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10th TIME OF THE WRITER (article first published : 2007-03-13)

Some 18 writers from 10 countries will descend on Durban for a stimulating feast of words, ideas, and discussion at the Time of the Writer international writers festival. Hosted by the Centre for Creative Arts (University of KwaZulu-Natal), the festival celebrates its tenth year with an extensive week-long programme of activities from March 19 to 24. Diversity of the written word is a notable feature of the festival with novelists, journalists and bloggers of various genres and backgrounds presenting their views for dialogue and debate in the public arena.

A highlight of the festival will be a Human Rights Day programme featuring reading of work by assassinated Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, a rare interview with Miriam Tlali, and culminating in a presentation by celebrated African literary giant Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, who will talk on the role of writers in propagating and cementing human rights.

One-time Staffrider columnist, Miriam Tlali was the first black woman writer to publish an English novel, Muriel at Metropolitan, in South Africa, while her 1980 novel on the Soweto uprisings Amandla was banned. Tlali is acclaimed as one of the first South African writers to take seriously the life-worlds of black South African women. wa Thiong’o whose first novel in almost two decades, Wizard of the Crow will have its Durban launch during the festival, will also make a presentation on writing in indigenous languages, still very much a challenge in this country amongst others. Politkovskaya's reports on Chechnya, which will be read by John Matshikiza, form part of a co-ordinated global effort to highlight free speech.

Time of the Writer’s commitment to local writers this year sees an impressive gathering of contemporary South African voices, including 2006 Caine Prize winner Mary Watson. Watson, whose winning story Jungfrau was taken from her moving debut collection Moss, is one of a current crop of young South African writers reshaping and re-imagining the country’s literary landscape.

Others include Imraan Coovadia, whose highly regarded comic-dramatic novel The Wedding was followed, last year, by the well-reviewed Green-Eyed Thieves, and Fred Khumalo, editor and columnist at The Sunday Times, whose excellent novel Bitches' Brew was joint winner of the European Union Literary Award in 2005, and has been followed with Touch My Blood in 2006. Participant Zukiswa Wanner’s debut The Madams is a cheeky and witty portrayal of post-apartheid racial role-reversal in the domestic sphere. Completing this quintet of talented young South African voices is Tom Eaton, a popular columnist of biting wit for the Mail and Guardian, and author of the irreverent novel The De Villiers Code (2005) and Texas (2006). The festival also hosts the experienced pens of Michael Chapman, one of the country’s foremost literary scholars and curators, and Ronnie Govender, one of Durban’s favourite sons. Govender was also recently awarded the South African Literary Lifetime Achievement Award by the Department of Arts and Culture.

African writers are especially well-represented this year with three giants of the continent in attendance. Joining Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o is Zimbabwean Tsitsi Dangarembga, author of the seminal Nervous Conditions, who makes a welcome second visit to the festival. Dangarembga’s much-anticipated second novel The Book of Not was released in August 2006 and has received wonderful reviews. It will be launched during the festival. Joining her will be Aminata Sow Fall from Senegal, a touchstone of Francophone African literature, two of whose works have been made into films.

Doreen Baingana’s (Uganda) debut Tropical Fish: Stories out of Entebbe, a collection of linked short stories that explore the coming of age of three African sisters, won the Commonwealth Prize for First Book, Africa Region in 2006. A two-time Caine Prize finalist, Baingana’s writing has been described as incandescent. Another Caine Prize finalist is Chika Unigwe (Nigeria/Belgium), a writer of fiction, poetry, and educational material, whose debut De Feniks was the first book of fiction written by a Flemish author of African origin. Vamba Sherif (Liberia/Netherlands) author of three novels in Dutch, is another author of African origin who tells particularly African stories in a language not native to the continent.

Tom Lanoye, a prolific and multi-talented Belgian, is a writer of strong rhetorical ability, with a sharp sense of humour. Highly regarded for both his poetry and theatre work, he and Antjie Krog recently toured Holland with a dynamic two-hander focusing on language linkages. Oscar Hemer, an established Swedish novelist with a keen interest in Africa, forms part of the festival’s partnership with the Memories of Modernity project, a broad collaboration between K3 of Malmö University (Sweden) and the Centre for Creative Arts and the Centre for Culture and Media Studies of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and supported by the Department of Arts and Culture. The art exhibition, Houses of Memory at the Durban Art Gallery is produced by South African and Swedish artists and forms the backbone of the Memories of Modernity project. It will run from April 4 to 25.

In its exploration of different forms that writing takes, the festival this year turns its focus onto the digital realm with blogger Mohammed Ali from Iraq, whose award-winning blog Iraq the Model (www.iraqthemodel.blogspot.com) provides some of the most insightful comment coming out of this war-ravaged and occupied country. Joining Ali is Justin Nurse, of Laugh it Off, the controversial t-shirt company which also now releases a successful annual young culture publication, who will share his insights on alternatives to traditional media.

Readings, discussions and book launches will take place nightly at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. The impressive schedule of launches this year include The Book of Not by Tsitsi Dangarembga, Undressing Durban by Rob Pattman, Sultan Khan, and Faith Ka-Manzi, Wizard of the Crow by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Inter-play: A Collection of Plays by Ronnie Govender, and Hot Type by Bongani Madondo.

A broad range of day activities in the form of school-visits, workshops, a publishing forum, an educators’ forum and a prison writing programme, are formulated to promote a culture of reading, writing and creative expression. With this wide-ranging programme of activities and culturally diverse line-up of writers, Time of the Writer 2007 is set to deliver an exceptional platform for dialogue and exchange on wide-ranging subjects from gender and social issues to political affairs, offering insights into the motivations and processes that inform the complex art of writing.

Tickets R25 for the evening sessions (R10 students) purchased through Computicket or at the door one hour before the event. Workshops and seminars are free. Visit www.cca.ukzn.ac.za or contact the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Centre for Creative Arts for more information on 031 260 2506 or e-mail cca@ukzn.ac.za

Time of the Writer 2007 is supported by the Department of Arts and Culture, National Lottery Distribution Fund, HIVOS, City of Durban, Stichting Doen, French Institute of South Africa, Royal Netherlands Embassy, Pro Helvetia Arts Council of Switzerland, Adams Campus Books, Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre and the University of KwaZulu-Natal.




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