Literary festivals were one of the most-missed casualties of the Covid-19 pandemic. But this year’s “Time of the Writer Festival” — from March 14-22 — will be a great opportunity to immerse yourself in the literary world. With more than 100 writers lined up for the 2022 festival — the 25th in the festival’s illustrious history — it promises to be a special event. Since the Festival’s inception in 1996, the event — hosted by the University of KwaZulu-Natal — has played host to many of the biggest stars in African and world literature.
This year’s festival will honour the legacy of Chief Albert Luthuli, Africa’s first black Nobel prize Laureate, and a towering figure in SA’s political history. The festival is curated around the 60th anniversary of Luthuli’s rallying autobiography, Let My People Go, and will open with a keynote address from acclaimed scholar and creative Dr Nokuthula Mazibuko-Msimang.
The festival’s prime evening slot will be devoted to authors whose recent work has addressed state capture, gender-based violence, corruption, racism and other sociocultural ills bedevilling SA.
Who you should see:
Mandla Langa: This year’s featured author is the pre-eminent writer and public intellectual Mandla Langa, whose new novel, The Lost Language of the Soul, is another powerful work of fiction from one of SA’s most venerated authors. Catch him in a special “in conversation” discussion with author and literary historian Dr Siphiwo Mahala.
Angelo Fick: Celebrated as one of the country’s most astute and erudite social commentators, Angelo Fick will be appearing at several events during the festival. He is always a treat to listen to. Catch him moderating a roundtable discussion entitled “Breaking down racism in education.”
Flora Veit-Wild: Fresh from the publication of her controversial memoir, They Called You Dambudzo: a Memoir (Jacana, 2020), Veit-Wild will be present in the compassion and empathy panel, discussing mental health and suicide in one of the more poignant discussions happening at the festival.
Zukiswa Wanner: Zukiswa Wanner is one of the best contemporary SA novelists, but she has also forged a pan-African literary career through various initiatives and cultural projects. Wanner will host a conversation with keynote speaker Nokuthula Mazibuko-Msimang, where they discuss the festival’s themes and highlights.
Lebo Mashile: Mashile’s performance poetry has seen her established as one of the country’s most celebrated poetic voices. Mashile will moderate a pane of writers who will discuss race, gender, sexuality and religion and how these intersecting categories produce and further systems of oppression.
Tatiana Salem Levy: Levy is a key voice in contemporary Brazilian literature, whose work has been touted by premier literary publications such as Granta magazine. Her first novel, The House in Smyrna, received Brazil’s pre-eminent literary award, the Sao Paulo Prize for Literature. Catch her alongside Nigerian literary sensation Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia and SA memoirist Ivan Johnson.
Zakes Mda: The elder statesman of SA literature, Zakes Mda is the author of a prolific body of work that spans novels, plays and nonfiction essays. When he isn’t teaching creative writing at Johns Hopkins University, he runs a beekeeping project with rural women in the Eastern Cape. Catch him in one of the headlining conversations of he 2022 festival.
Mara Louw: An icon of SA’s entertainment industry, Mara Louw’s illustrious career as a singer, stage actor and activist has seen her achieve many awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Department of Arts and Culture. Catch her on what promises to be an amazing panel, with other cultural legends Barbara Masekela and Des Lindberg
Lidudumalingani: Winner of the Caine Prize in 2016, Lidudumalingani was recently announced as curator of the 2022 African Book Festival to be held in Berlin in August 2022. He’ll be on a panel hosted by broadcasting great Nancy Richards, to discuss writing as a tool of the imagination.
Can’t make it to the festival? Buy a book instead. Books make the best gifts. Here are a few standout works from authors who will be at the 25th Time of the Writer Festival:
Albert Luthuli — Let my People Go (NB Publishers)
Luthuli’s account of the repression and resistance that shaped the SA political scene in the twentieth century remains a searing and necessary read. The book continues to bear witness to the values and humility of the man who was in the vanguard of the struggle-era ANC.
Fred Khumalo — Two Tons O’Fun (Umuzi 2022)
A vibrant novel from the prolific author and journalist Fred Khumalo. This boisterous coming of age story set in a Johannesburg township was published this year.
Buki Papillon — An Ordinary Wonder (Jonathan Ball 2021)
A laudable debut novel from this Nigerian author, An Ordinary Wonder is the story of a twin who is forced to live as a boy despite identifying as a girl. Papillon’s captivating queer novel is an important entry to an African literary scene that needs more narratives like this one.
Joanne Joseph — Children of Sugarcane (Jonathan Ball 2021)
Joseph’s novel dives into SA’s historical past to tell the story of Indian indentured workers who were brought to the country to serve as labour for the sugar industry. Told through the eyes of Shanti, who escapes an arranged marriage by coming to SA, this is a finely-wrought work of fiction.
Quanita Hunter, Jeff Wicks and Kaveel Singh — Eight Days in July (NB Publishers 2021).
The story of the July 2021 unrest, which saw scenes of unrest and violent looting playing out across KwaZulu-Natal and parts of Gauteng, has yet to be fully unpacked. This quickfire account by three journalists who were reporting from the epicentre of the chaos takes a sustained look at the bizarre events and their implications for our democracy.