Yesterday, 19th March marked the beginning of the Time of the Writer Festival in Durban, South Africa. I had been in Durban two days before the starting date. I struggled a bit in finding my way to the specific place where it was due to take place. Earlier on, the notices that had come out did not specify the particular campus for the festival as University of Kwazulu-Natal has several campuses. So I started off about 5pm to Westville campus only to be told that the program was taking place at Howard College campus. Thankfully, when I arrived there the programme had not started. It was due to start at 7.30pm.
The host for the evening was Karabo Kgoleng who took to stage eight minutes late to the starting time. There was a great reception prior to the starting of the programme. Unfortunately, the host announced at the beginning that no pictures were allowed to be taken except for official photography (thus within the theatre). That explains why I have no picture(s) from the festival tagged to this post. The Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre was almost packed to the brim. I remember tweeting that the theatre was boiling with people. There were writers, there were students, there were speakers, there were…(you name it).
The host announced the writers one by one who took to stage to give brief introductions and speeches.
Chris Abani, the Nigerian writer was the first to be called upon. Being the first, he sparked the theatre with laughter with his speech as he created slight jokes here and there.
Ibrahim Al-Koni from Libya followed. He spoke in Russian and had her interpreter interpret it. One of the striking remarks he made was that some time past, his passport allowed him to travel to all other countries expert for South Africa. He went on to say that when Nelson Mandela was released from prison, South Africa was the first country he wanted to visit.
Sefi Atta from Nigeria talked about the fact that it was her second invitation to South Africa. She said that for the first she passed because she couldn’t think of travelling with a Nigerian passport. According to her, she has lived in U.S.A for the past 18 years after living in England for 16 years and then in Nigeria for 14 years.
The Jamaican born writer Colin Channer was the next. He thrilled the crowd to joy and laughter as he called upon the Ghanaian-Jamaican writer Kwame Dawes to stage to become his interpreter as he spoke in patois. According to Kwame, the day was his mother’s birthday.
Kwame Dawes, the Ghanaian-Jamaican writer spoke next. He spoke briefly about where he comes from and about what he presently does.
The Commonwealth winning award author, Cynthia Jele talked about Durban where she spends most of her christmas holidays. She confessed for not speaking to a huge gathering like what she saw yesterday.
Ronnie Kasrils from South Africa talked about where he was born – Johannesburg and has written two books. He also talked about an experience he encountered when he was a small boy at the beach.
Shubnum Khan from South Africa is the author of Onion Tears. She spoke about the fact that she admires writers like Ahrundhati Roy and told a story about how she wrote in a small book that she will publish a book in 25 years time which became a reality.
Ghanaian writer Benjamin Kwakye spoke about his career as a writer and a lawyer. He said like Kwame Dawes, he too was called Kwame. He spoke very briefly.
The other writers who took to stage were David wa Maahlamela (South Africa), Jassy Mackenzie (South Africa), Chris Marnewick (South Africa), Leila Marouane (Algeria/France), Thando Mgqolozana (South Africa), Kgebetli Moele (South Africa), Yewande Omotoso (Nigeria/South Africa), Dumisani Sibiya (South Africa) and Bahar Taher (Egypt).
Just after the programme, I went round speaking to the writers. Of course, it was the usual story of introducing myself as a book blogger and wanting to strike a deal to interview them. I spoke to Sefi Atta, Colin Channer,Kwame Dawes, Shubnum Khan, Dumisani Sibiya and Yewande Omotoso. The last writer I spoke to was my top most favorite author Benjamin Kwakye whom when I approached did not know how to start a conversation. In fact, I was struck by the fact that here was my favorite author standing before me. I made several turns and rounds before I could even approach him. Doesn’t it happen to all of us if we come face-to-face with our favorite authors?
Overall, the first day of the festival was a huge success and I’m looking forward to the rest of the days. If you did not attend for the first day, you are indeed missing a whole lot.