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Menings | Opinion > Onderhoude | Interviews > English

Darryl David on Boekbedonnerd IV

Bibi Slippers - 2011-10-19

Boekbedonnerd IV is happening in Richmond from 27 - 29 October 2011! Click here for the final programme.

Darryl David

Hi Darryl. How is it going with the preparations for Boekbedonnerd IV?

Hi Bibi, surprisingly calmly. When I was a student I would always relax in the week before exams. I try to carry that philosophy through to the book festival. I try to do the hard yards much earlier in the year. Although one writer has just sent me an e-mail that threatens to disrupt my peaceful existence!

How did the idea for a booktown and the Boekbedonnerd festival come about?

Round about 2003 at my university (the University of KwaZulu-Natal) Prof Lindy Stiebel started a project on literary tourism. Being a bok for all things literary and touristy I got on board. My great dream was to buy the Alan Paton home in Pietermaritzburg. But that dream went through the window with the property boom. At that time I was as good as a Neanderthal with computers. But while I was Googling the word book the predictive text threw up the word booktown. That was the start of a three-year journey searching the Karoo for a suitable town for fulfilling what can only be described as a magnificent obsession. After an article appeared on Richmond in Country Life magazine I had a gut feeling about the town. I sensed it was on the up and rumours were doing the rounds in the Karoo that a "mad Canadian" was buying up books and houses. That mad Canadian, Peter Baker, was the first person to say "That's a whale of an idea – let's do it" after hearing about my idea for a booktown. But even better, he knew a certain John Donaldson who, like Peter, owned a few houses in Richmond. As luck would have it, John was planning to open a bookshop in Richmond as well. I once heard Ian Player talk about “synchronicity”. I think it was a combination of synchronicity and pure luck that saw Richmond brand itself as South Africa’s national booktown.

Boekbedonnerd? Instinctively something told me we had to have a literary festival. It has proven to be a stroke of genius, always keeping the booktown in the public eye. Of course it needs to be said the name Boekbedonnerd divides people like the Ongers River in Richmond divides the white and coloured neighbourhoods. But symbolically my house is right on the river and hopefully Boekbedonnerd will unite rather than divide people as time goes on.

Have the preparations for this year's festival sparked any special memories from past festivals that you'd like to share with our readers?

Strangely, despite all the big names, I can't get Edwin Jackson’s Flight of the moth out of my head. I rated the book highly even though Edwin was a nobody in literary circles. The committee said I should look for bigger names. I dug my heels in. And I will never forget Edwin, a man suffering from some form of motor neuron disease, reading from his book with hands that had the shakes. Nor his publisher, a completely blind man reading from Edwin’s book through a special piece of equipment I had never seen before. It was surreal. But satisfying. It signifies what Booktown Richmond stands for.

Ditto for Keith Britz. For 25 years he was shunned by publishers. I went the extra mile for Keith. Eventually he was shortlisted for the EU literary prize, shortlisted for the Sunday Times literary award. What a journey I have walked with Keith.

My colleague Fanie Olivier – undoubtedly the greatest poetry session at Booktown Richmond. Braam de Vries – what a virtuoso performance enacting a character that stutters while reading from one of his short stories. Ahmed Kathrada - what a book A simple freedom was. And what a humble man.

Riana Scheepers bringing 40-odd people to our festival. I’ll never forget that. I attended one of her creative writing workshops. Undoubtedly the greatest lecturer I have ever met in Afrikaans. 

And Etienne van Heerden is definitely the best person to interview. So articulate. Only Breyten Breytenbach trumps him with the ease with which he answers questions. So aware, so able to shift gears in interviews.

Dana Snyman – before he even opens his mouth the people are rolling in the aisles laughing – he has that effect on people. Eben Venter … a bookseller’s dream. That man can sell books. Probably one of the great novelists never to have won the Hertzog Prize.

There are so many others, but it would constitute an entire interview if I were to talk about everybody.

Has the festival changed a lot over the past five years?

Well, besides the numbers that have grown exponentially, no. We will always be a literary festival. Two years ago people wanted us to become an arts festival that would attract even larger crowds. Peter and I said, “Why fix that which ain’t broke?” That is why you will see others have started Die Groot Kunstefees in Richmond. And they might very well become bigger than us. But as Guy Butler once said, you have to be small to survive in the Karoo – unless, of course  you have Absa on your side!

How do you go about setting up a programme for a bookfest like this?

Our strength has been our independence. We do not slavishly follow what's new on publishers’ lists. We try to show the bibliophiles out there that we were born on the day of singularity. So we usually try to choose a theme for our festival. Since it is in the Great Karoo, the Karoo will always be our theme. And then last year, for instance, we had the theme of the “Coolie Odyssey”. Next year a sub-theme will be “Avatars of the Underworld!”

What can visitors to this year's Boekbedonnerd expect to see on the programme?

What can people expect? Legends! Boy, what a line-up. Antjie Krog, Albie Sachs, Mongane Wally Serote, Deon Meyer, Ivan Vladislavic, Obie Oberholzer. But while we enjoy boasting and name-dropping, the true bibliophiles know that the gems are to be found in the niche markets that publishers won't touch. This year we have topics as wide-ranging as the pipe organ heritage of South Africa, Antarctic explorers, a book on Wagner and Hitler, a book on the “karretjie-mense”, right up to a book on church music of the Karoo. And then don't forget the book-restoration workshop, a wonderful art exhibition by the William Humphries art gallery at MAP owned by Harrie Siertsema of Harries Pancakes fame and a patron of the arts, our architectural tour, the film festival. But most of all the bookshops. Unadulterated pleasure for any bibliophile. I must remind my wife to scatter  some of my ashes along Loop Street where all the bookshops are situated when that day comes when I take flight to that Richmond-in-the-Sky.

There are rumours afoot that you are introducing a special new feature to Booktown Richmond and the Boekbedonnerd festival this year. Do you mind spilling the beans about this mysterious development?

Bibi, you are well connected! Or maybe my confidantes can't hold their tongues. But they can be forgiven, because who would be able to keep quiet when you are launching South Africa’s first mural town? Yup, we created the first booktown. Now we want to adorn the walls with murals so that Richmond might become a large open-air museum. I think we are going to call ourselves a Picture Book Town because it goes better with our identity. Our aim is to broaden the appeal of the town. And I suppose we owe it all to an angel called Engela Duvenhage, who first carried the story in Naweek six months ago. She ended her article by saying wouldn't it be nice if South Africa could have a mural town. As luck would have it the granddaddy of mural towns is situated in Canada and the “mad Canadian" was just about to go on holiday to Canada. The rest, as they say, is history. We just can't resist ideas of such immense beauty. So over the past few months we have been pleading with artists to help us fulfil our dream. We have had many doors slammed in our faces, but I know a lot of people who know a lot of people ... who knew one Mike Norris from Howick. Mike is a self-taught artist who will be coming to Richmond to paint our first mural. Visit his website www.tractorpix.co.za. Mike is very much like me – an intellectual nomad. Our wives want to put us on Ritalin. Mike’s mural is going to be a work of beauty. As the festival unfolds you will literally see the mural taking shape before your very eyes. Mike in turn knew an artist skilled in portraiture. It has always been my dream to make the walls of Richmond announce that we are truly a booktown by painting portraits of writers of this region. And so Louise Ghersie, also from Howick, will be coming to Richmond to paint the portraits of two iconic figures. And MAP will be helping us by creating literary pathways through the town by painting literary quotations around the town. That is why you will have discerned a heavy artist bias in our speaker line-up this year.

So there you have it. And I really must thank one Nikki Tilley, who helps me organise the Midlands Literary Festival in Howick. She is the one who persuaded Mike Norris to help us with what will undoubtedly be the talking point of the Karoo for 2012. Unfortunately Bryce Lawrence upstaged us as the talking point of South Africa in 2011!
If you had to convince a Boekbedonnerd virgin to attend this year's festival, what would you highlight as the three main reasons to make the trip to Richmond?

Well, let me say that if you are going to lose your virginity, rather let it be to a fine upstanding festival like Boekbedonnerd. But seriously, watching the first mural of our mural town is undoubtedly going to be a historic moment. Secondly, we are not called the Great Karoo for nothing. Sure we have a hot line-up of literati, but don't underestimate the allure of our hospitality, architecture, Karoo cuisine, wide open spaces and 13 bookshops. And rumour has it that their festival organisers are real hotties!

Where can our readers get more information about the festival? 

Well, hopefully they will find  most of it on LitNet, or visit www.richmondnc.co.za. Alternatively they can contact me on davidd@ukzn.ac.za or Peter Baker on pcbaker@mweb.co.za.