By ZIMKITA LINYANA
This Sunday, the streets of the quaint town of Bathurst were abuzz with the return of the annual book fair after two years of Covid-induced hibernation.
Locals were out enjoying music, food, and goodies at the Village Green and on the streets. Thrift stalls, bookstalls, and food stalls colourfully lined the streets.
The Pig & Whistle was packed to capacity. The lounge area was the main venue for book-related talks by various bibliophiles.
The talks kicked off with Monty Roodt, author of the Bernie Bernard series of crime novels and Emeritus Professor of Sociology at Rhodes University, alongside Frank Nunan of Write-on publishing and Chirag Patel of Forged on the Frontier & Lamplight Publishing, where they discussed the adventures (and misadventures) of self-publishing.
Rhodes University English professor, author, and poet, Dan Wylie chaired a panel discussion whose purpose was to unpack “what makes local stories so lekker” with fellow Makhanda locals, authors Vivian de Klerk, and Rhodes University MA creative writing graduate Zodwa Mtirara. De Klerk shared brief overviews of her latest books Serpent Cresent and Not to Mention.
Serpent Crescent is set in the small rural town of Qonda, previously known as George Town. “The power and water supplies are unreliable, property prices are down, and citizens are slowly suffocating in the acrid smoke from the municipal dump.” Sound familiar? Not to Mention is set in Port Alfred at No.14 Masonic Street, near the river. It is about an obese young woman who has not left her bedroom for close to two years and tries to make the best of her unfortunate situation.
“My point in writing local is that it’s what I know – I know these places, I can feel them in my feet as I walked those roads and pavements. I felt more authentic writing about the people and places I know,” she said.
Mtirara shared poetry readings from her latest book Thorn of the Rose, Ingqumbo Yomthondo Kukuzika kohlanga. The bilingual book’s stories span a broad range of different cultural experiences. Born in the Eastern Cape and raised in Gauteng, Mtirara has a knack for languages. “I grew up a staunch Christian and hated it. My research and book look at how Christianity and Xhosa culture boxes us – it is about me being all the women I was told never to be,” she said.
Veteran travel writer and former Getaway editor David Bristow shared his journey of becoming an environmentalist from “failed journalist and former town planner”. He has since written more than 25 books, including best sellers. He has also written about Nongqawuse, whose prophecies led to a millenarian movement that culminated in the Xhosa cattle-killing movement and famine of 1856-7, in a collection of essays about interesting people. “Why and how did a 14-year-old convince a nation to kill cattle?” he asked.
East London engineer Dennis Walter shared some of the challenges Eastern Cape pioneer bridge builder Joseph Newey faced. This was followed by a talk on the journey through Eastern Cape small towns by author and historian Dean Allen. Author and freelance photojournalist Marion Whitehead gave tips for planning a trip to Namaqualand.
The event was wrapped up with a sundowner poetry event “Around the bend”. This was kicked off by intimate poetry readings by Makhanda locals, Crystal Warren and Marike Beyers of Amazwi SA Museum of Literature, and fellow Modjadji poet Jeannie McKeown. Veteran economics journalist Reg Rumney changed hats to launch his latest book, ‘From a Family album (and Some Poetic Jokes),” to close off the session.