Friday, April 30, 2010

London Book Fair 2010: Why Buy South African?

What emerged from the Why Buy South African seminar is that South African books have "panache" as Isobel Dixon put, from cover design to content - it seems perhaps better to ask: Why not buy South African work?

Joining Dixon, literary agent and well-known poet were crime writer Deon Meyer "crime writers are here as comic relief", South African novelist and short story writer Henrietta Rose-Innes, and Rebecca Servadio Kenan, scout for South African works for publishers, "the ears and eyes of publishers".

Meyer agreed that South African writing has exploded in the last 5 years, and there is a blossoming in the arts generally, spreading from literature to music. Rose-Innes agreed that since 1994 there has been a "wild proliferation of fiction, and a growing sense of fun and play that was never a characteristic of South African writing before". Further hope: Dixon pointed out that Foyles. the UK bookstore, has 1.6million customers per year while the South African reading public number 800 000 - not bad for a country with a significantly lower reading public!

Talking poetry and short stories - two orphans of the literary world. Rose-Innes mentioned publishers are generally reluctant to publish single author story collections with pressure from publishers to get off the training bike of the story and onto the grownup bike of the novel. True enough. She did mention that Colleen Higgs of Modjaji Books is bringing out several collections of short stories, including Meg Vandermerwe's and my own - and praised Colleen Higgs in this regard. Servadio Kenan said she uses short stories as a scouting tool, "I read a lot of short stories in literary magazines," she said. Dixon pointed to the existence of the Caine Prize for short stories as a welcome platform for writers.

Talking poetry - Dixon said that poetry was part of South African culture and that SA has a great online community and bookshops which regularly hold reader and book-related events, including poetry readings.

And finally, a mention of the Not the SA Book Fair event held at The Book Lounge last night .... pointing to the resilience of South Africans. All the absent, stranded authors are sorely missed here .... but how amazing to make the most of an ashy situation. Looks like you all had a ball.

(First published here)

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