Maverick Life


Literary festival and book fair season kicks off in Franschhoek

Literary festival and book fair season kicks off in Franschhoek
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The sprouting out of book festivals has been organic, with more people attending them over the years as the appetite for them has increased. Here are some highlights of what to expect at the Franschhoek Literary Festival and Kingsmead Book Fair. 

It’s May and as winter settles in and we withdraw indoors, books are our friends. If you’re wondering about what to read, we’re here to help by telling you about the upcoming book festivals, where you are bound to find something to hold close on those wintery nights. There are two book festivals on our literary doorstep. First up is the Franschhoek Literary Festival (FLF), taking place from 19 – 21 May 2023. This is followed, a week later, by the Kingsmead Book Fair, which takes place at Kingsmead College on 27 May 2023. Both festivals have become a significant part of our socio-cultural landscape.

The first FLF took place in 2007, at a time when the book industry was contracted, with few literary events taking place. It was organised by a group of volunteers who wanted to promote reading at disadvantaged schools in the Franschhoek Valley. The Kingsmead Book Fair, now in its eleventh year, also started as a small initiative when a group of parents at Kingsmead College wanted to host an event with a few authors. Alex Bouche, Director of Marketing at Kingsmead College, was part of organising the first event. “It started with an evening panel of authors. At the time, my daughter was in grade one, she’s now in grade 10 and it’s grown so much since then.” 

The sprouting out of both festivals has been organic, with more people attending them over the years as the appetite for them has increased. Festival Director for the FLF, Elitha van der Sandt explains how the FLF made its reappearance after a brief hiatus.

“In 2019, the FLF sadly ran out of funds and could not take place. Then the Covid-19 pandemic hit, which meant that we could not host a festival for three years. In 2022, a group of volunteers who used to attend the festival regularly decided to work together to revive it. They managed to bring sponsors on board and that’s how we were able to bring the festival back.”

Both book festivals intentionally seek to create a platform where books are a conduit for thinking about the challenges that face us as a society. Bouche explains how the Kingsmead Book Fair does this, “Many of our sessions focus on current topics — the issues that we are grappling with as South Africans. We platform South African writers who know our contextual reality.” 

Similarly, the FLF has worked hard to ensure that the festival is a platform for thought leadership on socio-political issues this year. Van der Sandt explains, “We have started weaving the concept of Pan-Africanism into the programme. We don’t just want to focus on international authors, we want to recognise the contribution made by authors on the African continent. We want to step into conversations about the issues that affect us as a region. We have so much talent on the continent and the FLF wants to amplify that. One of the events that we’re very excited about, for example, is the discussion with Aiwanose Odafen on her book, Tomorrow I Become a Woman. The book is a powerful commentary on the gendered and cultural experiences of women in Nigeria — experiences that resonate across the continent.”   

A clear sense of vision drives the organising of both book festivals. At Kingsmead College, the school theme is “courage.” Bouche explains how this theme has been immersed into the programme. 

“Kingsmead College is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year. As we think about the concept ‘courage,’ we recognise that it is not just about the mammoth actions of courage that bring about change. It’s also the little acts of courage that are important, that create an accumulative effect over time. Building on from this, we came up with the concept ‘word warriors’. Words are important in shaping how we think. Metacognition, the process of understanding our thought processes is, in essence, an attempt to think about how we think. What are our blind spots? How might we reimagine how we contribute to change? Submerging ourselves in books, in the ideas held by them, is one way of potentially opening up the windows of our mind.” 

For the FLF, the vision for the festival is to focus both on retaining its historic audience, but to also expand upon it and make it more diverse. The FLF is very much a destination festival. Van der Sandt says, “We’re aware that Franschhoek is out of town and can be an expensive venture for those wanting to attend. Yet, part of the experience is to step into a different space. Many of those who attend the festival appreciate escaping their norm and want to spend time away from their obligations. This is part of the reason why the festival does not have a children’s programme. It’s not one of those festivals where you bring everyone along, but we do want to conduct research and put some indicators in place to gauge what people want. Part of this is to ensure that we create more access and diversity. We definitely want to see a more blended audience in the next few years.” 

One of the highlights at this year’s FLF will be the poetry performances and youth-related content, which aims to attract a younger audience. Van der Sandt says that the session on “Words Fly Underneath the Night Skies” is a likely winner in that it will focus on storytelling in English, Afrikaans and isiXhosa.” In addition to discussions on “The Next New South Africa” and “Sabotage: Eskom Under Siege”, there will be a range of panels focusing on the best local fiction that South Africa has to offer, including workshops on memoir writing.

The Kingsmead Book Fair covers all bases with an adult, young adult, and children’s programme. The young adult programme includes sessions on how to start a podcast, how to make a comic, as well as a scriptwriting workshop. The adult programme features discussions on the state of South Africa, capitalism, true crime, and a showcasing of new talent with a spotlight on debut authors. Proceeds from the Kingsmead book fair are also used to invest in bursaries for girls. 

Both book fairs have something for everyone — so if you’re close to either event, get your tickets online and go and hang with the book peeps — it looks like it’s going to be effervescent with promise. DM/ ML


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