In addition to its annual Book Week, where local school kids get to hobnob with authors appearing at the main festival, the FLF’s Library Fund has spent about R1.5-million on stocking four local school libraries with 5 000 books, as well as providing a roving librarian and library assistants for weekly library lessons — nurturing a love of learning in more than 3 000 youngsters.
I have participated in literary festivals in various guises — as journalist, panellist, and organiser (I was convenor of the FLF’s poetry programme in 2015) — and know full well the immense time and effort that goes into making an event of this kind happen. Then it’s over — in a flash — until next year. All that remains are the photos posted on the website (and in the case of the FLF, audio recordings of each panel, which I doubt anyone listens to).
I can’t help but wonder what could be achieved if that time and effort were poured into other ways of nurturing literature, of facilitating conversations about books and the ideas they contain. If we carry on like we’re doing at the moment, literary festivals are likely to remain at the very fringes of public
consciousness. If we want to have a deep and lingering impact — if we want to energise and democratise literature and reading — we either need to eschew the format entirely in favour of other approaches, or develop creative ways of sharing stories and ideas so that they travel far beyond the festival venue.
How do we package the conversations that happen on stage in ways that ensure they reverberate long after the event? The answers may perhaps lie in the tools the internet age has given us: YouTube, SoundCloud, Facebook, and others, as well as in more traditional forms — such as radio, which still has an
enormous following in South Africa. Look at the success of TED and TEDx talks, and at the popularity of podcasts. People clearly want to listen. How are we going to reach them?