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Report on the Jozi Book Fair 2010 by Lindsey Collen


The Jozi Book Fair 2010 held in the Museum Africa in Johannesburg from 7-9 August brought together readers and writers around some 50 small publishers, that is to say around the link between readers and writers. The publishers' stands were partitioned by yards of hessian, giving the book fair a special perfume as well as the gentle air of soft partitions. The publishers present displayed and sold books and also made contacts. There were two publishers from Zimbabwe present, hinting at giving the Fair a regional dimension. The publishers present varied from mainstream publishers as traditional and well known as the UNISA imprint or the National Library of South Africa to others more philosophical and innovative like African Perspectives and Chimurenga that are opening up new ways of looking at books, to the more radical and more political ones like Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front, which also had a stall. As well as publishers, there were some organizations that are in other ways related to reading and writing, like the Professional Editors' Group and ALLABOUTWRITING that runs creative writing workshops.

The Book Fair also became the meeting place for over 50 events, mainly what we in Mauritius would call Forums, Launches, Debates, Workshops, Round Tables and Public Lectures. The specific events ranged from writing workshops to political debates on free expression, from poetry readings to networks on how to promote mother tongue literature, from children standing up to tell a story to the gathered crowd of other children, to sportspeople discussing the social and political implications of the football World Cup.

The main aim of the Jozi Book Fair, which was organized the Khanya College, was to bring together readers and writers, and to kindle and nurture a love of reading as well as a "reading culture". The event also fits into Khanya College's broader aim of encouraging "education", in its broadest sense including arts, "for liberation"; this meant that the event has a political thrust, bringing grassroots activists into cultural events, and also situating books and literature in the arena of political and social reality of the times.

The Jozi Book Fair, now in its second year, came a week after the more commercial Cape Town Book Fair. This juxtaposition draws a contrast between the crying need everyone in society has for literature and art in general, and the increasingly narrow and static appeal of the large profit-making publishers. In fact, to give an idea of this, the Cape Town Book Fair is 49% owned by the world's biggest book fair, the Frankfurt Book Fair, which is itself more a "stock exchange", the sale of rights, than a popular event. The Jozi Book Fair's long term aim is to draw working people, and all the oppressed into a reading culture and to involve oppressed people in writing.

Some of the well-known people who participated in the Jozi Book Fair debates included the cartoonist Zapiro who spoke with great precision and enlightenment on the question of free expression and the sportswoman and LGBT organizer Leigh-ann Naidoo whose political nouse and ability to speak clearly is in such sharp contrast with what we usually hear on TV from sportspeople. She even informed us how sportspeople usually seem to say nothing when they speak; they have to sign contracts, when they go to represent their countries or teams, that include clauses that they cannot speak to the media about anything except the relative goodness or badness of their performance ... and the weather. Film-maker Mickey Madoda Dube spoke on the translation from novel, or more easily, from short story to film, and how it can even demand a change to another language as in the case of his film of Alex La Guma's JOCK OF THE BUSHVELD. Poet Natalia Molebatsi guided a poetry workshop with generosity and skill on the Monday which was Women's Day. Scriptwriter of Isidingo Richard Beynon who ran a writer's guide to reading together with writer Jo-Anne Richards, had to give children his autograph when they found out who he was. Activist Dale McKinlay from the Anti-Privatization Forum spoke in the debate on the poverty trap. Zuki Vutela writer and TV manager spoke at the round table on violence against women in literature. Literary Editor Maureen Isaacson spoke on women in publishing while Prof Pumla Gqola launched her book on slavery in a conversation with Maria van Driel.

Another feature of the Book Fair was the session at which young children, some even from primary schools, spoke their poetry and short stories in one of the meeting spaces created amongst the stalls partitioned by the beautiful walls of rough hessian. Boys and girls, in turn, just took the mike and let loose.

From Finland there was writer Inger-Mari Aikio, also called "Ima", whose work is in the Saami language. Her people live in the region near the north pole in four different nation-states Finland, Norway, Russia and Sweden. There are some 100,000 Saami people, of whom half still speak the language. The difficulties are accentuated by the fact that there are quite big differences between the Saami language as it is spoken in different areas, as well as the fact that their land has been colonized by different countries. Ima spoke both at the mother-tongue debate and also at the one on photography meeting literature.

She is, as it turns out, married to a Mauritian. And I, who am Mauritian but was born and lived my first 23 years in South Africa, was "Guest of the Jozi Book Fair". At the book fair, I had the privilege to launch my new novel The Malaria Man & Her Neighbours during the fair. It was launched in the Auditorium of the Museum Africa "in conversation with" Maria van Driel, who I found had a very good re-creation in her mind of the novel because that is what reading fiction is: the re-creating of the novel in your own "imaginaire" as the French aptly call it. The organizer's Director, Oupa Lehulere, explained at the reception for the Book Fair that I had been invited because my novels are set in the lives and struggles of working people.

I also spoke on The Rape of Sita in the debate on violence against women in literature, on small publishers in Southern Africa together with Zimbabween publisher Brian Jones, on the mother tongue in literature together with Ima and with Siphiwo Mahala who, after having written a novel in English, has translated it into his mother tongue, Xhosa, thus giving it back to those neighbours and relatives of his who know the exact place his novel is set in. On the question of the mother tongue, I put emphasis in my contribution to the debate, on the need to move from a rather sentimental defense of the mother tongue to the hard science. It is now more clearly known what the human "language capacity" actually is, as a result of the work of Prof. Derek Bickerton. We need to include this in our analysis and demands during the political struggle for the introduction in as many spheres as possible of the mother tongue. The two levels of linguistic skills that Prof. Jim Cummins has shown so clearly also help us to move towards talking about the actual harm done to children by the suppression of the mother tongue in schools.

The Book Fair will continue next year developing this renewed definition of a book fair, as an event that links readers and writers, through publishers, rather than as an increasingly commercial event.

Lindsey Collen