Time of the Writer

Twenty-one prominent writers from a dozen countries are headed to Durban for a thought-provoking week of literary dialogue and exchange of ideas at the 14th Time of the Writer international writers' festival from 14 to 19 March 2011.

Hosted by the Centre for Creative Arts at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal, the festival offers a packed programme of both day and
evening activities. Freedom of expression is the underlying theme of the festival and audiences can expect leading writers’ ideas on the creative processes which inform their writing as well as on the enabling or constraining forces of political, social and environmental contexts within which they write.

The festival's opening night keynote address will be delivered by the recently retired Constitutional Court judge, writer and cultural activist, Justice Albie Sachs. The award-winning author of a number of books, including Soft Vengeance of a Freedom Fighter and Justice in South Africa, Sachs was instrumental in the drafting of South Africa’s Constitution, and is eminently qualified to tackle the issues of
freedom of expression.

Following the address all the writers will present brief introductions, after which double-bill readings and panel discussions will take
place nightly at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, preceded by book launches and live music.

Tuesday 15 March will feature British-born American Raj Patel, a food activist and the author of internationally acclaimed Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System, and his most recent offering, The Value of Nothing. Patel has been active in South African affairs and was a visiting scholar at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in 2009. Joining him in a discussion entitled Ugly/Beautiful, Stuffed and Starved will be South African leading cultural commentator and author of the award-winning Ugly/Beautiful: African and Diaspora Aesthetics, Sarah Nuttall, with her reflections on contemporary society.

Also shining a spotlight on contemporary South Africa on the same night is author and journalist Lauren Beukes, whose novel Zoo City has been described as “intelligent and witty urban writing for the 21st century”. Popular Durban-based Aziz Hassim, author of The Lotus People (which won the 2001 Sanlam Literary Award for an unpublished novel), joins Beukes in a discussion entitled Life in the Inner City.

Leading intellectual and award-winning writer Njabulo Ndebele, author of Fools and other Stories, The Cry of Winnie Mandela and others, together with provocative post-colonial thinker and academic Achille Mbembe, will tackle the topic of A Promise Delivered or a Nation Betrayed: Literature as South Africa’s Conscience. Cameroon- born Mbembe is a profound voice in challenging hackneyed Western perspectives on Africa.

Ndebele and Mbembe appear on Wednesday 16 March, the same evening that a foregrounding of African culture will take place in presentations by Petina Gappah (Zimbabwe) and Ellen Banda-Aaku (Zambia). Gappah’s debut collection of heartfelt short stories, An Elegy for Easterly, poignantly describes the strained everyday living of Zimbabwe's people. It is an award-winning book that has already been translated into six languages. Primarily a children’s writer, Ellen Banda-Aaku’s first novel Patchwork, a moving story of a young girl's journey towards coming to terms with her identity, won the 2010 Penguin Prize for African writing.

French writer Marie Darrieussecq’s bestselling debut novel Truismes (Pig Tales), a postmodern narrative about a woman’s slow metamorphosis into a sow, is a bizarre exploration of the human state. Joining her for a session called Painting the Psyche on Thursday 17 March is award-winning artist Ondjaki from Angola, whose evocative work as a poet, documentarian, prose-writer and actor posits him a versatile talent.

Writing from the currently tumultuous context of Egypt, Sahar El Mougy, in a feminist perspective, articulates the conflict between the values of the west and traditional gender roles in the Middle East. In a hot topic session on Thursday, El Mougy will pair up with Durban-born Azad Essa in a discussion entitled Writing Revolution to unpack the role of writers in the events unfolding across the region. Currently working for Al-Jazeera in Qatar, Essa’s provocative 2010 book Zuma's Bastard offers a fresh perspective around South African race politics and religion.

Two highly accomplished immigrants who have made their mark on the UK literary scene and worldwide will take to the stage on Friday 18 March. Originally from the Caribbean island of St Kitts and author of numerous award-winning books, Caryl Phillips, whose extensive body of work ranges from non-fiction and fiction to theatre, radio and television documentaries teams up with prolific Nigerian novelist and playwright Biyi Bandele in unpacking Roots and Routes.

Also on 18 March the crime genre brings together Diale Tlholwe and Sifiso Mzobe in a panel titled Muti Noir. Exploring the life of a young car hijacker in KwaMashu, Mzobe's Young Blood offers a glimpse into the emotional landscape of a person deemed by society to be a criminal. Tlholwe's Ancient Rites, winner of the 2010 South African Literary Award and described by South African established thriller-writer Deon Meyer as "superb", navigates the contrasting worlds of the real and the spirit, the urban and the rural, within the framework of a detective story.

Prolific Senegalese writer Boubacar Boris Diop and German writer and filmmaker Torsten Schulz will discuss The Pen as a Weapon Against War on the closing night of the Time of the Writer. Diop’s work of fiction, Murambi, the Book of Bones, deals powerfully with the issue of memory of the Rwandan genocide, while Schulz’s novel Boxhagener Square, which won numerous awards and has been made into a film, is set in post-war Germany.

Chris van Wyk and Etienne van Heerden will culminate this year’s festival with a discussion on Re-Inventing Memory Through Literature. Van Wyk has an extraordinary knack for telling heart-warming stories of often comical personal experiences against the backdrop of critical periods in South African history. Van Heerden, whose work has been published in over sixty anthologies in South Africa and overseas, and includes an acclaimed string of novels, poetry and essays, is one of the icons of Afrikaans literature.

Tickets for the evening sessions are R25 for the evening sessions, or R10 for students on presentation of a student card. Tickets can be booked through Computicket (phone 083 915 8000 or 011 340 8000) or bought at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre from 18h30.

Day activities

A broad range of day activities in the form of free seminars, workshops, including a full-day Publishing Forum on 17 March, book launches, school visits, and a prison writing programme, take place to promote a culture of reading, writing and creative expression and broaden access to the participating writers.

Find the full programme of activities and participant biographies on the website, or contact the Centre for Creative Arts for more information on 031 260 2506/1816.

The 14th Time of the Writer festival is supported by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund (principal funder), the Department of Arts and Culture, the City of Durban, the French Institute of South Africa, Humanist Institute for Development Cooperation (HIVOS), National Arts Council, Goethe-Institut of South Africa, Adams Campus Books, Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre and the University of KwaZulu-Natal.