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Franschhoek Literary Festival

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FLF Director Ann Donald Responds to Thando Mgqolozana’s “White Literary System” Comments

Arctic SummerUnimportanceSince the weekend, debate has been raging on the subjects raised by author Thando Mgqolozana in a number of events. My initial comment in response to this debate, as the FLF Director, was as follows:

“I still have to catch up with everything that was said in different events so will be better positioned to give an informed response after I’ve received and listened to the entire recording, which should be available on za the FLF website tomorrow. So, for now, based on the few minutes I spent in two of the events and feedback from attendees and participants, I can only offer the following comment:

“Literary festivals such as the Franschhoek festival are the ideal place for different, challenging viewpoints to be made and heard. The appeal of the political and social events over the years is evidence that the audiences want to listen to debates and discussions of difficult subjects. I respect Thando Mgqolozana’s strong conviction in the stand he has taken but I hope he reconsiders. He has raised important points that must, and will, be considered, and we will continue to invite him to the FLF even if he chooses not to attend. As a literary festival, we don’t fear debate, we welcome it. If ‘we’, whichever ‘we’ we are, listen only to our own voices, we run the risk of thinking that our viewpoints and opinions are the only ones that matter. In a country as complex as ours, that has proved to be immensely destructive. Stepping back from defensiveness to listen is critical if we are to move forward. The FLF is listening.”

I have now had an opportunity to listen to the recording of one event, Is Anger Underrated? (available for all to hear here). My initial comment still stands. My further comment relates only to the criticism of the Franschhoek Literary Festival itself.

I have already taken steps to meet with relevant stakeholders, and with festival participants and attendees who have expressed an interest in being part of the discussion, to talk about the issues raised, to try to understand the underlying reasons for low attendance by black readers to this festival, and to consider ways to change this dynamic.

For now, we remain committed to offering a festival of writers, books and ideas to anyone who is interested in attending. We have never been, and will never be, a festival that is aimed only at white audiences. We value and appreciate the attendance and support of all who choose to be there, and look forward to finding a way forward to facilitate attendance by those who want to attend but can’t for purely financial or logistical reasons. For those who can attend but choose not to, we are open to frank and open discussion in a bid to understand their reasons.

Our programme and lineup of participants has and will always reflect the subjects, books, and writers who make up the South African literary scene, not just one element of it. As Damon Galgut is quoted on one of the many posters that lined the Franschhoek streets this past weekend: Books teach you that the world isn’t made in your own image. We believe in the power of books.

- Ann Donald

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