Shakespeare remains a style over time

April 23rd, marks both World Book Day and this year marks 400 years since William Shakespeare’s death.

The day is used to commemorate and celebrate his literary contributions to language, poetry, prose and drama. 400 years later, it is evident that his work still lives on, as scholars are still educated on his work.

Some of Shakespeare’s notable and most popular works include, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Hamlet and King Lear, among these are a selection of poems and prose that he worked on.

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15 Important Black writers to influence Johannesburg

Johannesburg has often been a place of conundrums; apartheid acts as a beginning and an end. And literature which is often an art that connects the unsaid with the truth, acts like a mirror which reveals a society to itself. We look at 15 Black authors who have left their imprint on the city. 

Many authors in South Africa often express the things people are afraid to say, taking to writing books, poetry and plays in the midst of the political confusion and social instability. Some of these authors have given way to the hip, misunderstood, radical and frustrated authors of today.

As a microcosm of South African society, Johannesburg is a city which typifies the contradictions of the  country; on one hand we have the Houghtons and the Gautrains, and on the other, Soweto and Alexandra.

We even have streets named after Miriam Makeba and Louis Botha. Sometimes Justin Bieber comes to visit, on other days Jill Scott.

We take a look at 15 important black writers to influence the city of Johannesburg.

Some are alive and some long gone, some are newly controversial and some are long standing celebrities, but each one has left an imprint on the metropolitan hub of social transformation and the beating heart of South Africa, 20 years still in transition.

1. Bessie Head

BOTSWANA COME TO JHB: Bessie Head as young woman. Photo: Katleho Sekhotho

BOTSWANA COME TO JHB: Bessie Head as young woman. Photo: Katleho Sekhotho

Bessie Amelia Head was born on the 6th of July 1937 in Pietermaritzburg, although she is is usually considered Botswana’s most influential writer.

According to Remembered, Head’s mother was white and her father was black. She was raised by foster parents after her mother gave birth to her in an asylum, and then taken in by the Anglican mission orphanage.

In later years she trained as a primary school teacher, but in 1959 Head decided to pursue a career in journalism.

She wrote short stories for the Johannesburg Golden City Post, which was a weekly supplement and sister publication to the then famous Drum magazine.

When she moved to Johannesburg to write from Drum, her work began to precede her as reputable writer.

2. Miriam Tlali

TLALI ON MY WALL: Miriam Tlali is the first black woman in South Africa to publish a novel. Photo: Katleho Sekhotho

The first black woman in South Africa to publish a novel was Miriam Tlali.

She was also one of the first authors to write about Soweto. Tlali studied at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg until it was subsequently closed to Black people during apartheid.

Tlali then left to study in Lesotho but was unable to continue with her studies because of a lack of funds.

She then became an office clerk and wrote her first novel Muriel at Metropolitan in 1979. Her subsequent books include Amandla(1980), Mihloti (1984), and Footprints in the Quag (1989).

She was honoured in this year’s 21 Icons. Here is her story: Miriam Tlali

3. Njabulo S Ndebele

Prof Njabulo Ndebele reflects on his achievements during his inauguration as the new Chancellor - Sanlam Auditorium on Kingsway Campus on Friday, 16 November 2012.

Prof Njabulo Ndebele reflects on his achievements during his inauguration as the new Chancellor – Sanlam Auditorium on Kingsway Campus on Friday, 16 November 2012.

Ndebele is currently the Chancellor of the University of Johannesburg (UJ) and a member of the English Academy of South Africa.

Author of The Cry of Winnie Mandela, in 2004 it received critical acclaim, and his earlier publication Fools and Other Stories won Ndebele the Noma Award, which is Africa’s highest literary award for the best book published in Africa in 1984.

Ndebele has also written a number of highly influential essays on South African literature and culture, these were published in the collection Rediscovery of the Ordinary.

IMAGE: Taken during his inauguration at the University of Johannesburg.

4. Steve Biko

THE CONSCIOUS MAN: Steve Biko on the cover of Drum magazine.

THE CONSCIOUS MAN: Steve Biko on the cover of Drum magazine.

This man writes what he likes. Very little introduction is necessary when discussing the father of the Black Consciousness Movement.

The movement was an instrument pivotal to the empowerment and mobilization of much of the urban black population in South Africa during in apartheid.

Much of his letters, essays and teachings have stood the test of time and newly formed parties such as the Economic Freedom Front have aligned themselves quite obviously with Biko’s words.

In Johannesburg CBD, the Steve Biko Foundation can be located at the Braamfontein Centre on Jorrisen Street. The Foundation aims to “…strengthen democracy by championing dialogue, scholarship and programmes on the relationship between identity, agency, citizenship and social action.”

5. Don Mattera

EMPOWERING POETS: Rehana Mosajee (from left) Portia Monama, Katleho Sekhotho, Don Mattera (right). Photo: Mrs Rice

EMPOWERING POETS: Rehana Mosajee (from left) Portia Monama, Katleho Sekhotho, Don Mattera (right). Photo: Mrs Rice

“Sorry is not just a word, it’s a deed.”

The renowned larger-than-life poet says, “Contrition is not bless me Father for I have sinned, contrition is I have taken from thee therefore I give thee back.”

These are Mattera’s words on addressing the issues surrounding the collective responsibility that white people have but have ignored in the new and democratic South Africa.

He says, “They suffer from forgetfulness.”

Mattera was born in the Western Native Township, now known as Westbury in Johannesburg. He grew up in Sophiatown, and according to an interview with Lucille Davie Don Mattera: poet of compassion,Mattera was during his high school years a gangster, the leader of the Vultures which was one of the most powerful gangs in Sophiatown.

He has worked as a journalist at the Sunday Times, The Weekly Mail (now the Mail & Guardian) and The Sowetan. He has trained over 260 journalists. Mattera also has a doctorate in literature.

CHIMAMANDA: The Thing Around Your Neck Photo: Katleho Sekhotho

CHIMAMANDA: The Thing Around Your Neck                         Photo: Katleho Sekhotho

6. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Although reading this list one might find Adichie irrelevant to the theme, she has become by far an African novelist who has transformed the way in which young black readers in Africa have become attuned to literature.

A Nigerian author, one might argue she has entered into the sacred realms of Achebe and Okri.

Her books include Half of a Yellow Sun, Purple Hibiscus and The Thing Around Your Neck, the latter being a collection of short stories.

 

7. Gcina Mhlophe

Gcina Mhlophe: Never fails to entertain and never fails to get her message across. Photo: Katleho Sekhotho

Gcina Mhlophe: Never fails to entertain and never fails to get her message across.                    Photo: Katleho Sekhotho

Easily one of the most celebrated poets in South Africa, Mhlophe has easily become synonymous with the music of liberation and the songs of freedom.

She is known as a South African freedom fighter, activist, actor, storyteller, poet, playwright, director and author.

Well-travelled and globally celebrated, she continues to hold African idiomatic expressions and metaphors at the helm of her artistry.

She writes children’s books and remains concerned with the advancement of literature in schools. (See: Time for book fairs to “break the class divide”)

Her play, Have you seen Zandile? Was first performed at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg in 1986, with Mhlophe as Zandile.

Here is Mhlophe talking about the importance of knowing you ancestral connections.

KOPANO MATLWA Photo: Provided

KOPANO MATLWA Photo: Provided

8. Dr Kopano Matlwa Mabaso

Perhaps one of the youngest writers to emerge in the literary sphere as a force to be reckoned with Matlwa’s Coconut, opened the lid on the realities of being a 21stcentury black girl living in South Africa.

Her debut Coconut was succeeded by her novel Spilt Milk, the former winning her the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literary in Africa in 2008, sharing the prize with “I Do Not Come To You By Chance” by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani and “Tenants of The House” by Wale Okediran.

Matlwa matriculated from St. Peters College in Johannesburg with distinctions in 2003.

9. Peter Abrahams

Once a sailor Abrahams was born to an Ethopian father and a Coloured mother, under the apartheid regime his mother was in South Africa considered a ‘Kleurling’. He was born in Vrededorp, a suburb in Johannesburg but later left South Africa in 1939.

His novel Mine Boy, published in 1946, remains relevant and timeless. Mine Boy was one of Abraham’s first works to bring him critical attention.

The novel was turned into a musical in 2014, in celebration of 20 years of democracy. The musical was showcased at the Wushwini Arts and heritage centre in the KwaZulu-Natal province.

Es’kia Mphahlele Photo: Katleho Sekhotho

Es’kia Mphahlele Photo: Katleho Sekhotho

10. Es’kia Mphahlele

Mphahlele was a South African writer, teacher, artist and activist. He was born Ezekiel Mphahlele but would later change his name to Es’kia in 1977.

He died at the age of 88 from natural causes. He was the first black professor at Wits and founded its African Literature Department.

This year Wits University will hold The Es’kia Mphahlele Postgraduate Colloquium and Arts Forum. It is a bi-annual event initiated in tribute to renowned writer and intellectual, Es’kia Mphahlele, who had a life-long interest in the training and mentoring of emerging artists and scholars.

A LONG WALK: Mandela’s legacy will undoubtedly live for generations to come. Photo: Katleho Sekhotho

A LONG WALK: Mandela’s legacy will undoubtedly live for generations to come.                       Photo: Katleho Sekhotho

11. Nelson Mandela

Perhaps Africa’s biggest icon, Mandela name is synonymous with the liberation themes that vibrate

MANDELA BRIDGE: The Nelson Mandela bridge in the night time. This photo was taken by renowned cinematographer Ofentse Mwase

MANDELA BRIDGE: The Nelson Mandela bridge in the night time. This photo was taken by renowned cinematographer Ofentse Mwase

throughout South Africa then and now.

While his many accolades precede him, he was also sometimes an author. One of his biggest autobiographies (also literally in the sense!) was his Long Walk to Freedom . The book profiles his early life, coming of age and 27 years in prison.

Here we see the Mandela Bridge in Johannesburg. The bridge is one of the many architectural structures throughout the country that honour Madiba’s legacy.

12. Lebo Mashile

FIERCE POETRY: Poet Lebo Mashile spoke out against Israeli apartheid at the IAW concert on this year during Israeli Apartheid Week. Photo: Michelle Gumede

FIERCE POETRY: Poet Lebo Mashile spoke out against Israeli apartheid at the IAW concert on this year during Israeli Apartheid Week. Photo: Michelle Gumede

She has no doubt become one of the most popular poets to date in contemporary South Africa.

A former Wits Law student, she was the daughter of exiled parents in the United States of America and returned in the mid 1990’s after the end of apartheid.

She has been actively involved in the plight against apartheid in Israel. She has performed numerously throughout the country, and recently partook in the Ruth First Memorial Lecture at Wits University, which was ablaze with political and social agenda that aimed to criticise racial dynamics within this democratic nation.

13. Panashe Chigumadzi

“Thank you Tseliso Monaheng for your amazing photographer’s eye.” – Panashe Chigumadzi

“Thank you Tseliso Monaheng for your amazing photographer’s eye.” – Panashe Chigumadzi

One of the newest voices to arise in recent years, she is a self proclaimed ‘Coconut’ and hers is the plight to transform the meaning of what it is to be a young black female in a democratic South Africa. She also spoke at the Ruth First Memorial Lecture to a crowd inspired by her words.

A Wits student, she will be releasing her debut novel Sweet Medicinelater this year. She is the founder and editor for the Vanguard Magazine, a platform for young black women coming of age in post apartheid South Africa.

She is currently completing a postgraduate degree in Development Studies at Wits.

14. Mamphele Ramphele

Although Ramphele has become in recent years a controversial figure, she is also a novelist.

Ramphele is a former anti-apartheid activist against, a medical doctor, an academic and a businesswoman.

She was one of several romantically involved partners linked to Steve Biko. Her latest book Passion for Freedom was published in 2013.

She was also leader of the Agang party; she has since withdrawn from politics from July 2014.

15. Zakes Mda

Zakes Mda was born in 1948 and has become a national signatory in the world of arts and literature.

He has written countless novels, poems and plays, many have been performed throughout the country on many stages, including the Market Theatre in Johannesburg, Newtown. He has won major South African and British literary awards for his novels and plays, and is currently a Patron of the Etisalat Prize for Literature.

He has also been awarded the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work.

Vladislavić launches latest book at Wits

Acclaimed South African author and Wits English professor, Ivan Vladislavić, launched his new book at Wits University last week.

Vlad edit-5806

DETECTIVE: Acclaimed South African author, Ivan Vladislavić launched his new book 101 Detectives at Wits on Thursday,  as part of Africa Week. Photo: Samantha Camara

101 Detectives  is a collection of fictional short stories that follow the adventures of different detectives across Johannesburg, Mauritius, the American West and Germany. The book is the latest offering from Wits English professor and celebrated author Ivan Vladislavić, and was launched at Wits University last Thursday.

Speaking at the launch hosted by the Wits School of Language, Literature and Media (SLLM), Vladislavić said the collection is an extension of his previous work The Loss Library.

Kirby Mania, who completed her doctorate on Vladislavićs’ works,  described the collection as an “act of detection” as the reader is invited to not only journey with the characters but also decipher clues and patterns which are hidden in the stories themselves.

Mania suggested that the collection is an “anti-detective” story which follows “no grand system that can be relied on to restore order”.

The book was published by Umuzi, a local branch of Penguin Random House and is on sale at leading bookstores.

Listen to Vladislavić read from the title story of the collection (click below):

Student run literary festival kicks off at Wits

POETRY READ: World renowned poet Peter Horn reads an extract of one his poems to a captivated audience. Photo: Zelmarie Goosen

POETRY READ: World-renowned poet Peter Horn reads an extract of one his poems. Photo: Zelmarie Goosen

The opening of the first ever student run literary festival kicked off at Wits today with a panel on the social life of poetry.

The Fine Lines literary festival was envisioned and organised by the student council members of the School of Literature, Language and Media (SLLM).

Students Priyankha Thakur, Saul Musker and Nelisa Ngcobo put the festival together to “create conversation” between students and experts.

Thakur told Wits Vuvuzela that they realised there was “a deficit in opportunity for events in our school”. They wanted “to create a place where students and upcoming authors could interact with experts” which they would not usually have the chance to connect with.

“It started off as this absurd idea while we were sitting on the floor outside an office in Senate House. We still can’t believe it came together.”

Musker said, “The festival is an open space in an intimate setting for interaction to take place.”

“We were a bit nervous initially but the staff within the SLLM were so helpful and willing to give us contacts. The poets and authors were so open to the idea of a student festival, it was really positive.”

World-renowned South African poets Koeropetse Kgositsile, Chris Mann and Peter Horn opened the festival with poetry readings in different forms which even included a lyrical poem sung by Mann.

Mann said, “The fact that this festival is coming from students is good news.”

Following the poetry readings a discussion about the life of poetry in the world was presented.

“There are poems for different times and moments. There is one poetry but hundreds of different types,” said Horn.

Kgositsile told the audience that “one has to get inside a poem to see how it connects with the outside world”.

The festival will be running until Friday, September 5th. Students can expect to see authors and poets like Antony Altbeker, Ivan Vladislavic, Mandla Langa, Shireen Hassim and the Botsotso Poetry group.

 

‘Gordimer’s mind was like being in a vast landscape as tall as it was wide’

Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer. Photo: Wits Vuvuzela.

South African Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer passed away at the age of 90 this week. Photo: Wits Vuvuzela.

Dr Karen Lazar is a lecturer in the School of Education at Wits University. She based her doctoral research on Nadine  Gordimer and spent many hours interviewing the late Nobel laureate. 

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In the course of my feminist doctoral research on Nadine Gordimer, I interviewed her several times in her beloved  dappled garden  in Parktown, 2km from Wits.

In grey pants, black polo-neck and silver shawl in tune with the signature silver bob of her hair, Gordimer’s small elegant figure greeted me and took me through her stately  house into the garden for the interview.

Not one for hugging, she was nonetheless gracious and interested in not only giving opinions but hearing them.

Whilst chatting, she offered me sponge-cake with my tea, and enquired after my small children.

Interacting with Gordimer’s mind was like being in a vast  landscape as tall as it was wide, as brightly lit as it was sometimes sombre.

I felt her indignation at political corruption and intellectual dishonesty, her literary subtlety, her perfectionist commitment to writing many  hours a day in the private sanctum of her study.

Gordimer was not one to brook fools, bigots or lazy thinkers. Many readers and students of literature do not find her  intense and laden prose easy to pass through, but none will deny the robustness of her epic contribution to South African literature.

A loyal but critical South African, committed African, global writer that she was, Nadine Gordimer’s contribution to South African cultural life and thought will be long remembered.

 

The life of Nadine Gordimer

 

Nadine Gordimer was born in 1923 in Springs, South Africa, and died in Johannesburg on July 13, 2014.

She was educated partly at home, and wrote and read widely as a child. She spent a year at Wits University as a young adult, and returned honorifically as a keynote speaker on numerous academic freedom and literary panels in later years.

Gordimer  received numerous awards in her 90 years, including the Booker prize in 1974, The Commonwealth Writers’ prize for the Best Book in Africa in 2002, and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991.

She is the only South African woman, to date, to win the Nobel.

Instead of complying with the custom of being walked down the carpet to receive her award in Stockholm by a member of her government, she chose instead to be accompanied by a literary comrade from her “government-in-waiting”, the ANC’S  (African National Congress) Mongane Wally Serote, this being 1991 and transition underway.

Gordimer’s sharp but sensuous language delivered her vision

 

However, Gordimer was not a slave, then or recently, to any government’s agenda or promises.

Gordimer was the author of 15 acclaimed and courageous novels, numerous collections of short stories, and several collections of socio-cultural  criticism. Gordimer’s work has been prescribed in many school and university curriculae, internationally,where it has challenged, perplexed and sometimes annoyed students.

Professor Stephen Clingman from Amherst university in Massachusetts described her novels as “history from the inside”. Throughout her long literary career, Gordimer’s writing mirrored and problematised the changing tides of South African history and her own complex and self-reflective position in it.

Whether in the wide-ranging and ambitious prose of her novels, or the lucid, elegant prose of her short fiction, Gordimer’s sharp but sensuous language  delivered her vision.

Her writing was drawn to the endless manifestations of power, within and between individuals, between men and women, between communities, between ideas, between epochs.

The heady space of intimacy in her writing was permeated with a politics that could not be shirked. Gordimer always shunned human abuses and parochialism, be they racial or religious or any other kind, but never shunned her responsibility, as a person, to make these known.

And yet, as a writer she claimed, “my first commitment is to my craft”.

 

Johannesburg: The migrant city that is anti-migrants

Gallery by Mfuneko Toyana

The Market Theatre’s main stage was the platform where six diverse minds gathered to discuss migration, a topic central to all of their individual work.

The last day and the last panel discussion of the Mail & Guardian Literary Festival helped to make audience members and authors alike reflect on the movement of people in and out of cities and countries.

The poor accommodating the poor

Wandile Zwane from the City of Johannesburg’s Migrant Helpdesk, used an interesting anecdote from a conversation he had had with a woman, illustrating a point made earlier about migration being a situation where the poor are accommodating the poor. [pullquote]”…people migrate to places with a gravitational pull…”[/pullquote]

The woman talked about the hierarchy that existed when it came to where one slept in her house. As a young child one was in the main bedroom, the older one got you would move to the dining room and the kitchen to make space for the younger ones. Eventually one would land up in the outside room and from there move on to their own house with a spouse.

Unfortunately her marriage had not worked out so she had to move back to the outside room with her kids, but because there was an immigrant living in that room she had to go back to the kitchen. The story points to one explanation of the animosity that exists around migration in South Africa.

Migration

Chinua Achebe’s book ‘There was a Country’ was the theme around which the conversation around which migration had to bend itself.

The panel consisted of writers who had threaded together stories and books, all zooming in on migration and themes central to resettlement. The panel discussion was largely based on the different writers’ works and their experiences of bridging political and personal narratives in their storytelling.

A young writer making waves in the literary world, NoViolet Bulawayo, said emergent personal narratives are based on political events, and that it was not possible to separate the two in one’s writing. [pullquote align=”right”]“Johannesburg is a migrant city”[/pullquote]

While the works of the six on stage were central to the discussion, engagement with audience members opened up the dialogue and brought up issues that were left out in the initial conversation.

Photographer and self-proclaimed book lover, Victor Dlamini (@victordlamini) made a poignant point from the floor, which steered the conversation to a meaningful point. He commented on people who are migrants themselves taking issue with people who migrate. He used Johannesburg as an example, saying most people who are in this city are not even from this city. “Johannesburg is a migrant city,” he added.

Panelist and writer, Achmat Dangor responded by saying that he agreed with Dlamini and pinned negative attitudes around migration on mechanisms of ‘othering’. He added that people migrate to places with a gravitational pull because of new ideas in that specific place. This is always the case with ‘big cities’, the activity and promise of economic emancipation lure people in, be it across borders or provincial lines.

Caroline Wanjiku Kihato, author of The Bookseller of Kibera, added to Dangor’s response, saying that human beings had a tendency of finding one another’s differences and using them to oppress one another.

Another audience member asked why was it that only Africans were considered immigrants. He did not understand why the Chinese and Europeans who come to this country were not treated with the same hostility that “our brothers” were.

In response Kwanele Sosibo (@KwaneleSosibo), journalist at the Mail & Guardian, simply said “we do it to ourselves”. He went on to narrate an anecdote about how people in an Eastern Cape community believe in measuring people according to certain pedigrees. Mining house recruiters divided them up according to body size, using pedigree determine who’d make best workers, exemplary of systematic ‘othering’.

Writing Invisibility

The Writing Invisibility e-book was launched. Some of the writers on the panel were contributors in the book which was a project done in collaboration with the Wits African Centre for Migration & Society.

The book is available for free download here.

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