Last Saturday, Joburg was treated to another fantastic literary feast at the Kingsmead Book Fair. I was in my absolute element hobnobbing with some of my favourite writers and enjoying fantastic food and champagne. I’m going to try to capture some of the talks, but actually, if you haven’t been yet, don’t be a fool and miss it next year!
The organisers leave no stone unturned in their attention to detail. There really is something for everyone, in terms of foods, drinks, sweets, and particularly the line up. All the usual food stalls that do local markets were in attendance – Happy.Me, Soul Souvlaki, Balkan Burgers etc. The parents of the school tended bar where there was craft beer on tap, champagne, and even craft gin. The decor in the main food tent centred mainly around books, and was just gorgeous.
Corporate sponsors this year were Rand Merchant Bank (who have supported this event for the last few years, and they put out a beautiful lounge in one of the school’s many beautiful spaces for VIP guests to take a break), and new sponsors 702 (who provided much publicity in the lead up to the event) and Gautrain (which makes sense, considering the school sits on top of the Rosebank station).
Because there was so much to choose from (the programme was jammed packed, with 7 venues running consecutive 45 minute sessions with a half-hour gap in between, from 10am) and because I really struggle with decision making (ask anyone who has dined with me at a restaurant with a large menu!), I set myself up in one venue for the day – the Lange Hall, where all the “big” talks were happening. This meant that I missed out on so much else (for instance, in the first session I would much rather have been at Taking Potshots with Marianne Thamm, Nik Rabinowitz, Rebecca Davis and Nia Magoulianiti-McGregor (what a mouthful!), but I listened instead to Ferial Haffajee try to put a positive spin on what was really a bleak discussion by Chris Yelland, Keving Lings and Anthea Jeffery about the state of our economy.
I did get to listen to the gorgeous voice of Xolani Gwala and the other 702 giants, John Robbie and Stephen Grootes in conversation with not-so-scary-in-real-life Deborah Patta. That was most entertaining. After that was, I think, my favourite talk of the day, Turning Ourselves Inside, where veteran journalist Jenny Crwys-Williams chatted to PJ Powers, Ndumiso Ngcobo and Darrel Bristow-Bovey. Ngcobo and Bristow-Bovey are two of my favourite masters of the pen (keyboard?) and I must confess to having a gushy fangirl moment when Bristow-Bovey walked into the room. Anyway, they were hilarious to listen to. And honest. And so likeable, all of them. PJ Powers’ impression of Brenda Fassie had people in stitches. And as for Ndumiso Ngcobo’s private thoughts about pretty goats, well… perhaps they are better left unsaid.
While these sessions were all going on, there was a great lineup for children happening in another part of the school. It was also beautifully set up, with book readings, drama, play things, and lots of sugary treats for sale. They put on The Hunger Games for the tweens again. I didn’t get to see any of it, my own children being in the care of their father. Some parents I spoke to wished there had been a fuller programme for the kids so that they could have had a little more time to see talks for the adults.
In the very short breaks between sessions, it was great to catch up with some friends and sneak in a glass of bubbly. I happened to bump into an old school friend, more than one person I knew from varsity days (K, you disappeared before I could catch up properly!), friends with kids in my kids’ classes, past students, colleagues and teachers from far and wide. It was incredibly busy! I do quite like the hustle and bustle that a special day like this brings.
Next up Welch novelist Sarah Waters, British crime writer Belinda Bauer along with local authors Mandla Langa and John Hunt discussed The Books That Built Me with Michele Magwood. I’m delighted to be teaching some of those still – To Kill a Mockingbird, Catcher in the Rye… It’s just always such a rewarding experience to hear these clever people speaking about ordinary things that I have experienced too.
Another lovely thing I missed because of my venue choice was Irish author of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas fame, John Boyne. I did happen to catch him in the Green Room and chatted to him briefly until I noticed the glazed look coming over his eyes – he’s been to FLF and Cape Town and I’m pretty sure he’s sick of South Africans telling him what big fans they are. He was really sweet, and says we have been most hospitable, and that although he didn’t really think about what he was expecting here, South Africa has been different to what he expected. Nice guy.
Oh, what was great too was that they had sign language interpreters signing on a number of the talks. With St Vincent’s School for the Deaf just down the road, this ensured that deaf people were catered for too (and I was fascinated by the animated way in which the interpreters communicated).
The next talk was also economics, Africa Rising, with Richard Poplak, Moeletsi Mbeki and Adam Habib. This was far more optimistic than the first one of the day, as they looked at African powerhouses like Ethiopia and Nigeria, and what we can learn from them. My brain does tend to glaze over a little too when economics is discussed, but it was a pleasure to listen to these intelligent men and get a sense of the bigger picture (although everyone seems to be in agreement that our government is failing in very fundamental ways).
The final talk for the day was Redi Tlhabi discussing How Good Could We Be with Glenn Moss, Sonja Kruse (The Ubuntu Girl) and Songezo Zibi. Actually, this was also one of my favourites. Actually, a day like this brings way too many favourites! They ended the day on such an upbeat, positive note – with stories about how awesome South Africa is and how much potential we have as a nation. I love that stuff! I could hear these stories all day every day. I even said to Kruse today (she spoke at our school assembly about travelling around the country with a backpack, R100 and eternal hope) that we should stop buying newspapers because they thrive on negativity. Instead we should make our own papers with Good News stories – and I do believe that there are plenty of them out there.
I didn’t get to stay for the PJ Powers talk and show at the end of the evening, but by then I was exhausted – my brain was full. I thoroughly enjoyed the day, and I have only heard good reports from others who attended. I do think, if this event is going to continue to grow, that the organisers should consider splitting it over two days, so that people get a chance to see more. I could have attended at least 10 other talks (just not in the one day). I think Kingsmead College should be very proud that their signature event is something literary and educational (rather than a sports festival, a beer festival or fireworks). So to Kingsmead, their sponsors and organisers, Cheers! Congratulations on a brilliant event. See you all there next year.