Judging by the confirmed authors, and the innovative ideas for the five day programme, the Open Book Festival will be the best thing to happen to Cape Town’s literary scene since organisor Mervyn Sloman opened The Book Lounge.
That might sound trite, but The Book Lounge is arguably the hardest working independent bookshop in South Africa and has added a sparkle to the city’s literary scene. After three-and-a-half years in existence the list of authors who have launched their books there represents a whose-who of South African writing talent.
The effects of Open Book, however, will be felt far beyond Cape Town.
When Sloman, slouching behind a small but tidy desk in an office cluttered with boxes in the basement of his shop, says he wants to get top international writers to a five-day festival for book lovers it is neither a boast nor an overstatement.
Not only is, for instance, Jeanette Winterson’s attendance confirmed, she is launching her autobiography ‘Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?’ at Open Book. As is Hari Kunzru launching his latest novel ‘Gods Without Men’. If, like me (who thought myself well-read until I got into conversation with Sloman and his festival organising sidekick Frankie Murrey) you’re wondering who Kunzru is, he’s won the Betty Trask award, the Somerset Maughan award and is one of Granta’s ‘Best of Young British Novelists’.
In fact the list of 12 confirmed authors attending Open Book represents a list of some of the world’s most prestigious literary award winners – and if they haven’t won one they’ve been shortlisted more than once.
Besides Winterson and Kunzru, JMG Le Clézio, Paul Harding, Earl Lovelace, Patrick Gale, Jane Bussmann, Patrick Ness, Neel Mukherjee, David McCandless, Veronique Tadjo and Alain Mabanckou have confirmed their attendance.
Sloman is liaising with another dozen or so writers and with the assistance of Damon Galgut and Open Book partner Ben Williamson the list is growing week by week.
It’s not just five days of writers talking about writing, Sloman has more imagination than that. And the programme is also not just for lovers of fiction.
Urban planners, geographers and economists may fog up their spectacles at the prospect of chatting to the editors of ‘The Endless City’ – an original and thought-provoking examination of six cities in the world – at the launch of ‘Living in The Endless City’ which is an expansion of the ‘The Endless City’ to include Istanbul, Sao Paulo and Mumbai.
Statisticians may sharpen their pencils at the opportunity to see a presentation by David McCandless, author of ‘Information is Beautiful’.
There will be suppers where you can eat at a table with some of your favourite (living) authors, there will be ‘Writer Sports’ where foreign authors will team up against South African writers – many of whom Sloman firmly believes are on par with the international guests – for tests of wit where the audience provide the theme and genre.
“You could tell them to write 150 words on the Springbok rugby team in the style of Mills and Boon,” suggests Sloman.
There will also, of course, be more serious discussions.
Creating exposure for local writers is one part of Open Book’s aim. Another is gathering a new generation of dedicated readers. There is a ‘youth day’ on the programme with events arranged around subjects like graffiti, hip-hop and the spoken word. Most impressive though, in partnership with Equal Education, a school will be given a stocked library.
Publishers have agreed to donate books and festival-goers can buy peruse a list of books to purchase for the library’s shelves. Although the school in most dire need of a library is yet to be finalised, the plan includes the employment of a librarian to keep the library functioning.
A mentorship programme between South African authors and ten young writers is also on the cards.
There is much still to be organised but Sloman is looking forward to standing in the midst of the “organised chaos” that forms the eye of the storm of every festival, and watching as great and fascinating minds engage with one another in one of the world’s most beautiful cities.
Go to www.openbookfestival.co.za to see a list of authors and keep an eye out for the finalisation of the programme which will run from September 21 to 25. For more information phone The Book Lounge on 021 462 2425. – Steve Kretzmann