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Franschhoek Literary Festival

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

FLF Kicks Off at Groot Drakenstein Prison with “Launch” of Fifteen Men

Prison PoetsIt was the launch that almost wasn’t – call it a book function instead of the official thing. Margie Orford and the men she has worked with for the past nine months – fifteen of them, all inmates of the Groot Drakenstein Correctional Facility (the former, and formerly famous, Victor Verster Maximum Security Prison outside Franschhoek) – gathered without the requisite dignitarites for the first celebration around Fifteen Men, the book edited by Orford that contains the writings of the people in orange. The book is published by Jonathan Ball.

The national and regional commissioners of prisons couldn’t be there – hence the hasty withdrawal of the function’s official status. But if it looks like a launch, and if there are speeches and readings like at a launch, then that’s good enough for me!

Margie Orford and Ronaldo PlaatjiesThis was the first event of the 2008 FLF – and was something of a tearjerker. Festival writers like Richard Ford and Kopano Matlwa sat and listened as Orford explained why they were there. The book was flipped through, the offenders – newly published writers – were greatly excited, and speeches, from prison officials to pastors to Orford herself, were many. Chris Mann even put in a performance with the guitar.

Boebie SamodienQuote of the hour: “Many of the men I worked with have very long sentences… At the beginning I was asked if a sixteenth man could join the group, and when I asked who he was, I was told that he had been put in jail for the calculated murder of a 6-month-old baby… Baby Jordan. I refused, and it was then that I decided that I couldn’t know what any of you had done… and I still don’t know.”
–Margie Orford

Orford read some of her students’ work (they weren’t allowed to themselves, because the function wasn’t “official” – bizarre). The contributors to the book were then given certificates, and two of them – Ronaldo Plaatjies and Andile Sehoni – were announced as the runner-up and winner, respectively, of the FLF’s annual poetry competition – prison category. These two were allowed to read their poems from the special competition booklet that has been published.

After coffee and tea, some of the FLF writers were taken off to see the house (chalet? rondavel? what do you call it?) where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned just before his release in 1990.

"Group of 15"Launch SpeechesMargie Orford


Recent comments:

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Lauren Beukes</a>
    Lauren Beukes
    May 16th, 2008 @14:18 #

    Congrats to Margie. From what she's said about it, it's been an incredible, inspiring and sometimes harrowing project. Here's hoping she writes about the process for someone like The Sunday Times (hint hint)

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Lauren Beukes</a>
    Lauren Beukes
    May 16th, 2008 @14:41 #

    And of course to the Fifteen Men of the title.

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Liesl</a>
    May 20th, 2008 @08:07 #

    Very moving to see the writers finding their own words in print for the first time.

    Congratulations to Margie and her writers and everybody who made this programme happen.


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