This week, the first student-run literary festival gave Witsies the opportunity to meet and engage with literary icons from around South Africa.
The Fine Lines festival at Wits, which was organised by the student council members of the School of Literature, Language and Media (SLLM) “is good news” for literary culture in South Africa. Poet Chris Mann emphasised this point and was also positive that this idea was “coming from students”.
Organisers Priyankha Thakur, Saul Musker and Nelisa Ngcobo said the Fine Lines literary festival aimed to “encourage students and upcoming writers to engage with literary experts” they would not usually have the opportunity to connect with.
Thakur said they hope to “create more interest among students in South African literature” through the festival.
“We wanted to create conversation between students and experts,” said Musker.
Wits English professor Michael Titlestad, who has spent 30 years working in education, thinks people should be encouraged to read genres they enjoy.
“It’s important that students are encouraged to read whatever they like,” he said. “The sense of a high literary culture or the need for people to read things that are improving their intellect, their life and ethics is highly naive. We should simply encourage people to pursue their interests.”
World-renowned author Ivan Vladislavic told Wits Vuvuzela: “It’s hard to get students to engage with fiction and even harder to do so with South African fiction.”
With an estimated 14% of South Africans being active readers of fiction, the Department of Arts and Culture has expressed concern about literary culture amongst young people.
“It’s difficult for South African work to become visible. There is so much competition in literature from everywhere else. Students must keep themselves informed about what is out there,” Vladislavic said.
“If you really want to understand your own society, you need to read about [it] because that is how you learn.”
Writer Steven Boykey Sidley encouraged students to join online South African book clubs like The Good Book Appreciation Society to become familiar with and informed about South African authors, genres and literature.
Former books editor of the Sunday Independent, Maureen Isaacson, said events like the Fine Lines literary festival should become “common practice” among student communities.
“Why can we not have more dialogue, argument and discussion? We need to have events that are less arranged, because we can see that experts are willing to come in and share ideas about their books outside of book launches and festivals. It’s one of the best way to encourage reading.”
The festival, which ends today, coincides with National Book Week, which is still taking place around the country until September 8th.