We’re in the home stretch, says Darryl Earl David, former Head of Afrikaans at UKZN, founder of South Africa’s national Booktown in the Karoo, and the man heading Durban’s bid for Unesco City of Literature status. In April this year, Durban announced its intention to become the first city in South Africa and the first on the African continent to apply for Unesco City of Literature status, joining a mere 20 other such cities throughout the world, including the likes of Edinburgh, Dublin, Prague, Kraków, Barcelona, Iowa City, Granada and Baghdad. “Since that article, the response from writers has been overwhelming,” says David. “Mind you, there are quite a few doubting Thomases from the mother city and Johannesburg,” he quips, but is quick to add that the Exco in charge of guiding Durban towards literary capital of Africa status are “quietly confident”.
David says that the late announcement of Durban’s bid should not be construed as a rushed attempt or an attempt to exclude writers from the process. In fact, it was all part of the grand design. “When you are striving for undeniably the biggest literature project in the history of South Africa, one that you have been working on for nearly five years, you don’t want to go around bragging about this and giving other cities ideas. This is the holy grail for bibliophiles,” says David. Durban writers Ashwin Desai and ZP Dala, members of the Unesco City of Literature Exco, have played no small part in this project. In a widely read article on LitNet, the virtual community at www.litnet.co.za, managed by founder-editor Etienne van Heerden, David pays glowing tribute to Professor Ashwin Desai as the man who believed in this vision when very few did. In fact, it was a chance encounter that Desai had with the city fathers last year – in an elevator, of all places – that paved the way for this project. “Symbolically, the escalator was going to the top floor,” says David, with a grin on his face. And ZP Dala, whose new novel, The architecture of loss, made it onto the must-read list of African authors for 2017, has been an integral part of this team. She was awarded a Residency at the prestigious Iowa International Writing Programme last year, and, at the request of David, set out to learn more about what makes a Unesco City of Literature tick. The result: Iowa City, America’s sole Unesco City of Literature, has agreed to mentor Durban in its quest for Unesco status. “Their support and generosity of spirit have been immeasurable,” says David.
David would, however, like to assure all Durban writers that, if we are awarded Unesco status, we will celebrate not only the literati from all across the globe, but also, first and foremost, Durban writers. “Look, we can’t deny there have been problems in the past where literary festivals in Durban have overlooked their own. I, myself, despite being the most experienced literary festival curator in South Africa, have never been invited to play any part in certain Durban literary festivals. Two of the country’s top non-fiction writers, Durban-born and bred, regularly get overlooked. This will change if Durban is granted Unesco City of Literature status,” says David. To this end, he is calling on all writers – but especially Durban writers – to email a brief resume of no more than one page, highlighting their books and literary achievements thus far. Emails can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.