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Days of Southern African Literature at Literaturhaus Zürich

Days of Southern African Literature

Literaturhaus Zürich

21-23 February 2020

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Days of Literature is an annual project of Literaturhaus in Zürich supported by the global liaison offices of Pro Helvetia. Held in February, each edition spotlights literature from one of the regions of the liaison office network. Beginning in 2016 with Days of Arabic Literature, Russian Literature followed in 2017, Indian Literature in 2018 and Argentine Literature in 2019. This year Pro Helvetia Johannesburg is excited to be supporting Days of Southern African Literature from 21-23 February 2020, which is also our offices’ first literature project. The programme will include closed workshops for literature mediators from Switzerland, Germany and Southern Africa as well as a public programme of talks, readings, performances, exhibitions and screenings by authors, translators, writers, thinkers and publishers from the region.

Days of Southern African Literature is curated by Isabelle Vonlanthen from the Literaturhaus Zürich and Thando Mgqolozana, a South African novelist and founder of the Abantu Book Festival for black writers and readers that takes place annually in Soweto.

Alongside the three-day public programme (see below) will be a closed workshop for literature mediators on 21 February. Swiss authors and publishers will be invited to join the workshop which will be mediated by Sieglinde Geisel, a Berlin-based journalist, editor and writing coach. South African writer and academic Fouad Asfour will provide introductions to the respective books and authors. The workshop will engage with the following texts from African and Swiss authors: The collection of poems Collective Amnesia by Koleka Putuma; Petina Gappah’s novel dealing with colonial history Out of Darkness, Shining Light; the seminal essay/manifesto, Afrotopia, by Felwine Sarr about the African redefinition of Africanness; and Swiss illustrator Matthias Gnehm’s Salzhunger, a graphic novel interrogating extractive geopolitics between Europe and Africa.


Friday, February 21st

20.00 – 21.30: Festival Opening : Reading and discussion with Zakes Mda and Koleka Putuma.

Saturday, February 22nd

11.00 – 12.30: Found in translation: Petina Gappah in conversation with her translator Patricia Klobusiczky.

13.30 – 15.00: Who decides on what we read? Conversation with the publishers Ellah Wakatama Allfrey and Lucien Leitess.

15.30 – 17.00: The long way back home: Reading and conversation with Thando Mgqolozana and Niq Mhlongo.

17.30 – 19.00: Kaboom! African Superhero: Loyiso Mkize and his graphic novel “Kwezi”.

20.00 – 21.30: Memory, speak:  Reading and discussion with Yewande Omotoso.

from 22.00: Late Night at Cabaret Voltaire: Spoken-Word-Performance with Koleka Putuma, musical intervention with DJ youngseptember.

Sunday, February 23rd

10.00 – 11.00: Your next good read: Festival guests recommend their favourite books.

11.30 – 13.00: Namibia on my mind: Reading and conversation with Tshiwa Trudie Amulungu and Ulla Dentlinger.

14.30 – 16.00: Pictures of Africa: Work show and discussion with the photographers Andile Buka and Flurina Rothenberger.

16.30 – 18.00: Finding your language: Reading and discussion with Maaza Mengiste and Sulaiman Addonia.

Monday, February 24th

20.30: Inxeba: The Wound: Film presentation at Cinema Movie, followed by a discussion with script writer Thando Mgqolozana


Sulaiman Addonia was born in Eritrea as the son of an Eritrean mother and an Ethiopian father. He grew up in a refugee camp in Sudan, studied in Saudi Arabia and London and actually lives in Brussels. His second novel Silence is my mother tongue was widely acclaimed by critics and tells the story of a sibling couple in a refugee camp.

Ellah Wakatama Allfrey (*1966) grew up in Zimbabwe and the USA, she is former deputy editor-in-chief of Granta Magazine and editor of the anthology Africa 39. In 2017 she founded the publishing house Indigo Press in London. In 2011 she was awarded the Order of the British Empire for her services to publishing.

Tshiwa Trudie Amulungu (*1958) lives in Senegal as a Namibian diplomat. In her autobiography Taming my elephant she writes about growing up in Namibia, her engagement in the liberation movement and her dealing with Namibian history.

Andile Buka (*1990) lives as a photographer in Johannesburg. In February 2020 he will be a guest in Switzerland with a Pro Helvetia Johannesburg residency. His current project is an artistic research into the history of his family over several generations.

Ulla Dentlinger grew up in Namibia, as daughter of a German family with African roots. In her autobiographic novel Playing White under Apartheid she writes about growing up in Namibia, her confrontation with Apartheid and the history of her family.

Petina Gappah (* 1971 in Harare) is an award-winning author, and has been working for many years as a lawyer in international trade. She also worked in an advisory capacity for the Ministry of Trade in Zimbabwe. In 2009, she was awarded the Guardian First Book Award for her collection of short stories, An Elegy for Easterly. One of her latest novels, Out of darkness, Shining light (German translation in 2019), has been widely discussed, it deals with the history of David Livingstone and the colonial past, giving a voice to yet unheard characters.

Patricia Klobusiczky (*1968) is a literary translator from English and French, who translated Petina Gappah’s work. She worked as an editor for Rowohlt Verlag for a long time and since 2016 is directing the Georges-Arthur-Goldschmidt Programme, a training programme for young literary translators in French and German.

Lucien Leitess (*1950) founded the Zürcher Unionsverlag in 1975, African literature being one of the main interests in his publishing programme. In 2015 he was named “Publisher of the Year” by the magazine Buchmarkt, and in 2017 he was awarded the Culture Prize of the Canton of Zurich.

Zakes Mda (*1948) is author of novels, poems and plays, composer, painter et al. He is one of the most important voices in African literature. His autobiography was voted New York Times Notable Book 2012, his latest novel tells a story about the fate of a group of Zulu dancers in New York in the 19th century.

Maaza Mengiste will be Writer in Residence at the Literaturhaus from January 2020. She is an Ethiopian-American author who has lived in Nigeria and Kenya and is now based in the USA. Her novel Beneath the Lion’s Gaze was published in German in 2013, her new novel The Shadow King is currently attracting international attention. She writes for various international magazines.

Thando Mgqolozana (*1983) is a novelist and founder of the Abantu Book Festival, which takes place annually in Soweto. He was voted one of the 100 most influential Africans in 2016. He co-wrote the screenplay for Inxeba: The Wound (2018), a groundbreaking Oscar-nominated film. He is co-curator of the festival program.

Niq Mhlongo (*1973) is a South African journalist and writer. After the novels Dog eat Dog and After Years, his novel Way Back Home was published in German in 2015. He since published further volumes of stories. Energetically and with narrative drive, Mhlongo deals with the themes of the post-Apartheid period.

Loyiso Mkize (*1987) is a South African artist and illustrator. His comic books about teenage superhero “Kwezi” are set in Golden City (aka Johannesburg) and have gained many enthusiastic readers. In them, Mkize deals with the everyday life and language of young Southern Africans.

Yewande Omotoso (* 1980 in Barbados) grew up in Nigeria and moved with her family to South Africa in 1992, where she works as an architect, designer and author in Johannesburg.  Her debut Bom Boy won the South African Literary Award, her second book The Woman Next Door is a multi-layered novel about South Africa after Apartheid.

Koleka Putuma (*1993) is an award-winning playwright and spoken word artist. With her poetry debut Collective Amnesia, which will also be published in German in 2020, she took the South African literary world by storm. In 2018, Forbes magazine included her in the list of the 30 most promising African creative minds under 30.

Flurina Rothenberger (*1977) grew up partly in Africa, where she also works as a photographer. In 2012 she was awarded the Greenpeace Photo Award for her work on settlement policy in Dakar. She is co-founder of the organization Klaym, which supports young artists from Africa.

Tracy September aka DJ Young September was born in South Africa and lives as an artist, musician and DJ in Zurich. She is involved in many international cooperation and exchange projects between Switzerland and South Africa.