Taylor University English alumnus Stephanie (Binion) Ebert (’12) lives in Pietermaritzburg South Africa, and recently had the opportunity to witness two wonderful literary events in that country: the opening of South Africa’s first isiZulu Literary Museum, and the Midlands Literary Festival. Stephanie was kind enough to send a report back to Indiana! What follows are her observations:
This weekend marked the opening of South Africa’s first isiZulu Literary Museum, in conjunction with the Midlands Literary Festival. The Literary Museum is a museum/library, which aims to collect works of literature written in isiZulu, or by Zulus. The museum is on the campus of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and the founders of the museum felt it was necessary, in this world where everything is becoming increasingly English, to take steps to make sure the Zulu’s language is celebrated, studied, and preserved.
Professor Donal McCracken (from Ireland) opened the launch by comparing the role of English in Ireland to the role of English in South Africa. In Ireland, Irish-Gaelic is almost non-existent because of the dominance of English, and this center hopes to ensure isiZulu doesn’t face a similar situation.
The rest of the weekend was jam-packed with presentations by famous South African writers. Among them were Miriam Tlali, the first black woman in South Africa to publish a novel in English, Gcina Mhlophe, a literacy advocate and traditional story teller, and Ahmed Kathrada, a political activist who was imprisoned with Mandela on Robben Island.
Something that was highlighted in Literature of Cultural Diversity (a class I took with Dr. Baker at Taylor) was the idea that in African literature there is not a sharp dichotomy between what is classed as “literature” and what is “politics.” Political history had a huge impact on which voices were heard, and which voices are being heard today. Politics instigated and birthed the need for art, while simultaneously silencing and sidelining it. This theme was present in almost every presentation at the festival.
Miriam Tlali told the story of the struggle she had getting her book published under Apartheid, and how after it was printed, it was immediately banned. Only people living in surrounding African countries or overseas could read it. The people she had written for, the people she had written about, would never read it. But, her mother was so proud she had a daughter with a published book, that she was buried with a copy of it.
The program ended with a lecture by Ashwin Desai, who just published the book Reading Revolution: Shakespeare on Robben Island. During the first few decades of imprisonment on Robben Island, the only book the prisoners were allowed was The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. It was affectionately nicknamed “The Robben Island Bible” by the prisoners, who shared it and underlined meaningful passages. Desai had access to this original Shakespeare book as a source for his work. His book is an interesting look at the relationship between the Shakespeare texts and the politics of South Africa at the time.
Thank you, Stephanie, for a fascinating look at this important literary landscape.
Stephanie (Binion) Ebert (’12) graduated from Taylor University with an English Literature major and sociology minor. She got married this summer, and is currently living in Pietermaritzburg South Africa with her husband David. She works with iThemba Projects, a community development group focusing on educating and discipling the children and teens of Mpumuza township. Her favorite thing about her job is getting to see people use their gifts for Christ while stepping out of their comfort zones…and of course, the kids are just adorable. She blogs about her work at bridginghope.wordpress.com.