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TIME OF THE WRITER (article first published : 2003-03-8)

The 2003 Time of the Writer, the sixth international writers’ festival in the series presented in association with the French Institute of South Africa, takes place from March 10 to 15 at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre in Durban. Using the idea of Migrating Words as its central thread, the festival showcases world literature as a powerful means of transcending geographic and cultural frontiers.

The inclusion of several social and political commentators among this year’s writers ensures a stimulating setting for debate and cross-pollination of global cultures. Spreading the festival to several off-campus locations will create widespread community spillover as an endemic “migratory” component of the festival.

This year’s guest roster features 20 distinguished participants from 12 countries, including literary luminaries such as the Booker Prize-winning Indian writer Arundhati Roy.

African writers are strongly represented. They include Nigerian novelist and short story writer Chimamanda Adichie whose recent work explores themes of family and political instability as well as the tension between traditional religion and African Christianity; gifted Ghanaian storyteller, artist and academic Meshack Asare, widely acclaimed for his skilful weaving of cultural tradition and daily realities of life into picture stories for children (Asare’s Sosu’s Call was listed in the top 12 African books of the last century); Nuruddin Farah, hailed as “one of the finest contemporary African writers” (Salman Rushdie) and “the most important African novelist to emerge in the last 25 years (New York Review of Books) whose trilogy Variations on a Theme of an African Dictatorship draws parallels between colonial practices and authoritarian regimes in postcolonial Somalia.

There’s also hard-hitting author and playwright Florent Coua-Zotti of Benin whose work eschews the literary platitudes that stick to Africa and exposes the viscera of a sub-human population living in areas not advisable for tourists; Ugandan writer Mahmood Mamdani, a specialist in African studies and political science now based at Columbia University in the US (and also husband of filmmaker Mira Nair); and Kenya’s Binyavanga Wainaina, winner of the 2002 Caine Prize for African Writing for short stories that reflect the contemporary development of the African story-telling tradition

High-profile South African participants include: the veteran writer and activist Es’kia Mphahlele, who for more than half a century has infused in his readers his deeply humanist and critical consciousness; Lewis Nkosi, whose career took off in the 1950s as one of the legendary Drum magazine team before taking him all over the world as an international teacher and prizewinning writer; Lauretta Ngcobo, now a member of the KZN Legislature, whose writing career began during her years of political exile abroad; Ashwin Desai, Durban’s cutting edge journalist and social ‘pot stirrer’ of note; novelist Aziz Hassim, winner of the 2001 Sanlam Literary Award for The Lotus People; and distinguished Mail and Guardian press correspondent John Matshikiza who won the Vodacom Journalist of the Year Award (Specialist Category) in 2002. As part of the opening night celebrations of this year’s Time of a Writer, Matshikiza will host a special discussion with Es’kia Mphalele to mark the significant contributions of this African visionary to the South African literary landscape.

Also participating at this year’s event is the exploratory novelist from Mauritius, Carl de Souza whose wide-ranging writing encompasses hidden undercurrents of life in Mauritius, the disorderly world of adults, the realities of being an exile, and even feminist issues raised through the eyes of a young girl. Part of the new generation of Caribbean writers, the multi-award-winning Gisele Pineau from Guadeloupe now living in Paris, fuses the order of Cartesian thought with the luxuriant vigour of Creole story-tellers to draw simultaneously on the mythical and the sociological, the real and the magical. From Japan comes the celebrated Tajima Shinji whose books, largely for young people, also for readers of all ages, combine educational value with reading pleasure (“learning should be fun, reading should be pleasure”). Complementing his participation will be that of his compatriot, the illustrator/artist Kazuko Tajima who will mount an exhibition during the festival.

Four writers organized by the Winternachten Festival in The Netherlands, will also take part. These are: Arthur Japin from the Netherlands, an actor/opera singer turned writer whose most feted book The Two Hearts of Kwasi Boachi is a mesmerizing tale about the personal cost of cultural assimilation for two young princes from Ghana presented to the Netherlands as surety in a deal over illegal slave trading during the 1800’s; Ellen Ombre of Surinam, a noted writer of short stories, also with a connection to Africa; Putu Wijaya, prominent playwright from Indonesia; and Anil Ramdas whose literary roots embrace the experience of life in Surinam, the Netherlands and India where he works as correspondent for the NRC Handelsblad.

Winternachten is a major festival in The Hague with literature as the nucleus of the adventurous programme, linked to film, music, stand-up comedy and storytelling. Its central purpose is to encourage the development of intercultural relations between countries, especially those with a Dutch connection. In keeping with their shared exploratory spirit the two festivals have, since 2002, collaborated to present a Winternachten Overzee programme within the Time of the Writer festival.

Intriguing and provocative writers, tantalizing topics, book launches and live music are all part of the evening sessions across the six-day festival. During the day writers give workshops and seminars at tertiary institutions and other venues in the Durban district. Publishing issues will be addressed in a Publishing Forum involving local and international publishing industry specialists. Other activities include a writing workshop series in Westville Prison run by graduate students from the University of Natal’s Creative Writing course, and culminating in a workshop with writers from the festival.

A significant development in recent years have been the workshops for educators, in association with the Department of Education, where writers engage teachers on the issues around the implementation of literature in the classroom. The festival is proactively involved in audience development, promotion of literacy, literary appreciation, and the culture of reading and writing, a key component in this regard being the festival’s schools-visiting programme, where writers are transported to schools to encourage a culture of reading and writing amongst the youth. This reaches over 20 schools and between 2000-3000 learners in the Durban district. Schools are invited to contact the CCA to book visits. There is also a short story competition for schools.

Now in its 6th year the formula of the Time of the Writer to balance a high profile presentation and performance platform alongside a comprehensive development and outreach component, draws interest and acclaim from all around the world. The inclusion of writers who are known for their preoccupation with social issues adds special spice to this year’s event. Arundhati Roy, for example, made her name as a Booker Prize winner but in recent years has been an articulate activist in the forefront of opposition against corporate globalization in developing countries and an outspoken critic of questionable government practices.

This year’s Time of The Writer has been made possible by the support from The French Institute of South Africa; Prince Claus Fund for Culture & Development; Interfund; Winternachten; City of Durban; Pro Helvetia Arts Council of Switzerland; International Centre for Literacy and Culture; Ethekwini Municipality; Exclusive Books; Adams Campus Books; KZN Education & Culture Directorate; Alliance Francaise; University of Natal; and Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre.

Tickets R15 for the evening sessions (R8 students and pensioners) can be purchased through Computicket or at the door one hour before the show. Block bookings of ten or more students are R5 and available in advance through the Centre for Creative Arts. Workshops and seminars are free. For further information call 031-260 2506. Programme details and participant biographies are available on www.und.ac.za/und/carts/




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