From April 17-21 I will be away to Windhoek, Namibia to be part of events sponsored by the Goethe-Institut (I’m writing this before I leave). According to their website: “The Goethe-Institut is the Federal Republic of Germany’s cultural institute, active worldwide. We promote the study of German abroad and encourage international cultural exchange.”
It is unfortunate for us in Botswana that we do not have a chapter of the Goethe-Institut because they do all sorts of amazing things in support of the arts. One of the fascinating things literature-wise that they have done in South Africa is a programme called Literary Crossroads. Now they have extended that programme to Windhoek, the main reason I will be there.
In Literary Crossroads they match two writers from different parts of the continent and have them discuss a topic that passes through both of the writers’ work. In my case, the Literary Crossroads event will be taking place on Tuesday the 18 at 7pm at the Goethe-Institut. I have been paired with the Namibian writer and publisher Jane Katjavivi who wrote the beautiful memoir Undisciplined Heart (Modjaji Books, 2010). It is a fascinating look at the personal but also the public.
Jane lived in UK and got involved in groups working for the liberation movements in Southern Africa. There she met her husband, Peter Katjavivi, who was an exiled SWAPO member. When Namibia got their independence, Jane and Peter moved to Namibia to help in the building of the new country.
So while the book is about her personal struggles with her health and adjusting to that new life, it is also about the birth of a country. Once there, she starts to publish Namibian writing and opens a bookshop. In Windhoek she develops friendships with a group of strong, independent women, who have also come from other countries, and are engaged in different ways to overcome the divisions of the past. Over coffee, drinks and food, they support each other through times of happiness and sadness, through juggling careers and family, and through illness and death.
When her husband is made ambassador to the Benelux countries and the European Union, and later Berlin, Jane has to build a new identity as the wife of an ambassador, and come to terms with her own ill-health without her friends around to
In the discussion, which will be moderated by Namibian writer, Sylvia Schlettwien, we will try to find answers to questions such as why and how we choose to write about history; how, why and if literature should make the public private and the private public; and why we need literature of this kind from and in Southern Africa in general and Botswana and Namibia in particular.
In South Africa, the Goethe-Institut has been running Literary Crossroads for a few years. Some of the combinations of authors and the topics are mouth-watering and I wish I could have been in the audience. One in May of last year included Olajumoke Verissimo of Nigeria paired with Yewande Omotoso from South Africa speaking on the topic of “The Power of Words – The Words of Power”.
Zakes Mda and Nakhame Toure (in this case across generations instead of countries, since they are both from South Africa) were paired to discuss “Rewriting South African Landscapes”. South African poet Phillippa Yaa de Villers was paired with Ngwatilo Mawiyo of Kenya last year to discuss the topic “Writing Human Conditions”. On April 16 this year, Imraan Coovadia, well-acclaimed South African novelist, was paired with Nigerian writer Abubaker Adam Ibrahim. I think you can see the types of interesting combinations this programme has created.
While I am in Namibia I will also be running a two-part writing workshop and discussion in the afternoons with Namibian writers at the Goethe-Institut library. The first part, April 19 starting at 2pm, is about how I approach the writing of a novel, in particular a historical novel. And the second part the following day at the same time will be on the ins and outs of getting published and what to expect. I have a few radio interviews to do too so I expect it will be a busy post-Easter week.