There is so much riding on this 2nd Alan Paton Literary Festival being held at Eden Lassie in the Tala Valley over the weekend of 9–10 March, says festival director Darryl Earl David, the man who led Durban to UNESCO City of Literature glory.
At stake, says David, is the principle of non-racialism, enshrined in the Constitution but somehow gone missing after the Mandela presidency. If one looks at the recent Time of the Writer programme, says David, not a single white or Indian writer feature among the 14 guest writers. In a city with the largest Indian population outside of India, for not a single Indian writer to be invited, that is shocking, says David. Even more shocking is journalists’ uncritical acceptance of literary festival programmes that proudly pronounce on single-race programmes in the name of affirmative action. The Paton Festival represents not only a fight for the principle of non-racialism in the arts and culture sector of South Africa, but also a fight over the blueprint of what a UNESCO City of Literature should look like.
To this end the Alan Paton Literary Festival wears its non-racialism like a badge of honour. Heading the list of writers to the festival is James-Brent Styan with two hard-hitting exposés of corruption in modern-day South Africa. His book Blackout about the crisis at Eskom is bound to be well attended, as is his talk on Steinhoff, or Steinheist, the biggest corporate meltdown in the history of South Africa. In his third slot on the programme James will talk about his recent biography of Dr Chris Barnard, the first man in the world to perform a heart transplant.
Luthando Lucas, someone largely unknown to literary South Africa, will bring tears to the eyes of festivalgoers with his Memoirs of a street child. This is the same man who just a week ago captured the hearts of festivalgoers at the Adam Small Festival in Pniël near Stellenbosch where he stood up and recited an unrehearsed praise poem to Thuli Madonsela. It was goosebumps stuff.
Tracy Going, well-known as a television presenter, comes to Eden Lassie with her brave memoir Brutal legacy, her experiences of not only growing up an abusive father but also being a woman who had to endure violence from her boyfriend. It is a book that will come close to making the longlist of the Alan Paton Prize, David believes.
Religion was central to the life of Alan Paton. To this end David asked Hugh Bland, author of Trappist Mission Stations of KZN, to open the festival. The publication is a photographic book that will enjoy pride of place on any coffee table. The Trappist churches are truly the rough diamond of the KZN tourism industry.
Zainab Priya Dala, the writer who was assaulted after having praised Salman Rushdie a few years ago at the Time of the Writer Festival, will launch her second novel, The architecture of loss. Dala played a seminal role in Durban's UNESCO City of Literature bid and is considered a writer on the rise.
Nicola Hayward is a largely unknown name in KZN. But after the publication of Master Jack, her book that won the Jock of the Bushveld Prize at the South African Independent Publishers Awards last year and the BookBedonnerd Prize for Best Self-published book, all that will change. It is a book that will stay with you for weeks and is a lesson to all aspirant writers about what constitutes fine writing.
Many book lovers have already made reservations for renowned vet Dr Johan Marais's talk on The Rhino Orphanage. Johan is the person who has the unenviable task of working at Saving the Survivors, the organisation he started to reconstruct the faces and heal the bodies of rhinos and elephants after the mutilation they had suffered at the hands of poachers who get more savage with every passing day.
On a much lighter note, local Westville vet Steve Wimberley will take us on a journey as Dr Grumble in Africa, about his travels throughout Southern Africa and experiences as a vet.
On the Paton front, Lindy Stiebel will speak on the Alan Paton literary trail that was a project within her Literary Tourism in KZN project. And festival organiser Darryl David will present a talk on The symbolism of mountains in Cry the Beloved Country.
There will also be a short tribute to Paddy Kearney by Philippe Denis, who will then go on to speak about the book he co-authored with Kearney, namely Denis Hurley: A life in letters. We also have a photographic book on a region that was most dear to Paton: Spirit of the Drakensberg by Richard Hunt. Paton's sojourns into the Drakensberg are legendary and David says he hopes Paton will give a nod of approval from his mountain in the sky.
On the poetry front, acclaimed Cape Town poet Christine Coates will read from her two recent anthologies, Homegrown and Fire drought water.
And Mark de Wet comes to the festival with a photographic and poetic ode to wine titled A Cape Rubaiyat. This session will be combined with a free cheese and wine-tasting event. It will be preceded by a Pecha kucha session, something David pioneered at the Articulate Africa Festival two years ago: 30 poems in 30 minutes. Some of the poets to feature include Dime Mabiza with his debut anthology Flames of revolution, Luthando Lucas from his anthologies Poetry of my soul and African Child, Pietermaritzburg teacher Gavin David, and many other unheralded poets sharing a platform with more established poets. If other poets want to contribute to this session, please write to Darryl David at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We are living in a time when politicians and the politically correct suffer from selective amnesia,” says David. “They have forgotten the immense role Paton played in the fight against apartheid. They have forgotten the Paton that was prepared to be a character witness for Mandela at the Rivonia trial. Today, centres that carry his name refuse to honour his memory. Institutions of higher learning that have his name as their physical address refuse to support such initiatives because he is in their eyes nothing more than a white liberal. Support our festival,” says David, “and support a vision of a South Africa we all aspire to.”