Schreiner’s legacy attracts international contributors to Cradock

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Academics from Sweden, Australia, the United Kingdom and, of course, South Africa descended on Cradock, a small Karoo town in the Eastern Cape, to pay homage to, read papers about and discuss the legacy of Olive Schreiner. This occurred during the latest edition of the Schreiner Karoo Writers Festival, which took place from 15 to 17 June 2023.

Andrew van der Vlies, Sanja Nivesjö, Jade Munslow Ong and Paul Walters

On 16 June, at the Schreiner House Museum in Cradock, owned and supported by the Amazwi South African Museum of Literature, four academics read papers on Schreiner. They were Jade Munslow Ong (University of Salford, UK), Sanja Nivesjö (who holds positions at the Uppsala University in Sweden and the University of Salford, UK), Andrew van der Vlies (University of Adelaide, Australia) and Paul Walters (a retired academic from Rhodes University in Makhanda).

Each of these four had earlier written a chapter in a book, edited by Munslow Ong and Van der Vlies, that is set to appear later this year. The title of this work is Olive Schreiner: Writing networks and global contexts.

Andrew van der Vlies

Jade Munslow Ong

Sanja Nivesjö

Paul Walters

This session was sponsored by the Amazwi South African Museum of Literature.

Zongezile Matshoba

Zongezile Matshoba from Amazwi opened the session.

Marike Beyers

Marike Beyers, also from Amazwi, read poetry.

Sithembele Xhegwana

Sithembele Xhegwana, a curator at Amazwi, also addressed the audience.

Crystal Warren

Crystal Warren, also from Amazwi, said a few words and read some poetry.

Amazwi, in Makhanda, is open to the public, and anyone may request to walk through their displays.

Educators were sponsored by The AVBOB Poetry Project

While these academics read papers based on the chapters in the book, two other academics from the University of Salford, Simon Stanton-Sharma and Maire Tracey, ran a workshop with educators from the Eastern Cape on, among other things, filmmaking.

Simon Stanton-Sharma

Stanton-Sharma and Tracey are the directors of the movie All that is buried, the title of which comes from the pen of Olive Schreiner.

Maire Tracey

This workshop was sponsored by The AVBOB Poetry Project. The movie was screened at the Victoria Hotel earlier that morning.

But why the continued interest in Schreiner? Why write books about her or travel to South Africa because of her? This question was posed directly to the panel during the question time.

The answer came from Sanja Nivesjö, an academic from Stockholm. She said that Schreiner, who wrote an estimated 10 000 letters in her lifetime, formed friendships in many countries and was read in many more countries and in many different languages. Moreover, many of her ideas still remain relevant, even revolutionary, in our time. That was one reason. The second simply was that many readers still find it a joy to read her work; stylistically, Schreiner, who never received any formal schooling, produced very good writing.

One festival, two programmes

Educators attending one of the workshops

The annual Schreiner Karoo Writers Festival has become a firm favourite for literati and for families who need a break from the city, but recently an educational programme was added to the festival. Due to a generous sponsorship by The Avbob Poetry Project, educators could attend various workshops which contained practical tips to take home to their classrooms.

Hands on! (Photograph: Lisa Antrobus)

Educators received hands-on training in filmmaking, creating a children’s book and the language of coding and robotics.

Charmaine van Wyk

Charmaine van Wyk, from the Department of Basic Education in the Eastern Cape, popped in.

The more literary part of the festival concentrated on storytellers, musicians, authors discussing their books, and academics paying homage to Schreiner.

Stoepsitting and storytelling

Tony Jackman

On the evening of 15 June, the art of storytelling was celebrated in the beautiful Victoria Manor. Tony Jackman, a well-known journalist and foodie, anchored an evening of fun and laughter through various stories, many of which were paired with the dishes on the menu. The hotel’s kitchen called the dishes “small plates”, as each of the six courses did indeed come in smallish portions, but they were scrumptious and beautifully presented.

Charles Garth

Charles Garth had a snoek story to tell before snoek pâté was served.

The onion soup (Photograph: Jan van Heerden)

Tony Jackman regaled the audience with the humble, or not so humble, origins of French onion soup. Some say Louis XV, king of France, invented the soup himself. Jackman contends that it is more likely that it has an origin among peasants, but that it certainly became a favourite of the French court.

Amos Nteta

Amos Nteta spoke of growing up on a sheep farm and honoured the legacy of his father, who spent decades tending sheep.

Maswazandile Mabusela

Maswazandile Mabusela, better known in the hotel as Maswazi, explained that the recipe for the mini carrot cakes he had prepared came from his grandmother. He is on Instagram under his full name for those who want to follow his creations.

Here is an example of the small carrot cake each guest received.

The meal ended with cheese and butter discs served with sherry and marmalade.

Rory Riordan

The moist poignant story of the evening came from Rory Riordan, who urged everyone to buy Jonny Steinberg’s book Winnie and Nelson: Portrait of a marriage by retelling the story of Winnie Mandela visiting her husband on Robben Island, with her four-month-old granddaughter, Zanele, on her back. Regulations stipulated that no one under the age of 16 was allowed to see political prisoners, so the guard, an extremely young Christo Brand, refused to allow the baby in. He could have lost his job, were he to allow Nelson Mandela to see his granddaughter. What happened then is amazing, and one should buy Steinbeck’s book to see how, after all the tape recorders had been switched off, the famous prisoner did get to hold the baby. This was kept a secret; even Winnie Mandela did not know the whole story until 20 years later. There were tears in the audience as Riordan told the tale.

A ménage à trois

Friday 16 June was largely focused on Olive Schreiner, as reported above, but that evening a different set of tunes was heard in the Victoria Manor. Two postgraduate students from Rhodes University presented Ménage à trois, a musical compilation about the lives of Robert Schumann, Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms.

Gareth Robertson

The duo performed lieder by Robert and Clara Schumann and by Johannes Brahms. Devon Florence (voice) sang the lieder, while Gareth Robertson accompanied them.

Devon Florence

Florence also read excerpts from letters written by the three musicians.

Authors galore

On Saturday 17 June, the workshops for teachers, sponsored by The Avbob Poetry Project, continued, while the main programme saw several speakers discussing their work.

Dean Allen (Photograph: Lisa Antrobus)

Dean Allen is busy researching his book Rewilding the Eastern Cape, a biography on Adrian Gardiner, a highly successful businessman and founder of Shamwari Private Game Reserve and many other eco attractions.

Briony Chisholm

Briony Chisholm was delightful in chatting about her book One night only, a fast-paced comedy about a modern young woman who tries internet dating.

Ian Sutherland and his wife Melissa

Ian Sutherland’s second novel is called Catastrophe. It starts on the night that Reactor Four at Chernobyl explodes. The narrator is a ballerina whose husband worked at the reactor. She tries to find him, but the authorities, who refuse to acknowledge that there is a problem, give her a cold shoulder. She is then evacuated and uses various channels to find out what has happened to her husband – not always to the amusement of the authorities.

Ari Seirlis

Ari Seirlis has written Wheels of fire, a biographical work. Seirlis was an active, good-looking young man who had run the Comrades. Shortly after that, he was asked to perform dives into a swimming pool for a commercial. During the filming, he broke his neck. Yet, despite this tremendous setback, he has managed to have a fulfilling career.

Crystal Warren (right) and Izak de Vries showing off The best nest. (Photograph: Lisa Antrobus)

Crystal Warren is from Amazwi and is known as a poet, but on 17 July she spoke about The best nest, a children’s book she has created with Megan Vermaak and Ashlyn Atkinson. It was part of Book Dash.

Book Dash is a not-for-profit organisation that uses professional volunteers to create books that are distributed free of charge.

The book Warren and her team worked on has been translated into all 11 South African languages and is available free of charge. Just click here to access it in all 11 South African languages.

Jimmy Simons (right) on stage with Izak de Vries (Photograph: Lisa Antrobus)

Jimmy Simons, a Cradock resident, explained why he wrote a book about his time in the South African Defence Force. He said the discipline of military training helped him to find direction. Today, he is a security guard, manning a bank of monitors attached to security cameras. His book is called Aandag! SAKK-memoir (ek was daar).

Rory Riordan and Izak (Photograph: Lisa Antrobus)

Rory Riordan spoke about his book, Apartheid’s Stalingrad. It covers the decade between 1980 and 1990, and it draws parallels between the fall of apartheid and the activism in the Eastern Cape townships. He sketches well-known and lesser-known struggle heroes as human beings, not merely as action figures.

Lisa Antrobus

Once Riordan was done talking about his book, Lisa Antrobus, the festival organiser, asked Riordan to tell the story of Nelson Mandela and his grandchild briefly again. The reason? In the audience was none other than Andrew Russell, the agent of Christo Brand.

Andrew Russell

Russell was then called to the stage, where he spoke about Brand and Brand’s book, Mandela: My prisoner, my friend. Russell, too, is writing a book. He calls it The leadership we need: Lessons for today from Nelson Mandela. The book has its own Instagram page, @the_leadership_we_need, should anyone be interested.

Chris Marais and Julienne du Toit (Photograph: Jan van Heerden)

That afternoon, Chris Marais and Julienne du Toit took everyone on a tour through the Karoo with their slide show and a talk about their next books, Karoo roads IV and Karoo roads V.

Melina Smith

On Saturday night, love returned to the stage with Melina Smith anchoring a jolly show of song and poetry.

Melina and Ling Tam

She was joined on stage by Ling Tam.

Melina and Liza Badenhorst

Then, Liza Badenhorst joined her.

Tony Jackman

Tony Jackman then read excerpts from letters Schreiner wrote to others about her love for Cron Cronwright, who eventually became her husband.

Jo Els

Jo Els read poetry and told a story.

Anile Bahle

Anile Bahle sang.

Anela Lupuwana

Anela Lupuwana read a poem; she is an intern at Amazwi and a PhD candidate at Rhodes University.

Crystal Warren

Crystal Warren read poetry.

Liza Badenhorst

Liza Badenhorst returned to the stage with her own poetry.

Gareth Robertson and Devon Florence

Then Gareth Robertson and Devon Florence entertained the audience with songs from musicals.

A grand finale

The evening ended when Melina Smith joined the two students for a grand finale.

“You may form lasting friendships”

At the start of the festival, Tony Jackman “warned” that firm friendships may form during the festival. I can attest to this: this was my third Schreiner Karoo Writers Festival, and my list of friends from these weekends is growing.

Inside the Schreiner House Museum

Serious Schreiner enthusiasts should not miss the annual event, but anyone interested in stories and books should treat themselves to a weekend in the Karoo at the lovingly restored Victoria Manor with its street of “Tuishuise” attached.

An entire street restored

This beautiful street is the brainchild of the Antrobus family, who owns and manages the hotel, and especially of Sarah Antrobus, the matriarch of the family.

Schreiner House

Julienne du Toit once called her “the defender-in-chief of architectural heritage”. Quite apt. Antrobus was directly involved in the restoration of the Schreiner House Museum as well.

The Tuishuise

The “Tuishuise” are not only picturesque, but comfortable as well.

The Victoria Manor

The hotel is old-worldly in looks, but each room contains the creature comforts one needs to survive the cold Karoo nights.

Friendships are made

An evening by candlelight with stories and music should become a regular feature of all book and story lovers!

The Karoo Writers Festival takes place close to 16 June each year.

  • Photography: Izak de Vries, unless otherwise indicated
See also:

Die program | The programme: Etienne van Heerden Veldsoirée, 22–24 September 2023

R350 vir die ATKV-skryfskool in Cradock én skouerskuur met skrywers

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