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Feeste | Festivals > Artikels | Features > Organiser of the first ever Midlands Meander Literary Festival, Darryl David, in conversation with Janet van Eeden

Organiser of the first ever Midlands Meander Literary Festival, Darryl David, in conversation with Janet van Eeden


Darryl David - 2010-09-07

The first ever Midlands Meander Literary Festival was held over a warm winter weekend in August at the beautiful Yellowwood Café just outside Howick in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands.

“It’s been a long time coming,” says founder and programme director of the Festival, Darryl David. “I’ve dreamt of this day for seven years, and this year it finally came together.”

David is the founder of Book Town Richmond in the Karoo, programme director for its annual literary festival BookBedonnerd, as well as the founder of the Olive Schreiner Festival in Cradock.

Speakers at the Midlands event featured an impressive line-up: Ian Player, Kobus Moolman, Gcina Mhlope, Ronnie Govender, Ashwin Desai, Sally- Ann Murray, Paddy Kearney, Jason Hartman, Dan Wylie and many others. I was honoured to be on the list of speakers myself, talking about my part in the film White Lion. Lindy Stiebel also launched the Midlands Meander Literary Trail during this weekend feast of KwaZulu-Natal’s Literati.

“For years I would drive along the Midlands Meander and see this guesthouse just past Michaelhouse called Notting Hill. And like a stuck record, I would tell my wife and daughter, ‘One day I’ll start a festival in the Midlands to rival the famous Notting Hill Festival in London’,” says David.

The festival was held at Yellowwood Café, a character estate on the Karkloof Road with a one-of-a-kind view of the iconic Howick Falls. “Owner Sandra Murphy and Midlands Meander public relations officer Nikki Tilley have been great,” says David. “They were just so determined to see this festival come to fruition, even when they did not know where the next cent was going to come from.”*

 Darryl, how did the idea for this literary festival came about?

Janet, when I set out to create a Midlands Meander Literary Festival, my sole purpose was to showcase the writers of the region. It is shocking to think that KZN did not have a literary festival until now. So the writers were people who had written on some aspect of KZN, or were born in KZN, and were acclaimed authors. I also tried not to focus in the first year on canonical writers such as Alan Paton, Bessie Head, Roy Campbell and Douglas Livingstone, to name but a few. I wanted people to realise that there is a wealth of literary talent alive on our very doorstep right now.

There were many wonderful speakers invited to talk over the three-day festival. Which speakers were the highlights for you, Darryl?

Now you’re asking me a very difficult question. I suppose a highlight would be hearing my father’s laughter in the audience. I have organised about five literary festivals over the past few years, but because they were all in the Karoo, my dad did not come. You might not know this, but I travel with four dogs, one being a St Bernard, all over South Africa, so there is usually no place in my car.

The other major highlight was finally hearing Dr Ian Player talk about the role Sir Laurens van der Post played in his life. Everyone who was present was enchanted. If only I could get Ian Player to the Karoo, but that might be a bridge too far for a man of his age.

And would you believe that Craig Elstob, who was responsible for republishing the acclaimed Manna in the Desert (authored by his great-grandfather, Alfred de Jager Jackson, and first published in 1920), was also a highlight. I got to hear him speak on the Karoo in Howick. I have never been able to get him to Book Town Richmond!

It was a highlight interviewing Ronnie Govender. I have spoken to Ronnie for almost a year over the phone, but it was a highlight to tap into one of the most singular voices in South African literature.

But the biggest thrill, I suppose, was John Hone, author of Encounters with the Dragon. The stuff of goose flesh, Janet. What a book on one of the most iconic landscapes in Southern Africa, the Drakensberg. I’ll remember that one for years to come!

I thought Yellowwood Café was such a beautiful setting for this festival, and it’s the first time I’ve been there. I loved the old farmhouse which has now been turned into a restaurant. The whole area is set on a working farm amongst the rolling hills of the Midlands. How did you find this delightful place?

Yellowwood – oh, what a glorious venue. It’s all about the views. Views of the mighty Howick Falls. Did you know that one of our speakers, Kobus Moolman, proposed to his now wife at this very venue? It is undoubtedly one of the character homes in Howick and oh so romantic! At one stage I had to throw my toys out the cot because certain people wanted the festival held in Nottingham Road. But Howick, my home town, has been good to me, so I insisted that I wanted it held at Yellowwood just outside Howick.

Lindy Stiebel is a well-known academic and supporter of the arts in KZN.  She has been the driving force behind the Midlands Meander Literary Trail. How were the writers who feature on this trail chosen, and can you tell the readers of LitNet more about this?

The Midlands Meander Literary Trail is the brainchild of Lindy Stiebel, who has done pioneering work on literary tourism in KZN. In fact, if it were not for Lindy, there would be no Book Town Richmond, no Spirit of Schreiner Festival – no Midlands Meander Literary Festival.

Which writers got chosen to be on the trail was determined by who has associations with the region. For example, Imraan Coovadia, who has no ostensible links with the region, was chosen because he went to school at Hilton College and has written about his experiences. Ditto for John van der Ruit, although his links were much stronger with Michaelhouse. Literary tourism is all about big names, so unfortunately up and coming writers would struggle to find themselves a spot on the trail. Another big name that has featured on the trail is the late Lewis Nkosi.

Darryl, do you have plans for a similar festival of this sort next year?

Plans for another festival … I’ll be quoting from Julius Caesar if they drop me now! Yes, this will be an annual event. I have half my speakers for next year’s festival all lined up already. Yellowwood will once again be the venue of choice, I hope, after the sterling role they played in hosting the festival this year. One change that I will make in 2011 is that I am going to invite a slew of Afrikaans writers to give the festival a more inclusive look. So pencil in the first weekend in August of 2011 as a weekend to be in the magical Midlands.

You have a full-time lecturing job at UKZN and a young family. How do you find the time to plan all these festivals and what drives you to do this, Darryl?

I suffer from the “dreamer’s disease”, Janet. I’ve carried these dreams for almost a decade now. It’s not as though I woke up one morning and said: “A Midlands Meander Festival sounds nice …” No, I’ve dreamt about doing these things for so long now, and this year I decided that I only live once!

But there is another side to these dreams. Being an Afrikaans lecturer in KZN is hard. You always feel like an outsider. You are always made to feel like you’re there at the expense of others, and a grudging expense at that. So I suppose these festivals are a way of surrounding myself with creative people, people who revel in the wonder of the written word.

You’ve also finished writing a book. Please tell the readers of LitNet about this.

I’ve just finished putting the final touches to my other dream, 101 Country Churches of SA. Etienne van Heerden once remarked in an interview how besotted he gets about his books when they appear in print. Multiply that by 10, and you’ll begin to understand how I feel about my first book going to print.

Tell us more about the plans for the other festivals you’re involved in over the next year. And are there any other interesting special literary events up your sleeve?

2011 is going to be a big milestone for Book Town Richmond in the Karoo. We’re celebrating our 5th anniversary and if people thought the Coolie Odyssey this year in Richmond was big, next year is going to be even bigger! The response from writers has been amazing. It has captured the imagination of people.

Any special literary events up my sleeve? I’ll answer you honestly on this one, Janet, because I know my wife won’t read this website! Yes, I’ve got two more dreams to fulfil. I’m just biding my time until my wife is ready for the next one. Give me two more years and that’s all I’ll say for now!

* Some of this information comes from a press release in The Witness of 20 July 2010.