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Open Book Festival Director Mervyn Sloman. Open Book Festival Director Mervyn Sloman.

Talking to...Open Book Festival's Mervyn Sloman

Sep 06, 2016

The Open Book Festival, a major annual literary event, is in its 6th year. CityLife spoke to organisor and proprietor of the Book Lounge, Mervyn Sloman, about this year’s line-up.

Q: Why a book festival in the city?

A: “Open Book is an extension of what we do at the Book Lounge – events and platforms for discussion, exchange of ideas and debate, and access for authors to readers and vice versa. After a number of years we thought about doing it on a bigger scale. I thought it was important to try and do something in the city that happens in people’s lives and that would diminish barriers to access, particularly in the South African context. Historically people see book-relevant events as the preserve of the white middle class, and the old white middle class. That’s not something we wanted to do, in terms of relevance and how we see ourselves.”

“One of the joys of the festival is that we get to provide some kind of platform for people who are doing really important and entertaining things.” 

Q: Open Book exposes us to unfamiliar international authors. Who should we look out for?

A: “It’s difficult to isolate a few, but Elnathan John is a fearless Nigerian writer who has published his first novel, Born on a Tuesday. It is a prescient, interesting book about Nigeria and the divisions in the world. We have four Canadian writers, all interesting in different ways. Rosemary Sullivan is a historian whose book, Stalin’s Daughter, has won several awards. Ravi Hajj is of Lebanese extraction, a wonderful novelist interested in the urban context. Kim Leine, a Danish writer, comes from a horrific history of abuse, and has done his first novel about the Danish colonisation of Greenland. Sunil Yapa is American of Sri Lankan heritage. Her debut novel, Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist, is very intense, set in Seattle during the WTO protests and so relevant in terms of what‘s going on in policing here and in the States. Nnedi Okorafor is a Nigerian writer living in the States who has broken open the whole ‘spec fic’ (speculative fiction) world which has been dominated by white males. She’s bashing down doors in an impressive way, just building momentum.”

Q: And the South Africans?

A: “Our book world, like South Africa, is messed up in so many bloody ways. But with all the difficulties and challenges, there’s a tremendous energy at the moment. It‘s nowhere near where it should be in terms of representation – not just race and gender but age as well. Some fantastic books have been published in the last 15 months that would not have been two or three years ago. But the book world is conservative and things move slowly. “On the programme we have Niq Mhlongo, Lauren Beukes and Deon Meyer, all established writers in different ways. Mohale Mashigo, whose debut novel, The Yearning, came out earlier this year, is absolutely marvellous. There is Yewande Omotoso who’s second novel, The Woman Next Door, was published this year, and a young Cape Town writer called David Cornwell with a novel called, Like it Matters – very Cape Town, set on the streets, gritty and with a strong sense of place, exquisitely written. Ace Moloi from the Free State has written a memoir that is heart breaking. Johannesburg journalist Nomavenda Mathiane’s story of her ancestors on the periphery of the Boer War is an oral history, in which the process of writing is so completely different.

Open Book is at The Fugard Theatre and nearby venues. Tickets are mostly R45, many events are free, but you should reserve a place. See

Last modified on Tuesday, 06 September 2016 14:06
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CityLife is the newspaper for people who live, work and play in the Cape Town central city area – and our many visitors. It’s a blend of news and information about people and places in one of the most exciting cities in the world.

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