Writings of the general word's body

Friday, November 18, 2011

2nd African Women Writers' Forum

The 2nd African Women Writers' Symposium kicked off today in Johannesburg. The theme of the symposium is 'Dream, Speak, Read, Reclaim - Being African in the World'.

South Africa's
Mail & Guardian newspaper marked the 3-day event with an 8-page special supplement on the symposium. At the opening event today, M&G's Arts Editor said the newspaper sees as part of its role "some sort of participation in the literary life of the country."

Perhaps the best introduction to the symposium in convener Lisa Combrinck's introduction and overview, reproduced below and also published in the M&G as 'African in Heart and Soul'.


Forty writers in 3 days gather in in one city, Johannesburg, in honour of
Nadine Gordimer as she celebrates her 88th birthday and to interrogate what it means to be African in the world.

Of these writers, the vast majority are women who have also come to Johannesburg at the invitation of the Department of Arts and Culture to participate in the Second African Women Writers’ Symposium. The first one held in August last year brought women writers together under the theme of “Women’s Words: African worlds: Renewing a dialogue between African women writers and women of African descent. The first symposium brought African women’s writing to a South African audience and provided a platform in which African women writers could highlight the challenges faced by women on the continent and form a network of African women writers.

This year the event is more ambitious as writers gather under the theme: “Dream, speak, read, reclaim: being African in the world”. This year sees a more concerted focus on North African women’s writing. Most well-known of these is the Egyptian author and medical doctor, Nawal El Saadawi whose writing has as its central theme the oppression of women and women’s assertion of their freedom. A medical doctor by profession, Nawal El Saadawi, was imprisoned for her beliefs. She was placed on a death list; and she describes this time of her life in “Walking through Fire”, in the most factual yet chilling manner: “Almost every day the bodyguard would ring the bell and tell us that they had caught a stranger trying to come up to my flat. Every time the door-bell rang, I imagined the assassin standing outside. I could not write with the fear of death hanging over my head. I tried to chase it away but it kept coming back…. It used to spread its wings over my head as I sat writing. I would stop in the middle of a line or a word, the pen arrested in its movement.”

Nawal El Saadawi is also joined by a fellow writer from Egypt, Ekbal Baraka, who is President of Egypt PEN and the author of numerous books that show the plight of women and their attempts to address these women’s movements. From Algeria hails another medical doctor, Samira Negrouche, whose work is profound and poetic and gives life to the landscape of the north of Africa. She writes of the African desert where “furrows forge their shapes,” and “caravans can’t make their way down into the black earth.” The desert, she says “needs freedom”. Elsewhere she takes on the persona of a slave: “I am in the south of life with my slave’s memory reddened by the imbibed blood of our fears, there is no nation that claims me. Night will come to take me at the hour of these shores, lit by futile passions.” They are also joined by the writer and film producer, Farah Abusheshwa, who is of both Irish and Lybian descent, and whose innovative efforts in Britain have produced partnerships between producers, script writers and agencies. She is also proud to be among those raising their voices for the rights of Lybian women under the transitional government.

From the west hails Lola Shoneyin, a Nigerian poet and novelist, whose latest offering, ‘The Secrets of Baba Segi’s Wives’, takes a look a polygamy and how this affects women. Molara Wood, a story writer, also hails from Nigeria and she has also devoted herself to writing a blog that has gained widespread popularity in her motherland. From East Africa comes the inimitable Doreen Baingana whose rise to fame came as the result of the publication of her book, Tropical Fish. Through this book, Baingana brought to fiction writing a world of childhood with which others could identify and see their lives through her words. Her fellow Ugandan, is the poet, Beverly Nambozo Nsengiyunva, based in Kampala, whose poetry is vivid and playful and who has founded an annual poetry award for Ugandan

From the African Diaspora comes Kadija George, who is based in the United Kingdom but is a Sierra Leonean, who is a poet and short story writer and an editor of literary journals and anthologies focused on women of African descent. Her poems speak of a cosmopolitan reality where migration is the result of economic dependency and where an African boy can earn his living selling “flashing Eiffel towers” and she ironically titled this poem “Living the African dream in Paris”. Also based in the United Kingdom is Lizzy Attree, current administrator of the
Caine Prize and an academic of note. Abena Koomson, a Ghanaian based in the United States, and well-known for her acting work, will be holding creative writing workshops with young writers in Durban, Bloemfontein and Johannesburg. Those who have attended the workshops facilitated by her describe it as a moving experience.

Zimbabwean writer, Tsitsi Dangarembga, will also be participating in this symposium; and she is known as a filmmaker and the author of the famous novel, Nervous Conditions, as well as, more recently, The Book of Not. Leloba Molema, a Botswana academic, brings her vast knowledge and experience to the Symposium having been one of the editors of the mammoth work, Women Writing Africa, Volume One. From Namibia comes Ellen Ndeshi Namhila, a writer who was part of the Namibian liberation struggle and who spent fifteen years as a refugee. Notable among her books is The Price of Freedom, her autobiography.

South African writers participating include of course Nadine Gordimer, Africa’s only woman Nobel literary Laureate, whose many novels and short stories have captured the times that we live in. The 2011 symposium pays tribute to her role in South African literature and as a firm supporter of writers’ organizations over the years as she turns eighty-eight on the 20th November this year.

South African authors will engage in this dialogue with their counterparts. Among them are also Ingrid Winterbach (Lettie Viljoen) based in Durban whose Afrikaans fiction has met with widespread acclaim and whose novel, To hell with Cronje, won the Hertzog Prize in 2004. Cape Town writer, Diane Ferrus, a storyteller and the author of poetry in both English and Afrikaans, will read from her new collection, “I have come to take you home”. Gender researcher and analyst, Nomboniso Gasa, will chair a roundtable discussion focusing on issues of gender, identity and culture. She is the editor of Women in South African History and has also focused her research on democracy in Nigeria. Myesha Jenkins is a performance poet who resides in Johannesburg and who was a founding member of the Feela Sistah Spoken Word Collective which launched many a woman poet into the centre-stage. Together with the dynamic writer and performance poet, Natalia Molebatsi, who will also be participating in this literary feast, she is currently co-editing a South African anthology of erotic poetry. They will also be joined by Michele McGrane, whose most recent collection, Suitable Girls, reveals an interesting series of poems entitled Lunar Postcards. Perhaps following from the self-styled Martian poets, she has produced a lunar landscape where “We season freeze-dried macaroni / with liquid salt and pepper” and where rather humorously, “after a week of granola bars, / nuts and bitter orange juice, /the commander’s arm / begins to look tasty.” Shaida Kazie Ali brings to this event a fresh approach to creative writing by making references to recipes and children’s stories in her debut fiction, Not a Fairytale, which takes a hard look at male-female relationships in a Muslim family.

Award-winning journalist, Margie Orford, will be sharing her insights with a Johannesburg audience. Her novels have paved a new and interesting path for South African women’s fiction with her Clare Hart series. Fellow novelist, Angela Makholwa, whose debut novel was a psychological crime thriller, will also be present. Her latest work is enigmatically titled The 30th Candle. Makholwa is also part of the READSA initiative. Western Cape academic, Desiree Lewis, will share her analysis of photography by women photographers by placing a gendered lens on the subject. The academic community is further represented by Libby Meintjes from Wits University: School of Language and Literature, who has also been involved in the organizing of this symposium. Monica Seeber will bring to this gathering her expertise on copyright and specifically the rights of authors.

Finally it would be a oversight if mention was not made of the male authors who will join their female counterparts in honour of Nadine Gordimer as they join the discussion on what it means to be African in the world from the vantage point of the author and the intellectual. Veteran writer, Oswald Mtshali, whose groundbreaking poetry collection, Sounds of a Cowhide Drum, was published forty years ago this year will bring his ideas to bear on this
question as too will Remi Raji-Oyelade, an award-winning poet and academic based at the University of Ibadan. Intellectual property lawyer, Tade Ipadeola, will read from his epic work in progress, Sahara Testaments, while Masoja Msiza will dazzle us with his memorable poems that get to the heart of the South African condition.

It is hoped that such an array of African authors will also speak and dream with each other and that through such a platform begin to speak to the African condition not only in a myriad of ways, but in order to lead to what Ali Mazrui calls “cultural coalescence”. As African authors gather in numbers, the notion of a cross border culture as labeled by Lewis Nkosi should also be interrogated. But mainly it is hoped that this will inspire younger generations of aspiring writers to follow their hearts and embark upon a career in the arts, as professional writers in the creative economy.

This symposium and tribute take place only a few days before the Department of Arts and Culture hosts a workshop on the African Renaissance Cultural Charter and also four days before South Africa hosts a meeting of the African World Heritage Fund. With the focus on Africa in the forthcoming week, this also bodes well for the COP17 United Nations Conference that South Africa hosts from the 26th November 2011 and for future gatherings that require all of Africa to work towards a common position.

By Lisa Combrinck
African Women Writers’Symposium convener

1 comment:

Amy said...

This sounds like a really fantastic event. Many authors listed whose works I've read, many who are on my to read list. Thanks for posting about it here.