Books on the Bay Festival 2024: An Interview With Darryl David

Mar 20, 2024 | News

Darryl David talks to Naomi Meyer about the Books on the Bay Festival in Simon’s Town, taking place from 22 to 24 March 2024.

Darryl, it is nearly time for the next Books on the Bay festival in Simon’s Town. For anyone who isn’t aware of this, could you please provide some background for the festival?

Hi, Naomi. The Books on the Bay Literary Festival had quite common beginnings. David Attwell moved to Simon’s Town about a year after I moved to the town. When we realised we both were now residents in the town of Simon, we decided to meet at a local pub.

The Books on the Bay Literary Festival had quite common beginnings. David Attwell moved to Simon’s Town about a year after I moved to the town. When we realised we both were now residents in the town of Simon, we decided to meet at a local pub.

Midway through his first beer, David started remarking about the great number of creative people in the Far South – or the end of the world, as I like to call it. Midway through my second passion fruit and lemonade, I said that a region so rich in literary history deserves a literary festival of its own. To which David replied: “Why don’t we do it?” Of course, never one to miss a trick, I knew that David was a close friend of one John Maxwell Coetzee. And so I told David, now well into his second beer, that if he could persuade John to speak at our envisioned festival, I would start believing. Well, within 48 hours, I was a believer. David had secured JM Coetzee. And so, from these humble beginnings, one of the great literary festivals was born. David summed up the mood of our inaugural festival best when he remarked: “We launched a rocket.”

Please would you tell me about a few of the authors on the programme this year?

We are thrilled that Ivan Vladislavić will launch his latest novel, The near north, at the festival. A book by Ivan is truly a happening in South African literature. As is a book by Margie Orford, the queen of South African crime writing, shifting genres as she launches her memoir, Love and fury, at the festival. And then I am thrilled that Ashwin Desai will make his Cape Town debut at our festival. His recent book, Durban casbah, has just scooped the highly prestigious NHSS Award for best monograph. However, he will enthral us at the Simon’s Town Literary Festival with a book to celebrate the centenary of the Kingsmead Cricket Ground. Craig Higginson also comes to the festival, buoyed by his Best Novel prize at the same NHSS Awards. We are also thrilled that Imraan Coovadia will be wending his way to Simon’s Town. His book, The poisoners: On South Africa’s toxic past, while a few years old, is a fascinating glimpse into the toxic fear of poisoning in South African politics that only such a gifted writer as Coovadia could have concocted.

And then I really rate the novels by Vernon Head, Mpush Ntabeni and Sven Axelrad. And, of course, any session that includes Finuala Dowling is always pregnant with promise. But I think I have a reputation of organising book festivals where the lesser-known writers always provide the highlights of the festival. And I think the programme that David Attwell, Karin Cronje and I have assembled will prove no different. While a former vice-chancellor of Rhodes like Ahmed Bawa can hardly be described as lesser known, what is without doubt is that his book, excavated from the sidelines of history, about how apartheid ruined the tennis career of a promising young Indian tennis prodigy, Hoosen Bobat, is a book that will surprise festivalgoers. I also suspect that the play by Nicholas Ellenbogen, satirising the baboon politics of the region, will be sold out come the 22nd of March. And, no doubt, so will be the session by radio personality John Maytham. On the Afrikaans front, Ena Jansen, another Deep South semigrant, will be in conversation with Annemarié van Niekerk about her highly acclaimed prize-winning memoir, Onder ’n bloedrooi hemel, a book that will break your heart and leave it broken long after you turn that last page.

Moreover, the session featuring Hein Willemse, Shamiega Chaudhari and Muhammed Haroun continues our exploration of the central role of Arabic in the writing tradition of Afrikaans. Building on last year’s session at the mosque honouring the Simon’s Town imam who translated the Quran into Afrikaans, we are now also trying to ascertain whether the music for “Die stem” was composed in Simon’s Town, and whether CJ Langenhoven had a holiday home in Simon’s Town.

Moreover, the session featuring Hein Willemse, Shamiega Chaudhari and Muhammed Haroun continues our exploration of the central role of Arabic in the writing tradition of Afrikaans. Building on last year’s session at the mosque honouring the Simon’s Town imam who translated the Quran into Afrikaans, we are now also trying to ascertain whether the music for “Die stem” was composed in Simon’s Town, and whether CJ Langenhoven had a holiday home in Simon’s Town.

Are there any specific events you are looking forward to or anything you wish to share with our readers?

On a personal level, I am looking forward to having the Simon’s Town launch of my memoir BookBedonnerd: The road to elsewhere. It’s a book that I penned in Simon’s Town, and it will always hold a special place in my heart. And then Justin Fox’s hymn to writers and place in South Africa. What a book Justin has written. Little wonder it is in its third print run. And then there is the one and only Antony Osler. I rate Antony as the kindest voice in South African literature. Please bring a box of tissues along – because you will cry. He is a writer who will move you. I will also put my head on the block and say that Chris Nicholson’s book Who really killed Chris Hani will be a highlight of the festival. A writer who has twice been shortlisted for the Sunday Times Prize, Chris Nicholson is one of the great orators in the literary life of South Africa.

How about practicalities: where will the festival take place, how much are the tickets and where can we buy tickets?

Tickets are available online at Webtickets. So, if you go to our website, www.booksonthebay.co.za, you can simply click on the Webtickets icon and purchase your tickets online. All sessions cost R80 (except the session at the Simon’s Town Mosque, which is free to the public). However, if you are a Neanderthal like me, 20% of all tickets will be on sale at each venue. However, many of the sessions are perilously close to being sold out, so it is always best to purchase tickets online – or be prepared to queue early at the different venues.

About our venues. We hold our talks at the mosque, at the town hall, at the Methodist Church, at the Simon’s Town Museum as well as at the St Francis of Assisi Anglican Church. It is quite a bit of walking; however, the thinking is that we want festivalgoers to experience the beauty of our beloved town on foot.

However, this year, we will have a tuk-tuk on call for the duration of the festival to ferry festivalgoers between venues, which will be especially helpful for sessions at the Catholic Church. People often ask us why we hold so many of our sessions at churches and mosques. To which we reply, in the beginning was the word!

However, this year, we will have a tuk-tuk on call for the duration of the festival to ferry festivalgoers between venues, which will be especially helpful for sessions at the Catholic Church. People often ask us why we hold so many of our sessions at churches and mosques. To which we reply, in the beginning was the word!

Anything in Simon’s Town you wish to highlight?

I think the overwhelming success of our first festival can be attributed to the spirit of place.

I think the overwhelming success of our first festival can be attributed to the spirit of place. So, make sure that after a day’s talks, you take in the sights from Simon’s Town to Muizenberg, returning via Boyes Drive. But the more spectacular drive is the Simon’s Town to Scarborough route, where you drive all the way to Kommetjie before taking the shorter, circular route back to Simon’s Town. And don’t forget the drive out to Noordhoek, and onward to the iconic Chapman’s Peak Drive. After all of this, few would argue that this is without a shadow of a doubt the most idyllic setting for any book festival in South Africa.

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