Open Book Literary Festival


William Gumede

William Gumede

Open Book Cape Town is a five-day annual literary festival featuring top international and South African writers. This year the event is September 21 – 25, has 150 events, and features almost 100 authors.

There are three major elements to the festival:

1. An international event attracting top writers worldwide
2. A showcase of the best of South African writing
3. Making books accessible and building love of reading among youth

Nadine Gordimer

Nadine Gordimer

Open Book events run in several locations in Cape Town’s District 6 including The Fugard Theatre, The District 6 Museum, The Homecoming Centre, Townhouse Hotel, The Slave Lodge, The National Gallery, Central Library, and Lobby Books.

Deon Meyer

Deon Meyer

International PEN (organization of writers) is bringing authors to Cape Town for a program called ‘Free the Word’. Equal Education (which runs the One School, One Library, One Librarian campaign) is also involved in the program.

Two South African writers I became aware of recently include Bessie Head and William Gumede.

Bessie Head

Bessie Head

“Bessie Amelia Head never knew her real parents, a wealthy, unstable white woman and an unknown black man. She was born and raised in apartheid South Africa. There she suffered from poverty, racial segregation, and gender discrimination. As a young woman she left South Africa and moved to Botswana where she lived the rest of her life. Bit by bit she overcame her many formidable obstacles. One of her passions was letter-writing; she corresponded with hundreds of people from many countries during her life. At the end she was a famous writer known all around the world.”

J M Coetzee

J M Coetzee

“William Gumede is program director of the Africa Asia Centre, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London. He is the author of The New History of South Africa and Thabo Mbeki and the Battle for the Soul of the ANC. He and Leslie Dikeni, a visiting research fellow at the University of Witwatersrand and a research associate at the University of Pretoria, co-edited The Poverty of Ideas: South African Democracy and the Retreat of the Intellectuals.”

Some popular South African novels and their authors include:

Disgrace, by J. M. Coetzee (1999). A white university professor seduces one of his students and loses his job. He moves to a farm in the Eastern Cape, where his daughter is raped and he is violently assaulted. Coetzee, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2003, is one of South Africa’s best-known novelists. Criticized for perpetuating racial stereotypes it still won the Booker Prize.

The Pickup, by Nadine Gordimer (2002). Julie Summers, an affluent white woman, begins a relationship with Abdu, an undocumented Arab immigrant, in a story that probes the growing xenophobia in South Africa. Gordimer, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991, has been one of South Africa’s leading literary voices for half a century.

Phaswane Mpe

Phaswane Mpe

Thirteen Hours, by Deon Meyer (2009). An American backpacker disappears in Cape Town, and detective Benny Griessel has 13 hours to save her and thwart a conspiracy that threatens the country. The book was published in English in April 2010.

Ways of Dying, by Zakes Mda (2002). Toloki is a professional mourner who makes his living by attending funerals in a violent South African city. Mda, one of South Africa’s most prominent black writers, was a renowned playwright during the apartheid years.

Welcome to Our Hillbrow, by Phaswane Mpe (2001). In an inner-city neighborhood of Johannesburg, African immigrants and migrants from rural South Africa struggle with poverty, unemployment, and HIV/AIDS. This is the first and only work by Mpe, considered an up-and-coming young novelist at his death in 2004.”

Other famous South African writers include Pauline Smith – The Little Karoo, Olive Schreiner – The Story of an African Farm, and Dan Jacobson – The Trap.

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