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DENNIS BRUTUS PRISON PROGRAMME (article first published : 2003-05-19)

The University of Natal’s Centre for Creative Arts has in the last few years co-ordinated a number of activities inside Westville Prison, the largest prison in the southern hemisphere. Presentations, performances, and workshops have been held in conjunction with the Poetry Africa festival, the Time of the Writer festival, and the Awesome Africa Music Festival. ‘It’s a very dynamic process with a lot of potential. This exposure allows our inmates to experience something that they otherwise would never have access to’, says Poobhan Pillay, the head of Education, Training, and Recreation programmes at Westville Prison.

For the third consecutive year Poetry Africa will bring festival poets to the prison but this poetry exchange will be enhanced by a series of poetry workshops run in advance of the festival. Graduate students of the Creative Writing programme in the University’s English Department will work with selected groups of inmates, evaluating and workshopping their poetry, and culminating in the Prison Poetry Exchange featuring Dennis Brutus and Abdallah Zrika who have themselves experienced prison life. Renowned political activist Brutus’s first book of poetry was in fact published whilst he served time with Mandela on Robben Island. Zrika was imprisoned for his controversial writings in Morocco. They will be joined by talented Durban poet Keith Kunene.

‘This Prison project is an extraordinarily valuable experience for the English Studies programme and, from all accounts, much appreciated by the prisoners’, according to Professor Michael Green, Programme Director of the English Studies. ‘This is an excellent way for our creative writing initiatives to be taken to the community - a great two-way learning experience.’

The Poetry Africa festival takes place from May 26 to 31. Featuring a diverse range of poetic styles and cultures, over 20 poets representing 13 countries present and perform nightly at the University of Natal’s Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre. Day activities includes poetry seminars and workshops, poetry with street children, linking with local poetry groups, performance opportunities for public, poetry in tertiary institutions, schools and other venues.

Booking for the festival is through Computicket. Tickets R15 (R8 pensioners and students). For more detailed information about the festival’s programme visit www.und.ac.za/und/carts or contact the Centre for Creative Arts on 031 260 2506.




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