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TIME OF THE WRITER FESTIVAL (article first published : 2002-03-4)

During 2002, the Centre for Creative Arts (CCA) based at the University of Natal (Durban) will continue to provide a diverse range of contemporary cultural innovations in the form of four major festivals: two literary - Time of the Writer and the Poetry Africa festivals, South Africa's leading film festival the Durban International Film Festival; and the Jomba! Contemporary Dance Festival.

This year's programme opens with the Time of the Writer, the international writers' festival, which takes place at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre, University of Natal Durban from March 11 to 16. Using Migrating Words as its central theme the festival celebrates the power of literature to transcend borders and this year features over 20 participants from 15 different countries. The expanded outreach of activities into tertiary institutions and schools is also an important "migratory" component of the festival.

The inclusion of some of the world's most powerful social and political commentators promises to provide opportunities for invigorating debate. African representation is especially strong and particularly the presence of pre-eminent women writers of the continent. The CCA is honoured to host Nobel prize winner Nadine Gordimer (South Africa); the prolific Egyptian activist Nawal el Saadawi whose novels and books on the situation of women in Arab and Egyptian society have had a deep effect on young women over the last three decades; and Ama Ata Aidoo (Ghana) one-time Minister of Education who angered the Ghanaian authorities with her committed and outspoken campaign for women's rights, and whose works form part of the university curriculum in this country.

Also on the programme is much-loved South African performer and writer, Gcina Mhlophe as well as other contributors in the women's contingent Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo (Nigeria), Professor of English at the University of Lagos, who recently won two major literary awards in Nigeria for her House of Symbols; and the zany Ken Bugul of Senegal, a specialist in development and family planning studies who now runs a Centre of Art and Craft in Benin.

The French Institute of South Africa, continues its involvement in the festival by supporting the participation of four French-speaking writers, including Bugul, and two publishers: Kossi Efoui an award-winning writer from Togo who lives in Toulouse; poet, novelist and essayist Nimrod from Chad who is a Doctor of Philosophy and is the chief editor of the journal Alepth, Beth, in Paris. Raphaël Confiant from Martinique is an accomplished Caribbean writer highly active in the promotion of the Creole language and culture.

Novelist and medical doctor Sherif Hetata, together with his wife el Saadwai, has played a prominent role in the international human rights arena. Sudanese-born Jamal Mahjoub, who works as a writer and translator in Denmark, wrote his first novel at 24 with his most recent book, The Hour of Signs, focuses on the colonial process which the British inflicted on Sudan. CEO and publisher of Penguin Books India David Davida recently made his literary debut with his novel The House of Blue Mangoes, which was edited by Vikram Seth.

Zimbabwean author Shimmer Chinodya has written a selection of novels, children's dramas, folklore and poetry and is a previous winner of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for the African Region. Fellow Zimbabwean Nhamo Mhiriphiri who won 1st and 2nd prizes in short-story competitions in 2001 joins him. South African writer Achmat Dangor, was a potent political commentator during the apartheid era, which resulted in his banning. The consequence of this forced isolation was that he was able to write, albeit in secret. His award-winning novel Kafka's Curse has recently been published in the United States and his newest work Bitter Fruit was released in South Africa during 2001.

A special inclusion organised in partnership with the Winternachten Literature Festival of The Hague features writers from previous Dutch colonies whose books deal largely with fresh perspectives of politics and history. Cynthia McLeod (Surinam) writes historical novels about Surinam. In her 2000 novel De vrije negerin Elisabeth: Gevangene van kleur she has written a detailed study about the legendary Elisabeth Samson, (a free black woman who desired to marry a white husband in the-then highly segregated 18th century Surinam). Frank Martinus Arion from the Caribbean island of Curacao is an award-winning writer known for his tightly constructed political thrillers. Henk van Woerden (Netherlands) grew up in South Africa and re-emigrated to Europe after his art studies. Een mond vol glas (A Mouthful of Glass) was published in 1998 - a chronicle about Dimitiros Tsafendas, the murderer of South African prime minister and architect of apartheid, Verwoerd.

Seno Ajidarma (Indonesia) has an impressive and wide-ranging body of work and is well-known for his journalistic work on atrocities in East Timor by the Indonesian military, the murders of Islamic scholars in East Java, the radical student movements in Jakarta, and incidents of extreme cruelty after religious uprisings in Aceh. Michaël Zeeman, a Dutch writer well known for his television show Zeeman and Books will anchor the Winternachten proceedings. Zeeman recently won a major award for best contribution to Dutch literary culture. The Winternachten segment will also feature the glorious voice of Surinamese-Dutch jazz-singer Denise Jannah.

From March 11 to 16 readings and panel discussions take place at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre from 19h30 with book launches most evenings from 18h15. Literary personalities who will host the reading and panel discussion sessions at the theatre include M&G journalist John Matshikiza, SAFM presenter Alan Swerdlow, Professor of English Margaret Daymond, writer-activist Ashwin Desai, Professor of English Mike Chapman, author/playwright Ashraf Jamal, cultural writer/researcher Sarah Nuttall, and Peter Ripken who is director of the Society for the promotion of African, Asian and Latin American literature in Frankfurt, Germany.

During the day writers give workshops and seminars at schools and tertiary institutions and other venues in the Durban district. A new addition to the festival will be the publishing forums on the afternoons of March 14 and 15. Focusing on publishing issues facing writers and publishers in Africa these forums will involve local and visiting publishing industry specialists.

The Time of The Writer has been made possible by the support from The French Institute of South Africa; Prince Claus Fund for Culture & Development; National Arts Council; First Rand Foundation; Winternachten Literature Festival; Royal Netherlands Embassy; Interfund; BASA (Business & Art South Africa); Pro Helvetia Arts Council of Switzerland; Exclusive Books; Adams Campus Books; KZN Education & Culture Directorate; Kwela Books; University of Natal, and Alliance Francaise.

Tickets for the Sneddon presentations are R15 (R5 for learners, students and pensioners) booked through Computicket or at the theatre one hour before each presentation. More information from the CCA on 031 260-2506 or visit www.und.ac.za/und/carts/

There is also an extension of the festival in Johannesburg, in French, at Alliance Française, Parkview, Johannesburg at 18h00 on March 18; with an English session at Alliance Française of Pretoria at 18h00 on March 19.




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