South African PEN
PEN is a non-political organisation representing writers of the world, defending free-expression and encouraging literature. We live by a strong PEN Charter which champions the ideal of "one humanity living in peace in one world". Is this not an ideal to uphold for all people on all continents, including Africa?
Write! Africa Write! becomes a call for African writers to say what they wish to say and to eschew the divisions of the past in favour of the idea of one humanity living in peace on one continent. Originally PEN stood for Poets, Playwrights, Essayists, Editors, and Novelists. A leading voice of literature, PEN now brings together poets, novelists, essayists, historians, playwrights, critics, translators, editors, journalists and screenwriters in a common concern for the craft and art of writing and a commitment to freedom of expression through the written word. Through its 145 Centres in more than 104 countries, International PEN operates on all six continents. The South African PEN Centre (SA PEN) is a branch of International PEN.
Qualification for membership of SA PEN is a recognised position as a published writer (one published literary work, or more), or a person deemed by the committee to be recognised as of sufficient standing, and is by invitation only. The committee is the final judge of any candidate for election to the SA PEN. A candidate for membership is also required to agree to subscribe to the PEN Charter.
WHAT SOUTH AFRICA CAN LEARN FROM CHINUA ACHEBE
In South Africa it is difficult to imagine a place or historical moment in which enamel crockery was preferable to hand-crafted Nigerian pottery. Enamel holds a unique set of connotations for us, many of which we would rather forget. But this is what Chinua Achebe recalls from his childhood in his seminal essay, 'The Novelist as Teacher' (1968). He also recalls the reaction of shock and horror at the decision by a local girls' school to perform traditional Nigerian dances instead of the usual, 'genteel' Maypole dance of England. Using these analogies, he makes his point: "I would be quite satisfied if my novels (especially the ones I set in the past) did no more than teach my readers that their past – with all its imperfections – was not one long night of savagery from which the first Europeans acting on God's behalf delivered them."
What can we draw from this essay in the South Africa of 2013? Africa has come a long way since the 1960s when it was written: a time of emancipation for many of its countries – pre-colonial ways of life lost forever, and the struggle with inherited culture and infrastructure only just beginning. Because post-colonial circumstances were so extreme, with inherited crises in the economic, political and social spheres, the question of relevance was a pertinent one for the writer as an emerging figure in modern Africa. Having been released from our own shackles of apartheid as late as the 90s, South Africa is still experiencing the ripple effect of turbulence, and in many ways our writers' struggle for identity during the last twenty years has not been very different to the struggles experienced in Nigeria, Kenya and Ghana in the 1960s. We still ask ourselves what the role of the writer, critic and artist is in the new South Africa – what responsibilities do they have to political commentary and to the nation in general? What are the pitfalls – social or aesthetic – of writing for a European and American readership rather than a local one? As J.M. Coetzee wrote through the mouthpiece of his character, Elizabeth Costello: "African novelists may write about Africa, about African experiences, but they seem to me to be glancing over their shoulder all the time they write, at the foreigners who will read them (...) How can you explore a world in all its depth if at the same time you are having to explain it to outsiders?"'
Deftly Achebe has achieved this balance during his rich and wide-spanning career. His decision – a controversial one – to write in English has re-invented the language for African readers and writers and has meant that children across South Africa and elsewhere were introduced to Things Fall Apart at the age of 17, as I was. Despite glamour, international acclaim and more than 40 honorary doctorates from universities across the world, it is the children of Africa who Achebe always had in mind when writing. He reaffirmed the act of writing not as something which comes from an ivory tower — isolated and isolating – but as something public, social, relevant and indeed, necessary. For Achebe, the writer's role was as important as the teacher's – something which, in South Africa, was nearly re-classified as an essential service. "I think it is part of my business as a writer to teach a boy that there is nothing disgraceful about the African weather," he wrote, "and that the palm tree is a fit subject for poetry."
By Anneke Rautenbach
Piece on Pen-International.org
South African PEN supports 'each unharmful, gentle soul misplaced inside a jail' in event to mark World Day of the Imprisoned Writer
In a moving and rousing event to mark the World Day of the Imprisoned Writer last night, seven South African writers ranging in age from a nineteen-year-old beginner blogger to a distinguished seventy-two-year old poet paid tribute to their imprisoned peers around the world.
Over a hundred people crowded into Kalk Bay Books to hear Beatrice Willoughby, Tom Eaton, Lauren Beukes, Henrietta Rose-Innes, Tim Butcher, Michael Morris and Gus Ferguson lend their voices to silenced writers with whom, in most cases, they shared an exact birth year: Tal al-Mallouhi of Syria, Ericson Acosta of the Philippines, Eskinder Nega of Ethiopia, Dolma Kyab of Tibet, Muharrem Erbey of Turkey, Mamadali Makhmudov of Uzbekistan and Chinese Nobel Laureate, Liu Xiaobo.
The local writers read poetry, prose and prison letters by the imprisoned writers, offering in turn words of reflection, consolation and support.
As always at PEN events, an empty chair symbolised the jailed writer.
'Freedom of expression underlies all other freedoms,' said Margie Orford, executive vice-president of SA PEN, in her opening remarks.
John Maytham, MC for the evening, reminded the audience of the many South African writers who were detained under apartheid, and echoed Orford's warning that writers here could soon risk imprisonment again for telling the truth under the new 'Secrecy Bill'.
Before describing the circumstances of each writer's arrest and detention, Maytham quoted Nadine Gordimer ('Art is on the side of the oppressed') and Alexander Solzhenitsyn: 'For a country to have a great writer is like having a second government. That is why no regime has ever loved great writers, only minor ones.'
Commenting on the fact that Ericson Acosta was arrested for being in possession of hand grenades when all he had on him at the time was his laptop, Tom Eaton said 'This is a very telling detail, because to a regime, a laptop is a hand grenade.'
Michael Morris returned to this fear of the incendiary power of words when he read a list of items confiscated from Liu Xiaobo when the Chinese poet was taken into custody:
1. Notebook computer (IBM model T43), one
2. Notebook computer (Lianxiang model Chaoyang 700 CFe), one
3. Desktop computer (Lianxiang model Jiayue), one
4. Charter 08 request for comments draft (sealed together with the court papers), 7 pages+
'We are lucky that we live in South Africa and can write what we like,' said Lauren Beukes, before reading Chris van Wyk's poem 'In detention' as a reminder of how this has not always been true.
Henrietta Rose-Innes too, chose a South African prison poem, Hugh Lewin's 'Wagon Wheels', with its haunting memory of Eli Weinberg singing for the condemned men on their way to the gallows:
Tim Butcher responded to Eskinder Nega's moving fortitude during his continued imprisonment, and Gus Ferguson poignantly contrasted his life to that of his tortured 'doppelganger' Mamadali Makhmudov.
Beatrice Willoughby offered this simple, line-by-line response to her age-twin, Tal al-Mallouhi of Syria:
The evening was framed by song. Jacques Coetzee and Johann Kotze set the tone for the evening with an unplugged version of Leonard Cohen's 'Bird on a wire', and Emma Rycroft sent everyone home with the feeling that the gathering had, indeed, 'gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing'.
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083 556 9168
Friday, 16th November 2012
19/10/12 - Welkom PEN Afrikaans! Nou kom jare samewerking namens die uitmuntend PEN CHARTER
And congratulations on a major achievement in the name of literature and free-expression. Your focus on your own language will prove to be most enlightened in today's world of troubled diversity - Afrikaans without borders in the digital age!. With a global reach you honour heritage and strengthen principle and purpose of your unique language and culture. Afrikaans sonder grense! Best wishes for your inaugural meeting in Stellensbosch on Saturday 20 October 2012.
It is fitting to now recall that Carles Torner Pifarre of Catalan PEN in Barcelona, kindly invited me to join his working group to draft the UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF LINGUISTIC RIGHTS of 1998. This led to the one-page GIRONA MANIFESTO which is now fully supported by International PEN. At my request, former President of South Africa Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi all supported the UDLR. At its Congress in South Korea last month, International PEN unanimously welcomed PEN Afrikaans as a fully autonomous PEN Centre.
South African PEN
22/06/12 - Congratulations to SA PEN member Michiel Heyns on being awarded the 2012 Sunday Times Fiction Prize for Lost Ground, a crime story set in the Karoo. Lost Ground explores questions of xenophobia and prejudice, of national, sexual and personal identity, and what it means to be a foreigner wherever you go. This is Michiel’s second Sunday Times Fiction Prize win as he shared the award with Marlene van Niekerk back in 2007 for his translation of her novel Agaat.
"In this clip, President and Executive Vice President of South African PEN talk briefly to Congress about the the past and the future. I would like to add that Carles Torner of Catalan PEN was largely rsponsible for drafting the Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights. Carles asked me to join his working group some years ago and I happily agreed. I am also happy to add that I in turn asked South Africans Rolihlahla Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi to support the UDLR in principle. They all agreed. The Girona Manifesto, also prepared by Catalan PEN, is a magnificent summary of linguistic principle, matching our revered PEN Charter. It is endorsed by International PEN. Margie Orford talks convincingly about the need for PEN to promote not only free expression and literature but also LITERACY. South Africa has 11 official languages, the African continent more than 1000.
Please note the book AFRICAN PENS 2011 is the last of a series. It is also a privilege to record that 12 authors whose work appeared in our PEN series of 10 editions, have gone on to publish their own literary titles.
Read! Africa Read! Write! Africa Write!
Engadinwa nangomuso! Pula! Khotso!
South African PEN"
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