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Margie Orford

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Archive for the ‘Events’ Category

World Day of the Imprisoned Writer: PEN South Africa supports ‘each unharmful, gentle soul misplaced inside a jail’

A report by Finuala Dowling:

In a moving and rousing event to mark the World Day of the Imprisoned Writer last Thursday, seven South African writers ranging in age from a nineteen-year-old beginner blogger to a distinguished seventy-two-year old poet paid tribute to their imprisoned peers around the world.

Over a hundred people crowded into Kalk Bay Books to hear Beatrice Willoughby, Tom Eaton, Lauren Beukes, Henrietta Rose-Innes, Tim Butcher, Michael Morris and Gus Ferguson lend their voices to silenced writers with whom, in most cases, they shared an exact birth year: Tal al-Mallouhi of Syria, Ericson Acosta of the Philippines, Eskinder Nega of Ethiopia, Dolma Kyab of Tibet, Muharrem Erbey of Turkey, Mamadali Makhmudov of Uzbekistan and Chinese Nobel Laureate, Liu Xiaobo.

The local writers read poetry, prose and prison letters by the imprisoned writers, offering in turn words of reflection, consolation and support.

As always at PEN events, an empty chair symbolised the jailed writer.

‘Freedom of expression underlies all other freedoms,’ said Margie Orford, executive vice-president of PEN South Africa, in her opening remarks.

John Maytham, MC for the evening, reminded the audience of the many South African writers who were detained under apartheid, and echoed Orford’s warning that writers here could soon risk imprisonment again for telling the truth under the new ‘Secrecy Bill’.

Before describing the circumstances of each writer’s arrest and detention, Maytham quoted Nadine Gordimer (‘Art is on the side of the oppressed’) and Alexander Solzhenitsyn: ‘For a country to have a great writer is like having a second government. That is why no regime has ever loved great writers, only minor ones.’

Commenting on the fact that Ericson Acosta was arrested for being in possession of hand grenades when all he had on him at the time was his laptop, Tom Eaton said ‘This is a very telling detail, because to a regime, a laptop is a hand grenade.’

Michael Morris returned to this fear of the incendiary power of words when he read a list of items confiscated from Liu Xiaobo when the Chinese poet was taken into custody:

1. Notebook computer (IBM model T43), one
2. Notebook computer (Lianxiang model Chaoyang 700 CFe), one
3. Desktop computer (Lianxiang model Jiayue), one
4. Charter 08 request for comments draft (sealed together with the court papers), 7 pages+ .

‘We are lucky that we live in South Africa and can write what we like,’ said Lauren Beukes, before reading Chris van Wyk’s poem ‘In detention’ as a reminder of how this has not always been true.

Henrietta Rose-Innes too, chose a South African prison poem, Hugh Lewin’s ‘Wagon Wheels’, with its haunting memory of Eli Weinberg singing for the condemned men on their way to the gallows:

And if you stopped a moment
on your way up Hospital Hill
into the rising hum of Hillbrow
you’d have heard it -
only an echo perhaps
behind the walls and the double doors
hiding the nation’s underbelly.

Tim Butcher responded to Eskinder Nega’s moving fortitude during his continued imprisonment, and Gus Ferguson poignantly contrasted his life to that of his tortured ‘doppelganger’ Mamadali Makhmudov.

Beatrice Willoughby offered this simple, line-by-line response to her age-twin, Tal al-Mallouhi of Syria:

You will remain an example by Tal al-Mallouhi

I will walk with all walking people
And no
I will not stand still
Just to watch the passers by
This is my Homeland
In which
I have
A palm tree
A drop in a cloud
And a grave to protect me

This is more beautiful
Than all cities of fog
And cities which
Do not recognise me
My master:
I would like to have power
Even for one day
To build the “republic of feelings.”

(Translated by Ghias al-Jundi)

Dear Tal al-

by Beatrice Willoughby

May you run with all running people
And yes
You will never be still
Never just watch the passers by
I know because in my homeland
I have
A spekboom
A cloud on the mountain

And an old man’s promise to protect me

Our homelands are more beautiful
Than all cities of fog
And cities which
Do not recognise us
Listen masters, to 19-year old girls
We too would like power
Even just for one day
To build our “republic of feelings.”

The evening was framed by song. Jacques Coetzee and Johann Kotze set the tone for the evening with an unplugged version of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Bird on a wire’, and Emma Rycroft sent everyone home with the feeling that the gathering had, indeed, ‘gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing’.


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Peter Temple wins major Australian Literary Award

South African born Peter Temple is one of my favourite crime writers. TRUTH – his most recent books is complex, challenging and original. I very pleased to see he won this award – first won by Patrick White for Voss, another of my favourite books. And great to see that crime books are filtering through into the so-called literary world. Temple gives a wonderful insight into Australian society. Try his BROKEN SHORE – another great book. Here’s the story: SA-born crime writer wins book award.


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Moscow to Jozi via Lyon and the Quais du Polar Crime Writing Festival

April is the month for Lyon’s annual Quais du Polar festival, an international literary festival dedicated to crime fiction. It has drawn some very big names — Ian Rankin, Michael Connelly, Peter Robinson and South Africa’s own favourite French export, Deon Meyer. I cracked the nod this year and spent a fabulous few days drinking Côte du Rhône wine, eating the best food in France and hanging out with some of my fellow practitioners of the art of literary murder.

Lyon is a fast, two-hour train ride from Paris, but it seems further away. France’s second-largest city is more languid than the capital. It was founded by the Romans to enable them to keep the Gauls (think Asterix and Obelix) in check. It is a lovely city to walk in. The rivers Rhône and Saône snake their way through the medieval quarter on their way to the Mediterranean. At night there is a rather theatrical undercurrent of thuggishness on the streets too. Knots of strung-out teenagers on park benches, Kojak-bald sailors with thick gold earrings watching the girls go by, sharp looking mafioso in the corners of the cafés. Marseilles, that hub of European crime is, after all, just an hour or so away. And Marseilles featured quite prominently in the French novels on display at the Quais du Polar.

Polar is the rather charming French name for crime fiction. I like the chilliness implied as much as I liked the darkness of its other appellation, noir fiction. Both are rather more glamorous than the German diminutive, krimi. And sidestep the Anglo-America confusion about crime/thriller/mystery and so on. Whatever you call it, the genre is very popular in France and I watched French authors autographing books at high speed.

French publishers sensibly trap their authors in small booths, and I was placed next to an obsessive, tattooed Icelandic fisherman-turned-polar-writer. He kept a careful note in a little black book of each and every book he signed: name of the person, description, place. He would flip back and forth between signing lulls, comparing the number of fans here with the number of fans elsewhere and muttering in Icelandic French to his publicist. It gave me the chilling little kernel for a new story. The noir writer with a very sharp fishing knife who follows up on his better-looking female readers …

  • More at the Mail & Guardian

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Meet Andrew Brown (and Me) at Fiesta

In case you didn’t get the memo from Fiesta Tapas in De Waterkant:

With Halloween beckoning what could be better than inviting two thriller writers to set the scene the night before! Make a firm date for Thursday October 30 at Fiesta Tapas Café Bar when Margie Orford (author of Like Clockwork and Blood Rose) shares the stage with Andrew Brown (Sunday Times award winning author of Coldsleep Lullaby). Known for their clever murder mysteries set in the Cape they’ll be sending shivers down our spines as they give us the lowdown on writing about murder and mayhem.

These two accomplished talents will be speaking between 8pm and 9pm and to set the mood patrons who attend will be treated to a “thriller” cocktail on arrival! If your favourite read is one that spills blood then you won’t want to miss these two entertaining speakers.

Bookings: Fiesta Tapas Café Bar: 021 418 5121.


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Books and Wine in Franschhoek

The first Franschoek Literary Festival was a delight. Literature is usually improved by wine, and having the whole town as a venue worked very well. Several of the invited authors were so considerably improved by the wine that I wondered if they would make their sessions. But they did and despite some delicate head holding there were some very good converstaions.

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