The 16th annual Time of the Writer International Writers Festival takes place in Durban, from 18 to 23 March, hosted by the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Local and international authors will participate.


The hot, sub-tropical city of Durban is the gathering point for 19 writers from South Africa, Africa and abroad, for a thought-provoking week of literary dialogue, exchange of ideas and stimulating discussion at the 16th Time of the Writer International Writers Festival.

Hosted by the Centre for Creative Arts at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and supported by the National Lottery Distribution Fund, the festival will feature a diverse gathering of leading novelists, social commentators, activists, playwrights and short story writers.

All participating writers will make brief presentations on the opening night at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre, and the deputy vice-chancellor of the School of Humanities, Prof Cheryl Potgieter, will deliver the keynote address. A tribute to the late activist, Phyllis Naidoo, will be read. The musical act opening the festival will be Zimbabwean band Tanga Pasi.

The rest of the week's evening presentations will be panel discussions with writers talking about their work and the issues dealt with in their writing. Perspectives in South African Writing on Tuesday, 19 March will feature South African writers Kabelo Duncan Kgatea and Jo-Anne Richards. Trained as a journalist and working as a miner, Kgatea's first book, Njeng Manong fa ke Sule! (Devour me, Vultures, when I'm Dead!) won the Sanlam Prize Youth Literature (silver) in the Sotho category. It led to his promotion to communications officer and he no longer worked below ground.

When The Innocence of Roast Chicken, the debut novel of internationally published author and journalist Richards first appeared, it topped the South African best seller list in its first week and remained there for 15 weeks. This discussion will be facilitated by Zukiswa Wanner.

Controversial human rights issues will be brought to the fore in the evening's second panel, titled Africa Writing Queer Identity. It will feature the Nigerian writer, Jude Dibia, and Graeme Reid of South Africa, and will be facilitated by Sarojini Nadar.

Dibia's books look at sexuality, gender roles and race, as well as the stigma of HIV and Aids in modern Africa. Reid, the director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Programme and the founding director of the Gay and Lesbian Archives of South Africa, explores gay identities in South Africa in his book How to be a Real Gay. Music by Durban duo Njeza and Siphelele Dlamini will begin the evening's proceedings at 7.30pm.

Book launches will also take place at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre's Wellington Tavern deck before to the evening shows, from 6.45pm. The first to be launched will be the UKZN English/IsiZulu Book (UKZN Press), a collaborative venture of stories by various authors.

On Wednesday, 20 March, the first panel, Reflections on the Palestinian State, will feature Palestinian-born novelist and essayist, Susan Abulhawa, who now lives in the United States, in an interview discussion with Lubna Nadvi.

Abulhawa's Mornings in Jenin was translated into 24 languages and was hailed by The Times as the "first English-language novel to express fully the human dimension of the Palestinian tragedy". Exploring Genre in African Literature will be the topic of the second panel, featuring South African author, photographer and filmmaker, Zinaid Meeran, and Nnedi Okorafor, the award-winning author born in the United States. Okorafor is of Nigerian descent.

Meeran won the European Union Literary Award for his debut, Saracen at the Gates, in 2009. About a curious exploration of living raceless in a country where just about everybody seems to have one, this debut was shortlisted for the Sunday Times fiction prize in 2010. A professor of creative writing, Okorafor has received numerous accolades for her books, which are often characterised by African culture infused with reminiscent settings and memorable characters.

This panel will be facilitated by True Love books editor and author Melinda Ferguson. Music by Durban duo Nhlanhla Zondi and Zulublue will begin the evening presentations, while Kagiso Lesego Molope's book, This Book Betrays my Brother will be launched before the panel begins.

On the night of Human Rights Day, Thursday, 21 March, the panel will be Perspectives in SA Writing, featuring Elana Bregin and Damon Galgut, and facilitated by Siphiwo Mahala. Galgut's In a Strange Room, a novel that follows the journey of an isolated South African traveller seeking a deep satisfaction in life, was shortlisted for several awards, including the 2010 Man Booker Prize and M-Net Literary Award. Bregin has written award-winning young adult titles, such as The Kayaboeties and The Red-Haired Khumalo, which deal with the social realities of a changing South Africa.

Under the title The Reporter as Writer, Jackee Batanda from Uganda and Aman Sethi from India, both novelists and journalists, feature in the evening's second panel discussion. Batanda has won numerous awards for her fiction writing and also featured in the London Times alongside 19 young women shaping the future of Africa. A seasoned journalist working as a correspondent for The Hindu, an Indian newspaper with a daily readership of about 2.5 million, Sethi has also contributed articles to various publications on health policies in India. The evening's musical act is the pair Mike Muyo and Tom Watkeys.

Following the book launch of The Imagined Child (Picador) by Richards, and a music performance by the band Nje, the presentation of prizes to winners of the schools short story competition will take place on Friday, 22 March.

The first session, titled Youth Literature, will put a spotlight on young people, and will feature writers Elieshi Lema from Tanzania and BD Khawula from South Africa. Lema started off writing poetry before moving to children's books. Her first novel, Parched Earth – A Love Story, received an honourable mention in the Noma Award for Publishing in Africa and is part of the curriculum at various universities.

Based in Durban, Khawula's inspiration to write comes from his love for his country. His debut novel, Yihlathi Leli, won a silver award in the African Languages category at the Sanlam Youth Literature Awards.

The second panel for the evening, Writing Transformation, features South African critical thinkers and writers Andile Mngxitama and Prof Sampie Terreblanche. While Mngxitama writes on the philosophy and writings of late Black Consciousness leader, Steve Biko, Terreblanche's focus lies on the history of economic thought and policy matters in South and Southern Africa.

The Saturday evening book launch will be On Being Human, featuring contributions by various writers and edited by Duduzile Mabaso (Black Letter Media). Music and song by Durban singer Skye Wanda will precede the discussion Writing the Other, featuring the South African panel of Ashwin Desai and Jonny Steinberg.

An activist intellectual, Desai is known for his poignant articulation of stories about struggle, oppression and resistance. Award-winning author Steinberg writes about everyday life in the wake of South Africa's transition to democracy. His debut novel, Midlands, about the murder of a white South African farmer, won the Sunday Times Alan Paton Prize in 2003. This panel discussion will be facilitated by Dr Frederico Settler from the UKZN philosophy department.

The festival will close with a look at the pertinent issue with South African writers Shafinaaz Hassim and Molope, in a panel titled Writing Gender Violence. Hassim, a writer, poet and sociologist and driving force behind the Johannesburg publishers, WordFire Press, published a novel on domestic violence titled SoPhia in November 2012, while Molope's third novel, This Book Betrays My Brother, raises many gender equality issues prevalent in South Africa, among them the perception that women who wear revealing clothing invite sexual advances. Molope's first novel, Dancing in the Dust, was put on the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) list for 2006. She was the first black South African to make the list.

Publishing is undoubtedly one of the central elements in the development of a local literary culture. That said, a notable event that has become a significant part of the annual Time of the Writer International Writers' Festival, is the Publishing Forum. Taking place on Wednesday, 20 March between 10am to 2pm at the Centre for Creative Arts, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Howard College Campus, this year's forum will feature a range of panels on salient issues within the publishing landscape.

Topics discussed will cover the magazine industry, maximising exposure in the world of digital publishing, converting your PhD thesis into a book and what publishers look for in a manuscript.

In addition to the nightly showcases at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre, a broad range of day activities including seminars and workshops will promote a culture of reading, writing and creative expression. This will include the educator's forum with teachers on the implementation of literature in the classroom, the community writing forum with members of the public interested in literature, visits to schools, and a prison writing programme.

Tickets are R25 for the evening sessions and R10 for students, and can be bought at Computicket or at the door one hour before the event. Workshops and seminars are free. The full programme of activities and other information is available on the Centre for Creative Arts website.