Readings that work

The other day we had a beautiful evening at the Wits Writing Centre. We had planned a small party for our writing consultants and to welcome Mbongisi, returned briefly from studying African philosophy in Kansas, Retsepile returned perhaps for longer from her jet-setting writing career in London, Mehita returned from lecturing at London University to Wits and Beth returned from freelance journalism in Johannesburg. So we had much to celebrate as well as the recent PhD for Thabisani. It also happened to be the shortest day of the year and national short story day. So, in addition to the cheese and wine, we asked the mentor protégé group to entertain us with readings from the People Power collection.

 And to my mind it was perfect: people happy to see each other, returning to a familiar space, interested in the work of their friends. It wasn’t very planned but everything seemed to work.

How do we have more readings like this? Events which are not initiated by the PR departments of big institutions but which are firstly a party and then an interest in hearing about recent creative travels? As a meeting of friends it wasn’t public. But could we take the friends’ meeting as a kernel, so as to grow the group in some organic way and so make it more public? Word of mouth, even if it is via facebook, invitation from someone you know, seems to be the best way to get a receptive and engaged audience. The subsequent performance or reading, needs then a created space in which no one person or view dominates. A space or moment which allows imagination to grow through juxtaposition and dialogue.

Readings from the mentor protégé group were the focus of our party on June 21st and their writings are getting better and better. I think the group is benefitting from Allan’s experience and strong writing, from Kgaogelo’s experiments with mixing languages and representing violence, Mbongisi’s relentless intellectualism and quirkiness, from Vuyo’s wickedness and punch, from Dina’s cleverness in capturing Jo’burg conversations. These writers and their writings are developing at least partly in dialogue and finding their voice against each other.

I’d like to celebrate the mentor protégé group and tell you to read their writings and come to the next party/event. Perhaps we can find alternatives to the cliques and ghettos by nourishing our writers and ourselves with open meetings of developing voices, which are respectful, inclusive and creative.

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