Wednesday, 6 June 2012
Gilfillan & Hope on FLF 2012
The themes and names on this year’s Franschhoek Literary Festival (FLF) programme might have been interchangeable with those from previous years, but Lynda Gilfillan, the academic and renowned editor who chaired and starred on a variety of panel discussions at FLF 2012, proposed that “it was better than last year. It surprised me with its richness.”
“The country changes so radically that some of the same old tired topics are always refreshed. Jonathan Jansen for example appeared again, but I didn’t feel a sense of déjà vu when he spoke.”
Christopher Hope, the author who founded the festival six years ago, was delighted with the turnout this year. “The halls were packed. You had to book to get in. There was a real buzz in town.”
He is no longer the festival’s director and regrets that there wasn’t as wide a mix of authors from different countries.
“(The line-up) needs to be more diverse. For so long we were cut off from the rest of the world. We need a bit of ‘elsewhere’ here. Festivals like this need to be about controversy and discussion.”
To outsiders, the themes of the panel discussions at this popular literary festival in the Cape’s picturesque town of Franschhoek might sound reductive if not over-simplistic in their framing, such as “A Pride of Literary Lions”, a panel simply engineered to present the best male writers on the scene – Ivan Vladislavic, Imraan Coovadia and Michiel Heyns. However, the festival might attract the country’s wealthy elite – a getaway to Franschhoek does not come cheap – but it is not engineered to titillate the intellectual elite.
“It’s for the general public. People attend for a variety of reasons. Some just come to be in the setting and for the food. Some just want to hear an author speak. Of course, there are those who are looking for a meaty discussion but it is difficult to please everybody,” says Gilfillan.
A number of prominent academics did get to spar, Leon de Kock and Coovadia flexed their intellectual muscles during the panel titled Is Crime Fiction the New Political Novel?, according to Gilfillan. However, the festival’s more low-brow attractions have become the drawcards. The panels featuring Gareth Cliff, the radio and TV personality whose book Gareth Cliff on Everything – described by one reviewer as a “product that has been primed to accommodate our collective lack of time and disinclination towards depth” – apparently sold out first.
It’s not quite a populist festival, though, given that it continues to cater for, and attract, a largely white middle-class audience. This racial dimension has haunted the festival. Gilfillan suggests that it’s simply a matter of cultural preferences; she has observed that the Cape Town Jazz Festival is patronised by a predominantly black audience.
Largely, when Hope set out to|establish a literary festival in SA that could rival those he enjoyed attending overseas – such as the Hay on Wye or Edinburgh book festivals – it was not with readers in mind, but authors.
“I wanted a place that an author coming from Atteridgeville could find support from other writers; there was nowhere that they could go where they could get that kind of support,” recalls Hope.
He acknowledges that the festival has come to serve readers too, but he is concerned that writers outside urban areas and privileged cliques are still not necessarily connecting at the festival.
The most notable literary trend to emerge at the festival, which reflects shifts in the literary terrain, is the emergence of genre fiction, proposes Gilfillan.
“People are beginning to be more respectful of genre fiction. The public are buying novels that deal with local issues but have been dealt with in a lighter manner in their approach. So you can get an ordinary reader on Clifton beach reading a book that deals with important issues but is entertaining. There has been a real shift from the serious stuff.” - published in The Sunday Independent, May 20, 2012