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Fiona Snyckers

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

A Sharp Stick

The Mail & Guardian JHB Literary Festival is taking place on 3, 4, and 5 September this year in an apparent attempt to resurrect the literary festivals of the 1980s. Those festivals of twenty years ago – I am told by those who remember them – were noteworthy for their almost total exclusion of women writers.

However, the world has moved on since then. One would certainly expect this testosterone-centric approach to have been confined to the history books, not so?

One would be sadly disappointed if one did. I had an informal flick through the final programme and discovered that of the thirty or so writers featured, precisely four are women. Of those four, one is from the Ivory Coast, and one is not actually a writer at all, but an artist. So, in case you’re keeping score, the M&G literary festival features exactly two South African women writers – Zukiswa Wanner and Margie Orford. There is also a (very) light sprinkling of female academics and journalists on the panels.

Both Margie and Zukiswa are excellent choices – being fine writers and experienced, eloquent panelists. They are, however, just two of the many talented female writers in South Africa.

I noted with pleasure that the spread of participants is quite culturally representative of our post-apartheid country. Is it greedy to wish that it could be gender-representative too? Or was it simply a case that, with the best will in the world, the Mail & Guardian could not scrape together any more women writers to make the cut? Somehow, I find this difficult to believe.

South African fiction is in an unprecedentedly vibrant and influential state, and women writers are responsible for at least fifty per cent of that impact. There really is no excuse for not including more of them in the festival line-up. The fact that women are so woefully under-represented has not gone unnoticed.

SAFM presenter Karabo Kgoleng remarked on Twitter today: “Mail & Guardian Johannesburg Literary Festival – where are the female voices?” Journalist Marianne Thamm commented on Facebook that the heavily masculine line-up looks “as bad as a comedy festival”. Writer and editor Helen Moffett suggested, also on Facebook, that the M&G needed poking with “a sharp stick” to draw their attention to the howling gender imbalance of their programme.

Consider this blog the requisite stick. I just hope it’s sharp enough.

 

Recent comments:

  • <a href="http://louisgreenberg.com" rel="nofollow">Louis Greenberg</a>
    Louis Greenberg
    August 30th, 2010 @09:32 #
     
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    Good form again, Fiona.
    "South African fiction is in an unprecedentedly vibrant and influential state, and women writers are responsible for at least fifty per cent of that impact." And may I add that woman buyers are responsible for 80% of the purchases? Are *they* happy to go along to a fest and be told the truth by the fathers?

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  • <a href="http://fionasnyckers.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Fiona</a>
    Fiona
    August 30th, 2010 @09:34 #
     
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    Good point, Louis. I should have thought of that.

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  • Maire
    Maire
    August 30th, 2010 @10:01 #
     
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    Fiona, a great and well pointed stick. Maybe if the paper's name were the Female & Guardian, there'd be more women represented?

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  • <a href="http://richarddenooy.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Richard de Nooy</a>
    Richard de Nooy
    August 30th, 2010 @10:06 #
     
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    Well prodded, Mme. Fifi. Quite shocking, really.

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  • <a href="http://louisgreenberg.com" rel="nofollow">Louis Greenberg</a>
    Louis Greenberg
    August 30th, 2010 @10:40 #
     
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    And before anyone else says it, of course I'm just being critical because I am a white male and *still* nobody invited me onto any of the panels.

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  • Ben - Editor
    Ben - Editor
    August 30th, 2010 @10:42 #
     
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    Maire, ho ho :)

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  • <a href="http://margieorford.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Margie</a>
    Margie
    August 30th, 2010 @11:10 #
     
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    Curiouser and curiouser, said Alice. Does being a crime writer cancel out being a girl? I have a feeling that it might....

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    August 30th, 2010 @11:32 #
     
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    Well-prodded, Fifi. Whoever planned this (and a commentator on Karabo Kloleng's FB page has just pointed out that women were allegedly on the planning committee) needs a smack.

    Margie, that's an interesting point. If a woman writes crime and not all that girly soppy poetry and romance, maybe she can be invited to play with the boys. Darryl Accone's piece in the M&G claims the intent is to celebrate Jozi writers, so I'm wondering (with no slight intended) why you, a CT krimi writer, were invited and not Jassy, or Jane Taylor? Or did the M&G ask Jassy (and the gals out in touchy-feely territory, like Lebo and Cynthia and Angela and Lisa Combrinck and Paige and Sarah B, not to mention Fifi herself) and get turned down? I think we should be told.

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    August 30th, 2010 @11:34 #
     
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    And there's Kitty, too. More Jozi women writers are sure to occur to me...

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  • <a href="http://www.modjajibooks.co.za" rel="nofollow">Colleen</a>
    Colleen
    August 30th, 2010 @11:39 #
     
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    @ Helen Why does the M&G need to celebrate Jozi writers? Is the M&G a Jozi paper? Just wondering...

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  • <a href="http://fionasnyckers.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Fiona</a>
    Fiona
    August 30th, 2010 @11:47 #
     
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    Precisely. Colleen.

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  • <a href="http://louisgreenberg.com" rel="nofollow">Louis Greenberg</a>
    Louis Greenberg
    August 30th, 2010 @11:48 #
     
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    Female Joburg/ Gauteng novelists and poets with whom I have eaten or corresponded:
    Zukiswa Wanner
    Sarah Britten
    Naomi Nkealah
    Phillippa Yaa de Villiers
    Moky Makura
    Fiona Snyckers
    Jassy McKenzie
    Makhosazana Xaba
    Jo-Anne Richards
    Kathryn White
    Arja Salafranca
    Michelle McGrane
    Gaily Fleur
    Angela Makholwa
    Vanessa Herman
    Fiona Zerbst (Rustenburg is a suburb of Gauteng)
    Isabella Morris
    Jayne Bauling
    Joan de la Haye
    Shafinaaz Hassim
    Shaida Kazie Ali
    Robyn Goss
    Cynthia Jele
    And honestly I'm not a social butterfly.

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    August 30th, 2010 @11:48 #
     
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    Good question, Colleen. I have no idea -- logistics, maybe? Seehttp://www.mg.co.za/article/2010-08-17-for-the-love-of-word.

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    August 30th, 2010 @11:51 #
     
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    Louis, you are brilliantly well-connected, you lucky man. The M&G should put you on the organising panel pronto.

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  • <a href="http://louisgreenberg.com" rel="nofollow">Louis Greenberg</a>
    Louis Greenberg
    August 30th, 2010 @11:56 #
     
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    Helen, I'm not boasting about the Joburg literary luncheons and the city's cornucopia (which of course are boastworthy) - I made these connections mainly from my work on Home Away and on Facebook, which proves the point that these mysterious figures are not hard to find. They're out and about, they eat, they talk, they write. They exist.

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  • Ben - Editor
    Ben - Editor
    August 30th, 2010 @12:05 #
     
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    Splendid list, Louis.

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  • <a href="http://fionasnyckers.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Fiona</a>
    Fiona
    August 30th, 2010 @12:07 #
     
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    Bless you, Louis. That is a truly awesome list.

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  • <a href="http://louisgreenberg.com" rel="nofollow">Louis Greenberg</a>
    Louis Greenberg
    August 30th, 2010 @12:11 #
     
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    It only scratches the surface, I'm sure.

    That's a pleasure, Fiona darling. It is my job as white male to confirm your existence.

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  • <a href="http://www.darlingtonrichards.com/" rel="nofollow">moi</a>
    moi
    August 30th, 2010 @12:22 #
     
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    The Male & Guardian (of the canon) - so what else is new :-P

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  • <a href="http://www.modjajibooks.co.za" rel="nofollow">Colleen</a>
    Colleen
    August 30th, 2010 @12:39 #
     
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    Social media make it tough for organisers of things now, don't they - what would have been some muttering among friends now gets hung out to dry in public. Which is good. As you know I am all for letting it all hang out, having recently been out in public in my pyjamas.

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  • <a href="http://www.modjajibooks.co.za" rel="nofollow">Colleen</a>
    Colleen
    August 30th, 2010 @12:40 #
     
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    Doesn't it? (Should have proofread previous post before posting)

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  • <a href="http://bentrovato.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Ben Trovato</a>
    Ben Trovato
    August 30th, 2010 @13:38 #
     
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    Once you girls learn how to hold your drink, you'll be invited to these events. I have always found that shrieking, giggling and throwing up in the pot plants tends to lower the tone at book fairs.

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  • <a href="http://margieorford.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Margie</a>
    Margie
    August 30th, 2010 @13:38 #
     
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    I report from the Inner Sanctum....On Monday

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  • <a href="http://www.darlingtonrichards.com/" rel="nofollow">moi</a>
    moi
    August 30th, 2010 @13:59 #
     
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    so interesting - looking back at those olde boyz club days of no jews, no blacks, no women - to discover which, in the end, was the greatest threat :-))

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  • <a href="http://ingridandersen.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Ingrid Andersen</a>
    Ingrid Andersen
    August 30th, 2010 @14:50 #
     
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    This discussion is linked to the others we're engaged in: as to whose work is privileged as "literature" and what constitutes the criterion for privilege - gender definitely seems to be playing a role here. Only chaps can play in our "literary" sandbox. (Louis, that was your metaphor, wasn't it?) BTW, Louis - you're in scintillating form, lad.

    @Ben Trovato: you shriek and throw up in the pot plants? Tsk.

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  • <a href="http://louisgreenberg.com" rel="nofollow">Louis Greenberg</a>
    Louis Greenberg
    August 30th, 2010 @14:54 #
     
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    Not me, Ingrid. I don't do cat metaphors.

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    August 30th, 2010 @15:02 #
     
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    Shrieking with mirth at Ben-T and Moira. If the M&G didn't have access to The Blessed Louis's List, and wanted a writer with gravitas and serious chops in terms of international recognition, they could have approached Elinor Sisulu.

    Further Jozi additions to what shall hereafter be termed The Louis List:
    The Big Guns (Nadine and Elinor)
    Pumla Dineo Gqola
    Lisa Combrinck (why don't we see this exceptionally fine poet on the circuit?)
    Myesha Jenkins
    Kopano Mlatwa (made the M&G cut)
    Zukiswa Wanner (ditto)
    Jane Rosenthal (ditto, but I suspect in her reviewers' capacity)
    Jane Fox
    Liz MacGregor (I think she's still Jozi-based?)
    Natalia Molebatsi
    Nechama Brodie (the ULTIMATE Jozi gal)

    That's who springs to mind... more will occur, I'm sure.

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  • <a href="http://rustumkozain.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Rustum Kozain</a>
    Rustum Kozain
    August 30th, 2010 @15:04 #
     
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    I dream of the day I will go and get my milk and eggs in slippers, pyjamas and gown. Just need to find the gown and slippers.

    But, back to the topic, aren't people who have recently published typically the invitees for lit fests? I'm not making a statement, just wondering about another variable.

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  • <a href="http://www.darlingtonrichards.com/" rel="nofollow">moi</a>
    moi
    August 30th, 2010 @15:19 #
     
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    change is not easy so you probably gotta cut the olde boyz clubs some slack (I know, not the most delicate choice of idiom, but I'm in a hurry) like, in that literary sandbox, howz to know who's won the pissing contests if more than half the contestants decline to pee standing up?

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    August 30th, 2010 @15:52 #
     
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    You have a point, Rustum. In which case, they could have asked Jassy, Fifi, Cynthia, Paige, Khosi Xaba, Pumla, Phillippa or Arja...

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  • <a href="http://rustumkozain.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Rustum Kozain</a>
    Rustum Kozain
    August 30th, 2010 @16:07 #
     
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    Yeah, as I hit the submit button I thought 'Oops, I should have checked the recent publications posts on BookSA first.'

    But my comment was more aimed at 'I'm not a social butterfly' Louis who bemoaned that he wasn't invited even though he knows all these writers...

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  • <a href="http://louisgreenberg.com" rel="nofollow">Louis Greenberg</a>
    Louis Greenberg
    August 30th, 2010 @16:14 #
     
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    Nice, Rustum, nice. Rub it in, will you. I'd damn well get something published if I wasn't opinionating all day.

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  • <a href="http://louisgreenberg.com" rel="nofollow">Louis Greenberg</a>
    Louis Greenberg
    August 30th, 2010 @16:23 #
     
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    And plus, Rustum, I had a letter published under a pseudonym in Surfer Girl magazine this very July.

    Hmpf.

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  • <a href="http://fionasnyckers.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Fiona</a>
    Fiona
    August 30th, 2010 @16:47 #
     
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    *rushes off to the shops to buy Surfer Girl magazine ... can't find it ... phones Byron Loker in a tizzy ...*

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  • <a href="http://rustumkozain.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Rustum Kozain</a>
    Rustum Kozain
    August 30th, 2010 @17:14 #
     
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    Oh dear. I didn't mean to rub that side Louis.

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