Even for Capetonians, it is doable in a day, and the access could not be more perfect: you take an early flight to Joburg, get on the Gautrain, arrive at the Rosebank station, and Kingsmead College is right opposite its exit. The college is the venue of the Kingsmead Book Fair (KBF). It is a one-day affair, so in the evening you can go straight home. This year was the first time I decided to attend, and I loved every second of it, despite the journey and the freezing cold and rain that accompanied the event.
This year was the first time I decided to attend, and I loved every second of it, despite the journey and the freezing cold and rain that accompanied the event.
Founded in 2015, the book fair quickly became one of the most anticipated literary gatherings in the country, and I have been hearing great things about it since its inception. Like every other such event, the KBF also went into semi-hibernation during the lockdown, but returned in full force this year, and I am delighted to have finally witnessed it.
The sessions I booked included a few of my all-time favourite authors, not only because they write fabulous books, but also because they are fabulous human beings. It was great to reconnect with Pamela Power, Carol-Ann Davids and Yewande Omotoso (among many others) and to see Lorraine Sithole in literary action.
Pamela has co-written one of the most anticipated feel-good novels of this year (maybe even this decade): together with Qarnita Loxton, Gail Schimmel and Amy Heydenrych, during lockdown she wrote Chasing Marian. Marian Keyes was supposed to visit South Africa in 2020. We all know what happened to prevent her happy arrival on our shores. But instead of despairing, the four authors – or the Awesome Foursome, as they are now known – decided to write a novel about a group of South African readers trying desperately to meet Marian Keyes. The talent, admiration and warmth of the four Keyes fans emanate from every page of their novel, and I am enjoying my now signed copy tremendously. The book is everything I was hoping it would be.
Together with Lisa-Anne Julien, Carol-Ann spoke to Karen Jennings about “Writing across geographies”. It is a topic close to my heart, as I am a migratory writing creature myself, and I was fascinated to listen to the three women describe their approach to setting their books in different geographies, and how place influences the way they think about the world and writing.
I already had a copy of Yewande’s latest novel, An unusual grief. I bought it at the Book Lounge the moment it became available, but it was wonderful to have it personalised and signed by the author. I have been a fan of her work for a long time, and I always love listening to her talk about writing. She was on a panel with other favourites – Finuala Dowling and Karen Jennings – which was expertly chaired by Alma-Nalisha Cele (of Cheeky natives). Speaking about “The Weight of expectations”, the three award-winning authors made it clear that they write because it is the only way they know how to be in the world. The craft of writing is its own reward. “Writing is probably the most beautiful thing I have. … I want to be stirred and bothered. … I write to be well,” Yewande said. Finuala concurred: “You write because in a profound sense you have no choice.” The best example of this was Karen’s confession that she had stayed up the night before between midnight and four am because the novel she’d just started working on took hold of her and would not allow her to sleep.
Lorraine chaired a deeply moving session, “The pain, the pleasure and the purpose”, during which Andile Gaelesiwe, Cathy Park Kelly, Barbara Masekela and Pindiwe Mgijima-Mabhena discussed their inspiring memoirs of overcoming life’s challenges, whether sociopolitical, personal or simply unpredictable. My late husband, the writer André Brink, always spoke with love and admiration about his friend, Barbara Masekela, but I never had the opportunity to meet her while he was still alive. In his autobiography, A fork in the road, André mentioned Barbara Masekela a few times and wrote that she “would be my candidate for the first woman president of the country”. Alas, it will probably never be, but I felt an enormous sense of gratitude that I could walk up to her after the discussion, introduce myself and tell her how warmly André always remembered her. “I recall visiting his house in Cape Town – the many books,” she told me, and I could reassure her that I am still here and that the library is safe and treasured. Her memoir, Poli Poli, is high on my to-read list now.
I attended one other session: “Dun dun dun … creating suspense”. Quraisha Dawood, Penny Haw and Sally Andrew spoke to Gail Schimmel about how to create tension on the page. And because their novels also revolve around food in one way or another, Gail suggested that the panel could have been renamed “Yum yum yum”. It was definitely delicious to listen to the authors talk about their work and to hear that they have been able to turn writing into full-time professions. I was thrilled to hold an advance reader’s copy of Penny’s forthcoming novel, The invincible Ms Cust, in my hands. It tells the story of the first woman veterinarian and will be published by Sourcebooks in the US later this year.
What I saw was just a snippet of the entertaining and thought-provoking programme that was on offer at KBF 2022. There was something for every literary taste. The college was also great about providing snack and drink options for the visitors. And there was time and space to enjoy it all. I had great coffee, gigantic chocolate-chip cookies from the on-site café and tasty gyros from the Greek stall. Yum, yum, yum, indeed!
It was also amazing finally to meet authors Shafinaaz Hassim and Mike Boyd in person. This is what I love about literary events the most: the possibility of engaging with readers and writers and to feel that one is part of this incredible community.
It was also amazing finally to meet authors Shafinaaz Hassim and Mike Boyd in person. This is what I love about literary events the most: the possibility of engaging with readers and writers and to feel that one is part of this incredible community. The only disappointment of the day turned out to be the discovery that the sushi bar I had always visited for sashimi and a glass of bubbly at OR Tambo had not survived the lockdown. But after the literary yumness of the day, I was happy to bite into a Wimpy cheeseburger and fly happily home with a stash of signed books in my bag.