South African Writing – Day 18: The literary festivals and podcasts

South Africa is home to some fantastic literary festivals every year, and to some podcasts that you might like to listen to from afar. The literary festivals took a knock in 2020, but many of them will (fingers crossed) be back in action this year.

I thought I’d share some of these so you could feel like you’re part of the action, and perhaps so you can plan your trip to SA soon.


Podcasts are great because you can listen from wherever you are in the world. I’ve featured a few noteworthy podcasts below. Get them, wherever you get your podcasts.

The Cheeky Natives: The Cheeky Natives is a literary podcast primarily focused on the review, curatorship and archiving of black literature in South Africa, the rest of Africa, and the diaspora. It’s hosted by Dr Alma-Nalisha Cele and Letlhogonolo Mokgoroane. Listen on Spotify or Apple.

Books People Stories: is a podcast for people with an appetite for the story behind the story. Whether a book, a play, a movie, poem, song, a blog – or even a tweet, there’s always a back story – more to it than meets the eye. Or the ear. And that’s often where the gold lies. So that’s what I hope to bring you on BSP, the less well-trumpeted tales, the inside intel – from wordsmiths of all disciplines – known, unknown celebrity or completely unheard of. And who am I? You might well ask. Just an independent journalist from the tip of Africa with an appetite for stories that matches your own. It’s hosted by Nancy Richards and you can listen via Google Podcasts here. Also take a listen to the WomanZone podcast that Nancy Runs, which focuses on telling the interesting stories of South African women – Spotify.

A Readers’ Community: From the Cape Town-based independent bookstore, The Book Lounge, you can find conversations about books and the book world, as well as recommendations for your next read from staff at the store. It’s hosted by Vasti Calitz. Listen via Apple and Spotify.

Read This: From the Johannesburg Review of Books, a literary show where you can hear more about the writers and authors featured in the journal. Listen via Apple and Spotify.

HomeBru: From Exclusive Books, a podcast that features some of the best South African books from 2020. Listen here.

NB Publishers podcast: Here, NB Books shares readings and interviews from their authors in English and Afrikaans. Listen here.

Literary Festivals

Again – this is just a sample! Every year new festivals emerge and develop (thank goodness!) leaving book addicts spoiled for choice!

Abantu Book Festival

Abantu Book Festival is an annual pilgrimage for black writers and readers held in SOWETO–to celebrate the rich and diverse African literary heritage. While the book remains the central medium, it presents an extensive programme that is a feast for the whole family, which includes poetry and musical performances, writing and publishing workshops, panel discussions and in-conversations, dance, photography, as well as film-screening woven into the mix. Over four days, the best poets, novelists, playwrights, biographers, children’s writers, literary scholars, musicians, actors, activists, thinkers, and readers from as far as can be imagined. Find out more, here.


Open Book Festival at The Fugard Theatre is an annual literary festival (in September), the first of which happened in 2011. There are four major elements to the Open Book vision.

  1. A truly international festival that attracts top writers and an audience from around the world.
  2. A fantastic showcase of the best of South African writing.
  3. Making a significant and sustainable contribution to our future by building a love of reading and books among the youth of Cape Town.
  4. Drawing representative audiences to all Open Book events.

The core programme of the festival includes events that feature both international and local authors and through #CocreatePoetica and the Open Book Comics Fest, the festival works with some of the most talented poets and comic book artists. Events in selected schools and public libraries are also on the cards. Find out more, here.

Kingsmead Book Fair

The Kingsmead Book Fair, has become a significant event on South Africa’s literary calendar held during May. Held annually in May it features local writers on a single day of literary celebration.

Franschoek Literary Festival

The first annual Franschhoek Literary Festival (FLF) took place in May 2007. The festival is hosted annually in the winelands of the Western Cape. It has become internationally recognised for celebrating South African books and authors while fostering a culture of reading and writing among children. FLF also raises funds through the FLF School Library Fund to help encourage literacy in the community and develop school libraries in the Franschhoek Valley. Writers gather in Franschhoek over a long-weekend to discuss writing, writers and their books from fiction and poetry, to biographies, history, politics and conservation. Find out more, here.

South African Book Fair

The South African Book Fair, managed and run by the South African Book Development Council (SABDC), is part of a much bigger and deeper strategy that encompasses the overall development of our nation’s book sector. It was established in 2006, and in 2020 went virtual in response to COVID19. The next festival is expected in September 2022. Find out more, here.


The Woordfees started in 2000 as an all-night party for Afrikaans literature and poetry, but in the past two decades it has grown into of one of South Africa’s biggest arts festivals. With more than 500 shows and events in more than 70 venues, the Toyota SU Woordfees transforms the university town of Stellenbosch in the Western Cape winelands into a whirlwind of energy and creativity. Artists, audiences and communities find one another in a joyous celebration of writers, books, theatre, music, visual arts, dance, discourse and films. It is held in September. Find out more here.

McGregor Poetry

Poetry in McGregor is an annual event that honours poets and celebrates poetry in a tiny little town on the edge of the Karoo. One of the highlights of the event, is the launch of the annual Poetry in McGregor Anthology. It consists of poems that were written and/or read at the festival of the previous year. The festival is held in August each year. Find out more here.

Tiny Local Launches

COVID19 meant that many writers were unable to launch their books to the usual large crowds, and so in Cape Town small launches (max 18 people) were held in Kalk Bay. This took place in September 2020, and will hopefully be repeated in 2021.

Time of the Writer Festival

The University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Centre for Creative Arts (CCA), in partnership with eThekwini Municipality, hosts the Time of the Writer International Festival each March. The written word envelops Durban as South African, African and international writers gather for a thought-provoking week of literary dialogue, exchange of ideas and stimulating discussions. Time of the Writer features a diverse gathering of leading novelists, social commentators, activists, playwrights and short story writers. The festival partners with eThekwini Municipality Libraries department to deliver a community engagement programme that actively promotes reading and writing in four community libraries (Craigieburn, Firwood, Mortoon and Chesterville ext). This programme involves students, library users, librarians and community members. The day programme also takes place in a variety of art centres and schools around Durban where workshops and panel discussions will be hosted. The opening night, where all the writers will be introduced, will take place at Ekhaya Multi-Arts Centre in KwaMashu. Throughout the festival, evening sessions will feature writers on panel discussions at the KZNSA in Glenwood. Find out more, here.

This month’s blog is curated by Jen Thorpe.

Jen Thorpe is a feminist writer. Her first novel, The Peculiars (2016), was long listed for the Etisalat Prize for Literature (2016) and the Sunday Times Fiction Prize (2017). Her second novel, The Fall, was published in July 2020. Thorpe has edited three collections of feminist essays – My First Time: Stories of Sex and Sexuality from Women Like You (2012); Feminism Is: South Africans Speak Their Truth (2018) and Living While Feminist (2020). Her writing has been published in Brittle Paper, Saraba Magazine, Jalada, and Litro. Find out more via Jen is also the host of the Living While Feminist Podcast available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Anchor, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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