Poetry, banned books and celebrated writing at the debut Kimberley Book Fair

Kimberley: Home to historical sites such as the Sol Plaatje Museum, events like the Kimberley Diamond Cup,  and of course, the iconic Kimberley Hole. And as of September 30, Kimberley will play host to its first ever book fair. 

Kicking off on Friday 30 and running until Saturday 1 October, the Kimberley Book Fair will feature guest writers such as Rose Francis, Lesego Rampolokeng, and Kabelo Kgatea. There will also be panel discussions, authors in conversation, creative writing workshops and more.

The two day event is the collaborative venture of Sabata-Mpho Mokae and Ricky Groenwald. With talk of a sustainable book fair and literary festival in Kimberley doing the rounds for some time, it was earlier this year that Sabata-Mpho and Ricky finally put the idea into action. A short while and a few calls later and they had already booked Abdullah al Wesali as their international guest speaker. 

We caught up with Kimberley Book Fair co-ordinator Ricky Groenwald to find out a bit more about the book fair, the Kimberley literary scene, and the need for more literary festivals across South Africa.

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Rose Francis. Photograph by Victor Dlamini

How did the Kimberley Book Fair come to be and how long has the idea for the fair been in progress?

The discussion about creating a literary festival among some of the literary enthusiasts in Kimberley has been coming along for the past few years. We were never quite satisfied with the way festivals have been run in the past, especially with regards to representation of local writers.

But Kimberley Book Fair first came up between Sabata-Mpho Mokae and myself on our way to Rutanang Book Fair which took place in Potchefstroom earlier this year. Just over a month later we sat in his office and decided it was time. But what would set Kimberley Book Fair apart from other literary events was the bigger question. We have also had occasional discussions around Banned Books Week, which was when he emailed a request to Abdullah al Wesali in Saudi Arabia, and an hour into our meeting we had our first confirmed international guest.

Kimberley Book Fair was on its way. This was in the 2nd of June. The momentum was set and we haven’t stopped to look back. With a very small team of dedicated individuals, a lot can be accomplished. We had to prove that to ourselves more than anything, as the time grew closer and closer. We didn’t have a stitch of budget at the time, only a set date and an Internationally Acclaimed author as our Key Note Speaker and a keen sense of success.

To take it a step back from the overall concept behind Kimberley Book Fair and knowledge of the level of the local literary scene we are looking at it from a developmental perspective, hence the focus on our four featured guests facilitating the Creative Writing and Publishing Workshops which focuses on the introductory aspects of creative writing in Poetry, Fiction and Non-Fiction.

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Lesego Rampolokeng

Some might find it strange to see a book fair popping up in the middle of Kimberly. Can you give us a bit of insight into Kimberley’s literary scene?

The Kimberley literary scene is growing slowly but surely. We have the InkSwordPublishers, the only black-owned independent publishing house in the Province. Established only three years ago, has published 15 titles in different genres and languages, with writers from Zimbabwe like John Eppel, Botswana, Durban and Johannesburg. Including our own Sabata-Mpho Mokae and Mark Kotze from Kimberley.

We face the same issues regarding mainstream retail outlets not displaying our books, let alone the lack of bookstores. Which is why there are also plans to establish and independent book shop focusing mainly on African titles and second-hand books.

We have also established Earth Art Writers Guild, an NPO with the aim to develop the Northern Cape writer, as well as the Province’s reading community by creating various programmes from ECD level to working with professionals to make the necessary impact needed in our communities. The emergence of Book Clubs have also been on the rise, in places such as Pampierstad where Lentswe Book Club meets regularly.

Talent lies scattered all over the Northern Cape, but without sufficient platforms to showcase these talents it becomes the cause for lost hopes and dreams. Hence, Kimberley Book Fair, which is only one of many literary events which will be hosted in the months to come. We will keep you posted.

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Abdullah al Wesali. Photograph by Thomas Langdon

Why do you think it’s important to revisit the works of previously banned writers?

In SA we have been battling to come to terms with a past that is to some more painful than others. It’s important because there are works that have been censored in the past with information that is still pertinent today. Not only books/writers that were banned but about the writers who are not given the opportunity to publish due to the nature of the content and not based on other technicalities. This still happens today, and in a sense is a banned or suppressed voice.

On a daily basis information is being uncovered, which sometimes brings clarity to many people, families and situations or new information which wasn’t always at our fingertips.

It’s not only about revisiting previously banned writers, most of whom have passed on, but to have Kimberley Book Fair serve as that platform to give suppressed voices a chance to be heard. Books and writers are still being banned around the world, for exposing or rather expressing the very things we see or experience in everyday life in our global communities. Which is why Banned Books Week is such an important global event adding not only Kimberley to it’s following but the country and continent as a whole.

Looking at South Africa’s literary communities, how much of a need is there for new literary fairs and new discussions around writing and why?

The literary community in SA and Africa for that matter, is quite unbalanced and that is evident in major bookstores, most literary festivals and even in our community libraries.

Literature has always been out of reach to some communities. The rise of Black writers festivals is extremely necessary when it comes to making literature more accessible. With movements such as #Decolonisingliterature, we are moving towards taking ownership of what is missing in our communities, instead of standing around and pointing fingers once again.

As an independent publisher I receive many unsolicited manuscripts of writers who do not have a very strong grasp of English, which, in most cases, is not their first language, not even their third, due to the misguided belief that one has to write in English to be published or to reach a larger audience. We do encourage writers to pen their stories and their poetry in their Mother tongue. We can always look at literary translations should you really want to be read in English.

However, getting writers, young writers especially, to write in their Mother tongue has been somewhat of a struggle, not only for the writer herself, but developing an audience who have only been exposed to English literature, either due to their schooling or in their lives later on. There is always a question of quality of writing, which also poses a threat to our efforts in the development of new audiences. Its about getting the Non- Reader over to the avid reader section. And that is why at new literary fairs, new discussions need to take place. Its quite a mammoth task, but someone has to do it.

To find out more about the Kimberley Book Fair, get in touch with them via Twitter

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