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Time of the Writer: International Writers Festival Durban

International Writers Festival Durban : 25 - 30 March 2008

Eighteen writers from ten countries touchdown in Durban for a swirling week of books, words, ideas, and talk at the 11th Time of the Writer International Writers Festival, which takes place from 25 to 30 March. Hosted by the Centre for Creative Arts (University of Kwa-Zulu Natal), the festival enters its second decade with its customary extensive week-long programme of activities. Aside from Australian guest John Pilger of Australia whose acclaimed journalistic commentary is astutely global, the festival, features an exclusively South African and African presence this year, with a diverse gathering of novelists, short story writers, investigative journalists, publishers and political commentators, presenting their ideas in the public arena.

The eclectic mix includes the considered and provoking words of celebrated South African writer, poet, painter and essayist, Breyten Breytenbach. Breytenbach, who was instrumental in initiating the festival 11 years ago, will also deliver the festival's keynote address on Opening Night, Tuesday 25 March. Scholar, activist and writer, Mbulelo Mzamane (South Africa), whose fiction and poetry was banned by the apartheid government and who academic scholarship is widely acclaimed, adds his experienced voice. Mzamane was described by Nelson Mandela as a "visionary leader, [and] one of South Africa 's greatest intellectuals." Other South Africa voices include Angelina Sithebe, a geologist by training, whose dreamy, disturbing debut, Holy Hill, has been receiving critical praise. Kopano Matlwa, winner of the EU Literary Award for 2006/07, is a young South African writer whose debut novel, Coconut, is part of a new wave of post-apartheid fiction. Joining her is Jo-Anne Richards, author of the immensely popular The Innocence of Roast Chicken, which topped the South African bestseller list for 15 weeks.

Richards, who launches her fourth novel, My Brother's Book, during the festival, is one of three participants launching books. Another is Durbanite Michael Cawood Green who launches his much-awaited and impeccably researched new novel For the Sake of Silence, a work of historical fiction which examines with impressive insight the nineteen-century Trappist endeavour in nineteenth-century South Africa. Kirsten Miller's ( South Africa ) prose makes for remarkably compelling reading, be it the fiction of her debut novel All Is Fish or the non-fiction of Children on the Bridge: A Story of Autism in South Africa.

David Evans, who was banned and imprisoned by the Apartheid state, is the author of an oeuvre of novels, short stories, and plays whose narratives are remarkably engaging. Another brave voice is Max du Preez, perhaps the best known investigative journalist and political commentator in South Africa.

Africa is well represented at the festival with a particularly strong Kenyan and Zimbabwean presence. This comes at a time when Kenya is undergoing perhaps one of its most politically volatile periods in recent memory, and with Zimbabwean elections.taking place during the festival period. In a Writers SpeakOut slot, Kenyan poet, Shailja Patel, last in the country for Poetry Africa 2007, will present a special Kenyan Bulletin, which will articulate the crisis facing her country. Dayo Forster, though Gambian by birth, is now a resident in Kenya and she too will no doubt add insight. A scientist by training, Foster's debut novel Reading the Ceiling is a structurally daring exploration of the role of chance in a young woman's life. Kenyan publisher, writer, and scholar Henry Chakava is perhaps the most famous African publisher of his generation. He, amongst other achievements, led the successful acquisition of Heinemann in East Africa by a group of Kenyans, localizing it and was also the only publisher to give a voice to the works of Ngugi wa Thiong'o in the 1970s and 1980s. Joining Chakava is the celebrated Zimbabwean editor and publisher Irene Staunton, whose Weaver Press has developed an award-winning catalogue of Zimbabwean fiction and non-fiction. Fellow Zimbabwean Charles Mungoshi, long respected as one of the region's foremost writers, has over the years written novels and short stories, both in English and Shona, that are awash with poignancy, power and gentle humour.

Mauritian writer, poet, essayist, and screenwriter Ananda Devi, author of nine acclaimed novels, is recognized as one of the major francophone writers from Mauritius and the Indian Ocean. Fellow francophone novelist and playwright, Emmanuel Dongala, was forced to flee his home country of Congo (Brazzaville) after the civil war. Part of a trio of writers with scientific backgrounds at this year's festival, Dongala, who has a PhD in Organic Chemistry, is a giant of contemporary African fiction. His latest novel Johnny Mad Dog, explores with remarkable depth the child soldiers of Sierra Leone. Angolan born Simao Kikamba's riveting debut novel Going Home, winner of the Herman Charles Bosman award for English fiction in 2006, is based on his experiences as a political refugee from Angola and his subsequent life as a black immigrant in South Africa.

The world acclaimed investigative journalist and documentary filmmaker John Pilger (Australia) brings this year's festival to a close with a Sunday evening of rousing discussion with Mail & Guardian editor Ferial Haffajee and UKZN academic and writer Patrick Bond. Presented as a Centre for Civil Society Harold Wolpe lecture entitled Truth, Propaganda and Power, the evening is prefaced with a sneak peak at Pilger's new film The War on Democracy and will end with an audience Q&A session. Pilger will receive an honorary doctorate from Rhodes University in Grahamstown on 28 March. A festival of documentaries by John Pilger, with post-screening discussions facilitated by the Centre for Civil Society, begins on 3rd March.

The multiple Grammy awarding-winning Ladysmith Black Mambazo will present their special brand of magic as the musical finale on opening night. Musical interludes will also be presented during the festival week by Azannah, Vusi Mkhize and Guy Buttery.

A unique experiment at this year's festival is the Writers Parliament - Notes Towards a Cultural Policy for Durban session on Friday, 28 March, at the council chambers of the Durban City Hall. Attended by all the festival writers, and open to the public, the parliament will, in a quick-fire morning session, attempt to hammer out a basic architecture required for an effective cultural policy for Durban. Time of the Writer hopes also, through this experiment, to reinvigorate the idea of parliament as a site of debate and speaking out, not just for politicians but for everyone.

Time of the Writer's extensive schools programme will this year, due to school holidays, be replaced with a Youth Roadshow. Festival writers will engage with learners and interested public on the following dates and venues: Wednesday, 26 March (10h00-12h00) at KwaMashu Teachers Centre, F 892 Dalmeny Road, Ntuzuma (Next to KwaNozaza), 031 509 4955 & Thursday, 27 March (10h00-12h00) at Ekhaya Multi-Arts Centre, B25 Giya Road, B-Section, KwaMashu, 031 504 6970. These venues are ideally placed for learners and aspiring writers based in the Phoenix, Inanda, Ntuzuma and KwaMashu (PINK) areas.

Readings, discussions and book launches will take place nightly at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. A broad range of day activities in the form of workshops, a day-long forum on publishing issues, 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 2008 is set to deliver a lively literary platform for dialogue and exchange on wide-ranging subjects from historical and social issues to political and personal affairs, offering insights into the motivations and processes that inform the complex art of writing.

Tickets are R25 for the evening sessions, R10 for students, and can be purchased through Computicket or at the door one hour before the event. Workshops and seminars are free.
Visit for biographies and photos of participants or contact the University of KwaZulu-Natal 's Centre for Creative Arts for more information on 031 260 2506 or e-mail


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