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Madibaland World Literary Festival: A Reading Rainbow To Bring Us Together

Author: Nicklaus Kruger

There’s something for everyone at Madibaland World Literary Festival - the world’s largest online book festival brings together travel writers, foodies, novelists, poets, journalists and more from around the globe to celebrate our connectedness.

(Published - 17 November 2020)

There are a lot of book festivals about these days - even online ones, in our new pandemic-troubled world. But there has never been a festival quite like  the Madibaland World Literary Festival.

“This festival is, I think, the largest online literary festival in the world - and definitely the largest book festival SA has ever hosted,” says Prof Darryl David. “Nothing comes even remotely close to this, in terms of the sheer number of writers speaking at the festival, the number of sessions, the variety of literature represented. It’s a large, large festival - and one that will definitely have an impact on anyone who attends.”

The festival, bringing together over 150 writers from around the world from 20 to 28 November 2020, is a partnership between the University of the Western Cape, where David is a lecturer in Afrikaans Education, and Book Town Richmond, the only Book Town in South Africa and on the African continent. 

“At the end of April, I announced nothing more than a dream to create the world’s largest online literary festival,” David says. “And without a cent to my name, I approached writers from all over the world, to discuss the idea of writers banding together to speak with one voice. The results were extremely positive - and astonishing.”

There’s something for everyone at the Madibaland World Literary Festival. 

Travel writers like Dana Snyman and Obie Oberholzer will share the festival with political figures like Ronnie Kasrils. Journalist Anton Harber (So, For The Record) will explore the era of post-truth, unpacking how newspapers have lied, and why that’s a problem. Foodies and historians alike can enjoy John T. Edge (The Potlikker Papers) discussing the US South, examining a complex history through the region’s distinctive foods. Angie Butler will be giving a talk on all the explorers of Antarctica, and the race amongst the nations of the world to conquer that remote continent. 

Local literary legends like Ashwin Desai, Fred Khumalo and Antjie Krog will join Nigerian wordsmith Chris Abani, Dutch writer Gerbrand Bakker (Boven is het stil (The twin) / De omweg (The detour)) and Irish genre-bending bestseller John Connell (The Cow Book). Shilpa Raj (The Elephant Chaser’s Daughter) will explore life as one of India’s untouchables, in a caste system older than apartheid. And UWC’s own Diana Ferrus will explore the power of poetry to change the world. 

There are musical sessions. Poetry sessions. Panels on politics, and literature, and more. (And that’s just for starters - for a full list, just check out the Madibaland World Literary Festival page.)

“Writing is a calling - but it’s also a job,” David says. “And I’m telling you if you can get writers like this from all over the world with no budget - well, we’ve got to be doing something right. Why not come see for yourself?”

One Voice: A Virus Of Love

Prof David has handled dozens of literary festivals before. He’s the founder of BookTown Richmond, and the UKZN Zulu Literary Museum, and the Director of Pniel’s Adam Small Boekefees and Pietermaritzburg’s Alan Paton Literary Festival (among others). And in a world facing a global pandemic, he knew that a book festival had the power to connect us.

“There’s something programmed into our DNA that makes humankind want to communicate with each other,” David says. “When early people used to engrave on cave walls, that was an attempt to communicate. When people marooned on islands post messages in a bottle and throw it in the ocean, that is the desire to communicate. And when the pandemic struck, and people were locked in their homes, and it seemed like the world we knew was coming to an end - that’s when we reached out for information, for entertainment and for connection. And we reached out through writing.”

So why Madibaland?

“In South Africa, we’re going through a rough time at the moment,” David says. “We’re a very divided country - and more than that, I think the world is a very divided place. I wanted to put something together that had a unifying influence on people - something where, even just for ten days, we spread a different virus: a virus of love; of unity; of oneness.”

Yes...but why Madibaland?

Well, the festival name was inspired by a travel book of the same name by well-known writer and journalist Denis Beckett, which in turn was inspired by a man who needs no introduction – Nelson Mandela, who was lovingly called Madiba in the country of his birth. 

“I wanted a name that shouted out South Africa,” David recalls. “A name that would be recognised in South Africa, but also respected the world over. And there’s no more suitable name than that of the man who united a nation facing seemingly impossible challenges and tensions. Sometimes leaders like Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu are nowadays criticised for what many people call the myth of the rainbow nation - but sometimes people need fairy tales in their lives. And sometimes, as GK Chesterton observed, fairy tales can be more than true. And I think this is one such fairy tale.”

It’s a celebration of writers - of what they mean to society, and what they can tell us about ourselves. And it’s about finding connection through communication - one humanity, speaking with one voice.

“We may be divided by oceans,” David notes. “We may be divided by time zones, and circumstances, and more. But we are linked by our desire to communicate - and I think this festival will be the perfect chance to celebrate that.”

The Madibaland World Literary Festival runs from 20 to 28 November 2020. For more information, to view a full programme, or to register, please visit the Madibaland World Literary Festival page.

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