Futhi Ntshingila, Penny De Vries and Michelle Hattingh in panel.

Penny De Vries’ experience of ARTiculate Africa Book and Art affair 2016

Futhi Ntshingila, Penny De Vries and Michelle Hattingh in panel.
Futhi Ntshingila, Penny De Vries and Michelle Hattingh in panel.

The ARTiculate African festival was hosted in South Africa as part of the Essence Festival in Durban from 11-13 November. The festival featured some of the leading South African writers. Durban based blogger and literary evangelist Penny De Vries gave us a peek into the festival from one participant.

ARTiculate Africa, a Book and Art affair, took place as part of the first Essence Festival in Durban, which was run from 11th to 13th November. The Essence Festival was held at the international convention centre with concerts at Moses Mabhida Stadium. It was huge with business sessions, Mayor’s breakfasts, fashion and a whole lot more.

ARTiculate Africa held book panel discussions and seminars, book launches and book signings, art talks and artists’ exhibits. There were book exhibitors run by publishers and retailers too. It was great to have the eThekwini Libraries involved.

I was personally involved with 3 panels and managed to attend a few others. It was a wonderful experience and I loved every minute.

The first was a Bookpro seminar tucked away in a room upstairs (for future reference, they could have had more signage showing what was happening where). I was to be interviewed about blogging and SA Fiction based on two blogs https://2015readsabooksonly.wordpress.com/ and https://africanwritingbookreviews.wordpress.com/,  At first, it looked as if there would be two people in attendance but Thobela Ngidi, librarian extraordinaire and passionate reader, who wants librarians to learn about blogging so she encouraged them to attend and soon they were pouring in. It was an interactive discussion and we all enjoyed it. I hope to see more blogs emerging from our librarians in the near future.

I also facilitated a panel titled Women Speaking Truth,  a discussion about being, and writing about, women beating the odds, featuring Futhi Ntshingila and Michelle Hattingh; both South African writers. Futhi’s novel Do Not Go Gentle, is about marginalised women living in poverty and dealing with rape and HIV in a township near Durban. Futhi’s intimate knowledge of her community shines through. (After the festival, she winged her way to Brazil for the launch of this novel in Portuguese). In Michelle’s memoir, I’m the Girl Who Was Raped, the title says it all. I liked the fictional style of her writing too. Both did an excellent job of writing about rape without sensationalising it. Both also made it clear that they wanted to privilege the narrative of the ‘victim/survivor’ and show their strength in journeying from despair to healing. Some male audience members suggested firstly that their research should have focused on the perpetrator and ask the question why men rape, then secondly, to Michelle, could she not have seen signs and avoided the situation. These attitudes simply show how much society has to learn. Why should a writer be prescribed to about the point of view that she writes from? Why is there ‘victim/survivor’ blaming and how about some sensitivity towards a very brave young woman, putting herself out there?

Then it was time to be a member of the audience for a panel facilitated by Sindiwe Ngqoko-Washington of Women Write Thrills, an inside look at the diversity of women’s writing and breadth of expression with Petina Gappah of Zimbabwe (her review) and Angela Makholwa of South Africa (her review). See links for my reviews of their books.

Petina prefers writing short stories and has just published a new collection, Rotten Row. She told us that one of her methods of inhabiting the psyche of her characters is through quotes. Rhodesia’s retired hangman, Edward said, “Personally, I prefer one-inch sisal for the job. You get too many blisters on your hands from nylon.” Such extreme callousness informed her character development. I was excited to hear that Angela is working on a new novel set in a utopian 2056. Two of her three books have been crime fiction but she does not want to confine herself to one genre.

Next stop was listening to Salim Washington (whose excellent jazz band Sankofa played at the opening night) facilitate Writing Complicated Families, a discussion about two books that feature tangled family structures, secrets and betrayals. Sue Nyathi’s, The Polygamist and Kirsten Miller’s, Sister Moon, were the books in question. Many people assume that all novels are autobiographical. While it is true that writers draw on what they know, people underestimate how much imagination is involved. Kirsten was asked questions about how she felt making information available publicly, and the ethics involved therein. The situation in her novel was not even something that had happened in her own family. Sue’s four women, married to the polygamist, were deliberately constructed to break stereotypes yet she says friends often say they know who a character is based on.

The next day, I was back to facilitate a panel between Jolyn Phillips and Sarah Britten, who both work in short format. Jolyn’s short stories, Tjieng Tjang Tjerries, was published this year while Sarah published a series of books on The Art of the South African Insult. She has also written a PhD, Thought Leader articles and has 10,000 followers on Twitter. These two books do not relate to each other that well. Jolyn’s short stories are set in the Gansbaai Coloured community while Sarah’s books date back to 2007 and are social and political commentary. Nevertheless, we spoke about the language of satire and language as a fictional character in Jolyn’s stories, where the coloured dialect of Afrikaans threads through the narratives. We also discussed identity and the use of the words Coloured or Cape Coloured. Jolyn likes to call herself Colourful but her parents’ generation is still happy with Coloured. Khaya Dlanga of Twitter fame (303, 000 followers) joined us too so we discussed social media. Sarah and Khaya both say that the landscape has changed so much since 2007 that they both have to self-censor to avoid potentially losing their jobs and their reputations. Satire is not well understood and one wrongly interpreted remark has the Twitter mob outraged.

Despite simply dipping my toe in the water of what ARTiculate Africa had to offer, it was a stimulating and exciting few days. I hope it is held again next year.

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