Bellagio Publishing Network  

 BPN Newsletter Issue No 31, November 2002 


Bookeish! South Africa’s first international book festival

Graeme Bloch
Graeme Bloch is the Director of Bookeish!, the South African International Festival of Books. PO Box 2873, Saxonwold 2132, South Africa. +27 11 280 5017 (tel), email:

A national initiative to promote a culture of reading among South Africans, called Bookeish! was launched in Cape Town on August 20, 2002. The launch will culminate in an international book festival, the first in the country’s history, in February 2004.

This major exhibition for the global book trade is designed to bring together top local and international writers of adult and children’s fiction and non-fiction with some of the world’s heavyweight publishers, authors’ agents and book media. The four-day event will provide the platform for the international unveiling of a significant number of new book titles from all over the world and will also be open to the public. The festival is expected to draw a significant contingent of international visitors to the city.

A range of activities to run alongside the festival includes street parades, musical and library events, as well as performances involving community and school groups. These will take place in and around Cape Town including the V&A Waterfront, Kirstenbosch, the Baxter Theatre and Spier near Stellenbosch.

Although the festival hopes to make its mark on the international book calendar in the way that the renowned annual book events of Frankfurt and London have succeeded in doing, it will have a distinctly local flavour. Nevertheless, it will draw substantially on the expertise of international luminaries such as film director Lord Richard Attenborough, actor and writer Sir Anthony Sher and British Minister for Africa Baroness Valerie Amos. They have all undertaken to serve on the advisory council for the initiative.

The book festival will be preceded by an 18-month long programme of book-related events in the country’s major centres to focus on the value of recreational reading, targeted at all ages, stages and income groups.

The second part of the name Bookeish! comes from the township term for positive surprise or exclamation (‘eish’ means ‘wow’). The name emphasizes the aim to make books relevant and accessible to a wide range of people.
This is not a literacy drive but one that invites South Africans to acquire the pleasures and benefits of recreational reading in whatever areas excite their interest.

It also provides an excellent platform from which to showcase South Africa’s story-telling talents in a world-class way. While local writers such as Nadine Gordimer, André P Brink, Zeke Mphahlele and Gcina Mhlope all enjoy international prominence, they are known to only a relatively small number of South Africans. We want to change that. At the same time there are countless other novelists, poets and essayists who are yet to be discovered in their home country and elsewhere.

Our primary focus is to grow a reading public and assert that books are a crucial part of the country’s future. But we are addressing all communities, from grassroots level to those from the highest-income groups.

Seed funding for the multi-million rand initiative has been provided by an American-Irish NGO, Atlantic Philanthropy. The Ford Foundation has also indicated a willingness to become involved, while the British Council will co-present cultural events that enhance a UK/SA collaboration and exchange. In addition, the local publishing fraternity has donated funds and several booksellers will provide promotional support. Bookeish! is in the process of securing funding from other sources, including the private and public sectors.

The scale of the initiative will obviously be determined by the extent of funding obtained but the first project will be to highlight the books on the Africa’s 100 Best Books list published in 2002 by the Zimbabwe International Book Fair.
Plans include festivals in Cape Town and Johannesburg for films, dance/drama in the Eastern Cape and a Latin American writers’ festival.

Bookeish! also intends to collaborate with South African publishing and educational NGO, READ, the Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees, and several government departments.
Patrons-in-chief of Bookeish! are Albertina and Walter Sisulu. Other patrons are Minister of Education Kader Asmal, Deputy Minister of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology Brigitte Mabandla, novelist Nadine Gordimer and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. [end] [BPN, no 31, 2002, p. 11.]

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