With 110 authors on the programme of this year’s SA Book Fair – 80 of whom are black – the diversity of voices is stronger than ever before. Originally established as the Cape Town Book Fair in 2006, the event found a home in Johannesburg in 2015 and was rebranded as the SA Book Fair.
This year’s fair, which started on Friday and ends today, is taking place at the Women’s Jail at Constitution Hill.
Inaugurated in 2017 and hosted by the SA Book Development Council as a more inclusive African book fair, it has now cemented its place in the local literary scene, especially as the three-day programme introduces 41 debut authors – a huge achievement, according to Elitha van der Sandt, chief executive of the council.
“To me this represents growth and achievement,” she says.
With South Africa celebrating 25 years of democracy this year, Constitution Hill marks a significant choice of venue as it signifies the growth that the local literary world has experienced.
“Once a place that imprisoned anti-apartheid activists, the precinct is now an interactive heritage facility that celebrates the concept of lekgotla – to ponder and question,” says Van der Sandt.
“This spirit of lekgotla forms the backdrop to our diverse literary and activation programmes, our dynamic marketplace and our lively family zone.”
Tying it in with the Women’s Jail is no coincidence: more and more women’s stories are coming to the fore.
Says Van der Sandt: “The Women’s Jail lends itself to women’s stories of trial and triumph, celebrated in everything from poetry to philosophy, while the Constitutional Court sets the tone to honour some of the greatest legal minds of our generation.”
The significance of new writers is that their emergence meets the need for more representation. This is carried through in #OurStories, the theme for this year’s fair.
“Like anything else in the country, many of us have been marginalised when it comes to books. We find that we are not well represented in the content or that someone else is writing our story. For a diversity of content writers and publishers in the country, we have to ensure that we source new voices as they bring diversity and tell the stories of all of our people,” says Van der Sandt.
Taking place during National Book Week – now an official South African event – the fair “is being positioned as the marketplace for South African content, and the place you would visit to source stories from South Africa and Africa”, says Van der Sandt.
Authors attending the fair include Professor Adekeye Adebajo (Building Peace in West Africa), Fred Khumalo (The Longest March), anti-apartheid activist and storyteller Gcina Mhlophe, Kelly-Eve Koopman (Because I Couldn’t Kill You) and Letshego Zulu (I Choose To Live: Life After Losing Gugu).
A dedicated school’s day was held at the fair on Friday. It offered pupils the opportunity to learn about careers in the book industry, attend workshops on writing for self-expression, listen to intergenerational poetry and explore the exciting world of graphic novels, comic books and animated storytelling.
Saturday saw several engaging discussions take place, including a sex talk with medical doctor and gender activist Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng, who published her debut book this year titled A Guide to Sexual Health and Pleasure.
Journalist Lerato Mogoatlhe, who has travelled solo across Africa, delivered an insightful account of exploring our country and continent. Her talk was based on her book, Vagabond: Wandering through Africa on Faith.
Today’s programme includes a Sunday marketplace, which offers attendees a variety of books for readers of all ages to enjoy, free of charge. Also on offer is a book-signing event with authors, writers and illustrators at the fair’s vibrant coffee spot. If you’ve been following the Facebook chats hosted by Melusi Tshabalala on his popular page, Melusi’s Everyday Zulu, you can attend his crash course on teaching Zulu from 11.30am to 12.30pm, for R40 a ticket.
For more information, visit southafricanbookfair.co.za