By Emelia Kamena

On 17–20 April 2018, a JIAS team, including some of our 2018 Writing Fellows, participated in the Polokwane Literary Fair in Limpopo. The Fair is a flagship project of the Department of Cultural Services of the Polokwane Municipality, in the provincial capital of Limpopo. JIAS has participated in this event every year since 2016.

The JIAS team comprised the director, Prof Peter Vale; Emelia Kamena, administrative assistant; and five Writing Fellows, namely Niq Mhlongo, Zukiswa Wanner, Amrita Shah, Hans Pienaar, and David Huang. Adam Brown, a visitor from Singapore, was also with the group. Most of these Writing Fellows are published authors, and they looked forward to the excursion with great anticipation.

Upon arrival, we were met at the City Library in Polokwane by our host, Malose Lekganyane of the Polokwane Municipality, and colleagues. We then attended an opening dinner with various guests and partners of the Literary Fair, including the directors of the City Library, and members of the offices of the Mayor of Polokwane and the Premier of Limpopo.

Day One

On the first day, Writing Fellows visited three high schools in Mankweng, 30 kilometres outside Polokwane, for an engagement with learners and to hand over books donated by JIAS. These schools were the Frans Mohlala Secondary School, the Mamabudusha High School, and the Ramashobohle High School. JIAS Fellows engaged with learners in their classrooms, and donated copies of their books.

Zukiswa Wanner also managed a workshop at the Polokwane City Library for 35 children aged ten and eleven.

In the evening, the Writing Fellows attended a conversation about language with academics and students from the University of Limpopo. Prof Peter Vale, Director of JIAS, gave a presentation about JIAS.

Day Two

The second day began with a visit to a local prison, where Writing Fellows engaged with more than 100 inmates. Readings were given, and inmates were provided with insights on how to produce written texts. It was agreed that an anthology of poetry written by the inmates would be published. JIAS and the City Library donated books to the Correctional Services Library.

In evening, the JIAS group attended a conversation about memory, this time with members of the local Timbuktu Book Club.

Comment by Zukiswa Wanner

‘I kicked off my JIAS Fellowship on the very first day by reading a story I had written for World Read Aloud Day to a thousand children in Mofolo Park in Soweto. While we ambitiously hoped that a million children would read that story aloud in South Africa, almost 1,3 million children ended up reading it.

‘It was gratifying to note that among the children who had read that story were children I workshopped on the art of storytelling at Polokwane Literary Festival. Not only had they read it, but they had creatively adapted it for stage, and performed it for me and other students during the Festival.

‘I also immensely enjoyed the prison visit, as our clients at Polokwane Correctional Services were not only well-read but asked incisive and insightful questions. I think this is an important part of the Festival, and both JIAS and Polokwane Municipality should ensure that this remains a permanent feature.’

Comment by Amrita Shah

‘Visiting Polokwane provided me and other Writing Fellows with a valuable opportunity both to observe life in South Africa and to interact with readers and budding writers.’