Midlands Literary Festival

On the first weekend of September this year, literary locals are in for a treat.

The 9th annual Midlands Literary Festival will be held at Fern Hill Hotel this year.  Darryl Earl David founder of BookBedonnerd in Richmond, Karoo and many other Literary Festivals, initiated the Midlands Literary Festival in 2010. “I have always maintained that the Midlands should be the literary capital of South Africa, as we boast direct links to writers like Alan Paton, Bessie Head, John Conyngham, Herbert Dhlomo, Sibusiso Nyembezi, Mahatma Gandhi, David Robbins, Moira Lovell, Kobus Moolman, DJ Opperman and Ina Rousseau, Reginald Dhlomo and Magema Fuze – who was the first man to publish a book in Zulu.”

Darryl continues, “over time we have gained a reputation for attracting some of the country’s biggest writers – Ahmed Kathrada, Miriam Tlali, Ian Player, Marguerite Poland, Gcina Mhlope, Bruce Fordyce, to name but a few,” he says, “This year promises to be exceptional – Jacques Pauw, David Robbins, Landa Mabenge, Harry Kalmer and Tracy Going are among the 25 published authors who will be sharing their stories with us.”

midlands literary festival date

The KZN Midlands abounds creativity – talented writers, poets and artists.

Howick’s favourite florist, Helena Davis, will delight with the story of how she came to write the enchanting Wind in the Wheat Fields – a romantic novel in the Jane Austen tradition.  This love story with its share of heartache is a wonderful and triumphant read that will sweep you back in time.

Helena Davis author of The Wind in the Wheatfields

Almost everyone in the midlands has a fishing story to tell.  Tod Collins writes of his and other anglers’ unusual exploits, with or without a fishing rod in hand in The Art of Being an Awful Angler – stories that embrace the philosophy of living in the moment with the art of not taking fly-fishing too seriously.

Dargle resident, Sharon Grussendorff, draws on her own inspiring journey, where she has grappled with finding the balance between contemplative living and relevant engagement in the world in her book Contemplative Living – learning the art of participation in the divine dance of life.

Josh Crickmay, who dropped out of school at 15 diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, has produced a remarkable coffee table book telling a story of courage, and triumph of the human spirit. Josh’s Big Year chronicles his family’s travels to every corner of Southern Africa and beyond to identify as many bird species as possible in a single year.

Josh Crickmay book cover

In writing A Cape Rubaiyat, Mark de Wet has fulfilled a promise made thirty-four years ago to a Greek poet in Athens. His book is a visual fusion of wine and poetry structurally based on an Omar Khayyam’s epic poem ‘Rubaiyat’ written a thousand years ago.

Mark de Wet and book

Self-published, Brenda George will thrill with background into her novels Haunted by Shadows and The Shades of Hell, sharing details of the intense research she did in New York City with homicide detectives, and Sing Sing prison inmates, and inspire us to consider self-publishing.  Hilton’s Andrea Nattrass, in her capacity as the publisher at Pan Macmillan South Africa, is responsible for managing the local publishing team, which develops and produces the titles by South African authors, both fiction and non-fiction, that Pan Macmillan publishes. In her presentation she talks about the South African publishing landscape and offers tips and suggestions to would-be authors in terms of how to increase their chances of having their work published. She also welcomes your publishing-related questions.

Durban-based Elana Bregin works as an editor for publishers and writes in her spare time. Her body of work reflects a diversity of styles and genres, from children’s and young adult novels to adult fiction, narrative non-fiction and speculative fiction.  Her presentation The Stories We Write, the Stories that Write Us will inspire you to get going on your own writing journey.

Steampunk Coffee in Lion’s River hosts a monthly open mic session,  Steampunk Poets, where unpretentious, honest and simple poetry emanates from all spheres of Midlands life. Some of the regulars – who you will recognise from their other roles as bakers, yoga teachers, conservationists and sculptors – will read their poems late on Saturday afternoon before sundowners and Nicky Grieshaber on piano draws you into a convivial evening.

Midlanders cherish beautiful old architecture and local history.

So, it will be a real treat to hear Jackie Kalley talk about her book on the historic farmhouses of Natal at the Midlands Literary Festival in September.  Verandas were a distinguishing feature of homes built in isolated places in the mid-nineteenth century using local materials.

Nicki von der Heyde will present the story behind the extraordinary explosion of missionary activity initiated by Trappist monks in Natal in the late 1800’s. This richly illustrated book tells the story of 22 mission stations in KwaZulu-Natal.  Until now the Trappist churches have remained ‘hidden jewels,’ set in remote and splendid countryside immortalized in Alan Paton’s ‘Cry the Beloved Country’.

Hikers and history buffs alike will enjoy The Drakensberg Passes, by Gillis van Schalkwyk. Most passes between the escarpment of the Drakensberg and the midlands were not named after personalities but rather assumed their names by association.  Gillis will delight us with tales of the characters that settled in and around the districts, all with their own unique lifestyles.

Inspired by events that occurred in and around the Tembe Elephant Park in the late 1980s and early ’90s when much of Africa’s wildlife was being decimated, Ed Ostrosky’s book Macpherson’s Elephants takes us behind the scenes on the mission to save the Sihangwane elephants.

Lover of local heritage Nico Moolman saves valuable pieces of South African history in his books. Dankie, Generaal is his salute to the fallen on all sides, and The Boer Whore he describes as “an equaliser for crimes against women.”

Fascinating authors from further afield

Remember Tracy Going from SABC 2’s Morning Live on TV?  Her book Brutal Legacy is an unflinching account of a romantic relationship that turned violent. In mesmerising detail, Tracy tells the story of the collapse of her career due to the highly public nature of her assault and the decades long journey to undo the psychological damages in the search for safety and the reclaiming of self.

“Tracy’s story is stunning and hard, compelling and gentle, raw and then some…” Author & Radio 702 talk show host, Eusebius McKaiser


David Robbins will be talking about his new book Walking to Australia. He follows the route of one of humanity’s greatest migrations – a journey in the general direction taken by modern humans who left the African nursery around 85 000 years ago in search of survival, and whose descendants happened upon Australia 20 000 years later.

Wesley Thompson, the editor who worked on the book, said: ‘This is a rare and staggering work of ambitious scope and literary depth. Readers will come away from the text immensely rewarded.’

Landa Mabenga tells a unique story – Becoming Him – bravely opening the lid on cultural shame and abuse of transgender men. At times his life is a Dickensian nightmare as he is subjected to horrific physical, emotional and psychological abuse.  He is the first known transgender man in South Africa to successfully motivate a medical aid to pay for his gender alignment surgeries.

Landa Mabenge Becoming Him Cover

Kirsten Miller will talk about her book in which two brothers embark on a journey to the city in search of their only remaining family after burying their sister and mother – The Hum of the Sun. A South African story of love, brotherhood and belonging.  On the brink of manhood, Ash must protect eight year old Zuko, who does not speak, his words stuck somewhere between his thoughts and his mouth. But Zuko, enchanted by nature and the rhythms of walking, seems more interested in the patterns he sees in the clouds, the stones, and the arc of the light, than in when their journey will end.

The Hum of the Sun Cover

Harry Kalmer‘s A Thousand Tales of Johannesburg  is a novel that documents and probes the lives of the inhabitants of this incomparable African city – the exiled, those returning from exile, and those who never left. “I have always been interested in ‘hidden histories’, the stories of ‘little people’, those who aren’t mentioned in the official histories. But in order to tell those stories convincingly you have to attempt to understand the time they were set in. So I needed to delve into the recorded history and cannibalise it in order to reimagine these stories. My approach was that of a writer of fiction and not that of a historian. History is something I use, hopefully, to tell a story more convincingly. “

Politics for every persuasion

Jacques Pauw will enthrall with background to his famous book – The President’s Keepers – about the those who kept Jacob Zuma in power and out of prison.  Alan Paton Prizewinner, Bongani Ngqulunga, will talk about his biography on Pixley ka Isaka Seme, the thirty-year-old from Inanda outside Durban, whom many do not know was The Man who Founded the ANC.  The book tells a fascinating story not only of Seme’s life but also the history of South Africa and the hurdles we have overcome.

Ashwin Desai‘s talk is titled A Nation in a State.  Zuma is history. Ramaphosa promises to make it. Malema promises to spoil it. Maimane just does not get it.  The economy is in free-fall downwards.  Bafana Bafana is ranked number 72. Rainbow Chickens are dead. The future like land is up for grabs.  One of South Africa’s foremost social commentators, Dr Desai’s work is internationally celebrated for its courage and clarity of vision and for its focus on the lived experience of oppression and resistance.

Once, chef Brett Ladds was given a cigar by Fidel Castro, he talked weightlifting with Swazi king Mswati III and his cooking made Quincy Jones sing. For many years he also served Nelson Mandela many cups of rooibos tea and made him his favourite meals. Brett has written The Madiba Appreciation Club – A Chef’s Story recounting these years.brett ladds

Party time!

Renowned story teller Gcina Mhlope is turning 60 this year. Join children of all ages to celebrate and enjoy her magic storytelling on Sunday afternoon. “White Zulu” Tim Boettiger  will provide entertainment while we enjoy a slice of special cake.

b gcinas birthday bash

So many delicious stories, so many interesting conversations, so many opportunities to learn about the craft of writing, find inspiration to start your own writing journey and engage with published authors.  Unmissable for anyone who likes to read, write or simply be entertained.


Pre-book your tickets to avoid the queues – R60 per morning or afternoon session or R200 for the entire weekend – midlitfest@gmail.com

Download the programme here. 

Follow Facebook: midlandsliteraryfestival.

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