SA PEN STATEMENT ON WORDFEST 2012

South African PEN, whose members are writers, editors, poets and others associated with literary work, deplores the sudden refusal of the National Arts Council to provide core funding for the important book festival, WordFest, in Grahamstown after having done so for the last 12 years. WordFest, curated, owned and organized by Rhodes University, takes place at the same time as the National Arts Festival. It is a vibrant festival that brings together writers from all over South Africa to share ideas, to talk and, perhaps most importantly, to interact with schools and communities in the Eastern Cape. The NAC’s withdrawal of funds means that 24 writers will be unable to attend WordFest. They are

Denis Beckett, Terry Crawford-Browne, Siphiwo Mahala, Crystal Warren, McIntosh Polela, Hamilton Wende, Max Du Preez, Reg Rumney, Khulumani Collective, Julia Wells, Marc Botha, David waMaahlalela, Rethabile Zilla, Shirley Gunn, Ashwin Desai, Pieter-Dirk Uys, Janet Suzman, Rosemary Smith, Dawn Garisch, Brent Meersman, Mark Robinson, Mike de Jongh, Harry Owen, Amitabh Mitra, Rhodes Creative Writing MA students, Robert Berold, Paul Wessels and Lesego Rampolokeng.

The National Arts Council, which has provided core funding for this important book festival, Word Fest, is not doing so this year. No reasons were provided when the funding was pulled and the WordFest organizers were informed too late to secure other funding. This form of administrative capriciousness is deeply disturbing as it means that an important forum for the expression of ideas and debate by some of South Africa’s most interesting, critical and engaged literary voices has been effectively stifled. WORDFEST is in its twelfth year. A reading culture is the bedrock of an involved, informed, productive and critical population. It is also a difficult thing to build and sustain; it takes time, investment and care, qualities that WordFest, which has punched beyond its funding weight for more than a decade, has demonstrated. To suddenly remove the funding – an important investment on the part of the National Arts Council – is both profligate and

careless and will result in a deafening national silence at Grahamstown this year. South African PEN is, however, pleased that Mandla Matyumza and close to a hundred isiXhosa/SeSotho writers from the Eastern Cape will appear on the Eastern Cape programme as usual thanks to funding from the Eastern Cape government. The National Arts Council has a new Chair and a new CEO. We hope that funding debacles like this one, which have the chilling effect of curtailing freedom of expression, will be avoided in future. Sensible and sustainable long term strategies for supporting books, writers and readers are essential. This is the moment to have this discussion.

Margie Orford, Raymond Louw and Geoff Harensape on behalf of South African PEN

083 556 9168 margie@margieorford.com

Friday 15 June 12

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