On the trail of the Midlands Meander

2010-08-18 00:00

IF you think the Midlands Meander is all about art and craft, food and wedding venues, think again. At the recent Midlands Meander Literary­ Festival, KwaZulu-Natal Literary Tourism launched its sixth trail, the Midlands Writers Trail, which looks at authors who have written about, lived in or been nurtured by the area between Hilton and Caversham.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that literary means academic, although the project is based on the Durban campus of the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

“For literary tourism, we need names that people know,” says Professor Lindy Stiebel who started KZN Literary Tourism 10 years ago and who is still in charge. So on the Midlands Trail brochure, you will find Wilbur Smith and Spud author John van de Ruit. Both went to Michaelhouse: for Smith it was something that “taught me stoicism and to endure”, while Van de Ruit has drawn on the experience to create Spud Milton and has become one of the most commercially successful writers South Africa has seen for many years. Spud is due to make his film debut later this year, so interest is likely to increase.

“It’s not a praise poem to the private schools,” says Stiebel, although they have played an important role in creating midlands’ writers. “And there are interesting counterpoints in views of school. Imraan Coovadia says that he didn’t want to be ‘one of us’ as the Hilton motto proclaims and former Witness editor John Conyngham says of the school that ‘the overriding impression anyone must have is one of beauty’.”

Other writers who feature include Jenny Hobbs, Kobus Moolman, Fred Khumalo and Jonny Steinberg, with those who have passed through, including Mark Twain who stayed at the Howick Falls Hotel, getting a mention.

As the Literary Tourism project has grown, so has its outreach, with local guides being trained to lead trails. This has been particularly effective in Durban’s Grey Street, a lively, vibrant trail that takes in the muti market, and which is popular with conference delegates to the city. Stiebel doesn’t envisage the same kind of response in the midlands, but with brochures­ available at Meander stops, the trail should raise awareness of books and authors who have local links — important at a time when we are regularly being told that the book is dead.

She would also like to see a body such as Howick Tourism pick up on the idea, perhaps with a community outreach to local poets and oral storytellers who could perform at Howick Falls.

It is all about creating interest in the literary links in an area. Stiebel has plans for a south coast trail, possibly one centred in Pietermaritzburg and another on the north coast. And UKZN Press would like her to produce a companion book to the trails, with anecdotes, maps and photographs. Literary tourism may never pull in the kind of numbers of a World Cup, but it adds an interesting spice to the whole tourism­ experience.

• For more information on KZN Literary Tourism, reviews of books by KZN authors, interviews and podcasts, visit the website at www. literarytourism.co.za

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