Last week I was lucky enough to attend the Kingsmead Book Fair, an annual literary festival held at Kingsmead College in Rosebank, Johannesburg. Being able to attend the Kingsmead Book Fair helped me to get over my Franschhoek Literary Fest FOMO the week before. I went to the FLF a few years ago – there is something so wonderful about feeling enlightened and entertained by great minds in a setting that is absolutely gorgeous and in the presence of fine wine and dining.
Luckily, the Kingsmead Book Fair is really not far off the mark. I mean, the school cannot help that it isn’t nestled in the breasts of the beautiful mountains in the Western Cape, in the heart of the winelands. But the school is beautiful – from its original Herbert Baker house and subsequent buildings added to match, to its carefully manicured gardens and beautiful little nooks. In terms of good food and wine, there were a number of popular “street food” stalls, like Balkan Burgers, the Paella crew that you often find at food markets, delicious pizzas, sushi, chip ‘n dip as well as a number of cake and candy stalls. There were also good coffee stalls, as well as a bar where one could get craft beer on tap, a glass of wine or some tasty bubbles. The decoration committee had certainly gone all out to make things beautiful.
But the area which matched the FLF (or perhaps even outdid it, in my humble opinion) was the programme. There was something for everyone – including young children and tweens. The programme was choc-a-block with exciting authors and entertainers. From 10 am, there were five or six concurrent sessions – thankfully all contained within the school so there was enough time between sessions to grab a snack or a drink. The difficulty, of course, was choosing between the different talks – there really were amazing thinkers and influential writers on the programme. I had to reject Judge Edwin Cameron, Moeletsi Mbeki and Reg Lascaris in favour of a talk about memoirs by Mark Gevisser, Dominique Botha and Malaika wa Azania, chaired by the lovely Kate Sidley. I wasn’t disappointed with my choice. Every time Dominique Botha opened her mouth, it was like listening to poetry – I can’t wait to read her “False River” which has had rave reviews. There was lively and stimulating debate on the panel and I came away feeling more intelligent and also like I might have to relinquish my self-imposed ban on buying new books until I’ve read some of the many sitting next to my bed – all three of these memoirs sound very appealing to my taste.
In the second session I missed talks by Deon Meyer, Craig Higginson, Mongane Serote and Mandy Weiner in favour of a discussion on culture hosted by Sue Grant-Marshall with the humorous writers Ndumiso Ngcobo and Hagen Engler. Ngcobo writes a column in the Sunday Times and is a published author, and Engler used to edit FHM magazine, and has subsequently published a few books, the most recent being “Marrying Black Girls for Guys who aren’t Black”. They had the audience in peals of laughter with discussions about “white people’s prices” and why taxi drivers are so hostile.
Books were on sale outside all the venues as well as at central venues in the school and ticket sales happened online before the event as well as at the event itself. On the whole, I cannot knock the organisation – it ran like clockwork.There was a really beautiful area set up for young children – with famous authors reading from the children’s books they’ve written. There were also volunteers reading and colouring in with the little ones. For the tweens, the organisers had arranged a “Hunger Games” – thankfully not a fight to the death, but a combination of physical and mental challenges with prizes for the winning “districts”. My kids felt thoroughly entertained. I was also thrilled to see that a group of children from St Vincent’s school for the deaf had been sponsored to attend the book fair – along with a sign language interpreter. The Book Fair is a charity fund raiser, which makes it all the more appealing to me.
The Book Fair was a beautiful event attended by the whose who of Johannesburg, and there was much celebrity spotting to be done by a word lover like me – I spotted Tony Leon, Steven Boykie Sidley, Hamilton Wende, Craig Higginson, Gus Silber and so many more. I wish I had the time and energy to go to more talks – including Pieter Dirk Uys in the closing spot at 6 pm, but I had had a busy week and had a birthday party to prepare for the next day. I think that RMB Private Bank, The Times newspaper and Kingsmead College put together a really wonderful event and I encourage you all keep an eye out for the Kingsmead Book Fair next year – it’s sure to be even bigger and better.