Magazine article New African

Dis-Art-Iculate(d) Continent ... in Which, through a Clumsily Organised Litfest, the Writer Emerges from Durban with a Manifesto for Rescuing Her Self-Worth

Magazine article New African

Dis-Art-Iculate(d) Continent ... in Which, through a Clumsily Organised Litfest, the Writer Emerges from Durban with a Manifesto for Rescuing Her Self-Worth

Article excerpt


Literary Nomad

Of all artistic professions, writing is perhaps one of those where the inputs never quite measure up to the outputs. When Oliver Mtukudzi plays his guitar or Angelique Kidjo sings, those who listen to them appreciate and dance or are in awe and that is the end of it. With literature, every published writer has engaged with readers who feel that they could have crafted the book in a certain way to make it better. And that is when a writer is lucky. Other times the writer will encounter someone who informs them that they too have a book they have been thinking of writing --they just need to take time out from their hectic schedule so that they can finally execute it. Because unlike other art forms, many people believe that everyone can write.

As a family member once told me when I informed them that I was quitting my nine to five employ so I could write full time, "We all learnt to write in first grade, why can't you aspire to anything better?" It is this, I think, that has writers underrating themselves and willing to earn what other artists would never get out of bed for. I was one of those writers until this past year and it was all because of the Essence Festival in Durban.

Towards the beginning of the last quarter of last year, I became aware that the famous Essence Festival, which has taken place in New Orleans for over 15 years, would be having a similar festival in New Orleans' South African twin city of Durban. I received the communication from the person who had been asked to curate a literary part of the festival dubbed ARTiculate Africa which would see writers and poets having discussions and launching books. According to the curator, there would be payment for attending while travel, accommodation and food would be catered for. And as one of the artists in attendance, there would also be VIP tickets for the musical shows. It seemed like a festival one would not want to pass up.

After we agreed on payment, I sent all necessary documentation to ensure purchase of tickets within a week from the first communication. But then there was silence. Follow-up communication to check on delays fortunately elicited some response. As the event was partially organised by the City of Durban, information coming to me--and it would turn out, to many other writers who were invited--suggested that there was some bureaucratic red tape to cut through but all would be well. Having mentally bid farewell to cold Copenhagen where I was doing a writing residency, I finally received my ticket two days before my departure date and was set for sunny Durban. I once talked to a literary organiser who informed me that a writer had pulled out of a festival because they had been given an economy ticket. Personally, I prefer travelling in economy as much as I prefer road trips, as there has better material for writing most times but, I should have been worried when my flight ticket showed that I would be flying for a whole day with two stops in Cairo and Johannesburg. In fact, I should have withdrawn then. But the Copenhagen cold led me to make unwise decisions.

Twenty-four hours after I boarded in Copenhagen, I had finally arrived in Durban. The most organised part of my arrival was the pick-up. The driver was there on time. Everything else was chaos. On arrival at the hotel where I had been informed I was booked, I found out I was not booked at all. But by then the driver had left and I had to get a cab to the actual hotel where l was staying. …

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