The Madibaland World Literary Festival: an interview with Darryl David

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Darryl David

"There has never been a festival quite like the Madibaland World Literary Festival – and you’re invited," says Darryl David, Director of the Madibaland World Literary Festival. He discusses the festival, which takes place from 20 to 28 November 2020, with Naomi Meyer.

Darryl, you are known for organising festivals, but this year is not a great year for festivals of any kind. Do elaborate on the Madibaland Festival in the light of this: How is this going to work? Where is it taking place? What gave you the idea for this festival?

So true, Naomi, this year has not been a great year for book festivals and arts festivals. It was precisely because of this realisation that I decided to create the Madibaland World Literary Festival. I got the idea while having online staff meetings at UWC with colleagues. At that moment one April day I realised that if we can have meetings like this, if we can share our documents with such ease (OK, yours truly excluded), I knew an online book festival was possible. But I also knew that if it was to capture the imagination of the world, it had to be marketed as the world's largest online literary festival. At the time it was a novel idea. But I also knew that if it was going to work, it had to be a world festival. Luckily, my article I posted on LitNet struck a chord with writers all over the world. At that point, however, I had no name for the festival. But the vision was compelling enough to carry the festival along until I remembered my idea years ago of a Madibaland Festival.

How will it work? Well, first you have to have Zoom. Secondly, go to our website,, and you will immediately see a section MADIBALAND. The first bullet says TO BOOK, CLICK HERE. All you have to do is fill out your name and e-mail address and my university's system will immediately send you a link for that entire day. So you can listen to the entire days talks to your heart's desire. And if you are book lover, trust me - the entire program will appeal to you. Writers from literally every corner of the world. In a first for me, writers from India and Macedonia and Greece are on the programme. All thanks to the legendary Christopher Merrill, director of Iowa's Creative Writing Programme, who helped me immensely in the early phases of the festival.  Another person who helped me immensely in making contact with overseas writers was Eben Venter. His help proved invaluable in my pursuit of an international line-up. The writers from India were really difficult to get hold of, but I never give up, because I knew that in the 160th year since Indian indentured workers arrived in South Africa, Indian writers were a must for this festival. I can't single out any writers, because this really is a programme that will wow you from beginning to end.

Programme: Madibaland World Literary Festival 2020


So why Madibaland?

In South Africa we're going through a rough time at the moment. We're a very divided country – and more than that, I think the world is a very divided place. I wanted to put something together that had a unifying influence on people – something where, even for just ten days, we spread a different virus: a virus of love, of unity, of oneness.

Yes ... but why Madibaland?

The name was inspired by a travel book of the same name by well-known writer and journalist Denis Beckett, which in turn was inspired by a man who needs no introduction – Nelson Mandela, who was lovingly called Madiba in the country of his birth. 

I wanted a name that shouted out “South Africa", a name that would be recognised in South Africa, but also respected the world over. And there's no more suitable name than that of the man who united a nation facing seemingly impossible challenges and tensions. Sometimes leaders like Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu are nowadays criticised for what many people call the myth of the rainbow nation – but sometimes people need fairy tales in their lives. And I think this is one such fairy tale.

It's a celebration of writers – of what they mean to society, and what they can tell us about ourselves. And it's about finding connection through communication – one humanity, speaking with one voice.

We may be divided by oceans. We may be divided by time zones, and circumstances, and more. But we are linked by stories, by our desire to dialogue – and I think this festival will be the perfect chance to celebrate that.

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