia, by Anastacia Tomson, a transwoman and doctor who offers a nuancd insight into the lives of transgender people and explores the concepts of sex, gender and identity.
Ashwin Desai again demonstrates his versatility with a book about Mahatma Gandhi in South Africa, The South African Gandhi: Stretcher Bearer of Empire, and another about cricket, Reverse Sweep: A Story of South African Cricket since Apartheid.
For festivalgoers with an appetite for politics, there is The Thabo Mbeki I Know, edited by Sifiso Ndlovu and Melinda Ferguson. Brenda Shepherd’s Men of the Mendi is an extensively researched account of the controversy surrounding the sinking of the ship 100 years ago.
The Pursuit of Excellence, by young newcomer Thando Zono about her rise above debilitating odds in rural South Africa to excel as a competitive hockey player abroad, is an inspiring read. She gives a compelling account of the mindset and culture of success that is required to succeed in the competitive worlds on and off the sports field.
Pertinent but underexplored is the residual trauma of the 660 000 South African men who were conscripted over 27 years by the military apparatus during apartheid. Conscripts will be invited to share their experiences to help to dismantle the socially constructed silence about the issue and so facilitate healing.
Aspiring writers will also be catered for, with a writing workshop focusing on narrative nonfiction. For those who feel ready to have their writing scrutinised, visiting multiple award-winning Singaporean poet Edwin Thumboo is holding several tutoring sessions.
The Wordfest is also a hub for poets, both established and aspiring. Daily open-mic sessions will give them an opportunity to present their writing. Established poets such as Brian Walter, Harry Owen and Amitabh Mitra will present their work.
Wordfest has grown in scope since its inception but remains true to its original vision to promote a culture of quality reading and writing. As it continues to expand, it welcomes the National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences on board as a new funder.
Wordfest provides a platform for a diversity of voices, drawing on more than 50 000 festivalgoers who flock to the National Arts Festival every year.
Rhodes University also uses Wordfest as an outreach project. Annually, a grant from the National Arts Council allows Wordfest to host about 100 multilingual writers from urban and outlying areas of the Eastern Cape, promoting social cohesion and networking opportunities for local writers and giving them exposure to well-known writers in indigenous languages.
Wordfest will be held in Rhodes University’s Eden Grove building. A restaurant will offer meals prepared in a farm kitchen. A Van Schaik retail outlet will stock books related to the programme. For a detailed programme visit nationalartsfestival.co.za and the Wordfest South Africa facebook page