Some events in 2016
This year’s World Book Day got me out of my ’writing hole’ to meet young people in Caterham, Farnborough, Cobham (all south of London) and in Birmingham. It was such a pleasure sensing their enthusiasm and openness to entering the new worlds that books can offer. Here is a glimpse of my writing workshop at Caterham School.
Immediately after my WBD visits, I set off for an International Conference ’Challenging Reading’ at the University of Münster, Germany, to read from my short story collection Out of Bounds. In addition to the satisfaction of offering ’Storytime’ at an academic conference, I was able to meet up with some old friends, including Junko Yokota, the inspiring director of the Center for Teaching through Children’s Books at National Louis University, Chicago. Junko is currently researching at the International Youth Library in Munich - somewhere I still need to visit. I also made new friends, such as Andrea Mei-Ying Wu, children’s literature specialist at National Cheng Kung University, Taiwan. Andrea (below) and I were soon sharing our passion for crossing boundaries of heart and mind, including through laughter!
Illustrator Piet Grobler and I are delighted by the news that the Children’s Africana Book Awards Committee in the USA has named Who is King: Ten Magical Stories from Africa a Best Book for 2016. The Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in Washington, DC will host the awards’ ceremony in October.
It is a privilege to have been nominated again by the Society of Authors’ Children’s Writers and Illustrators Group in the UK for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award - and to be in the company of South Africans Piet Grobler and Niki Daly as well as Biblionef, a fine organisation promoting books and reading. Last year’s ALMA wonderfully went to the organisation PRAESA (Project for the Study of Alternative Education in South Africa) which is dedicated to transforming children’s literacy experiences in a multitude of languages. Do read Carole Bloch’s moving acceptance speech and her special tribute to PRAESA’s founder Neville Alexander. She also tells us why Neville loved, as she does, Oscar Wilde’s The Happy Prince.
I spent two weeks in April/May meeting young Palestinians who had read Journey to Jo’burg and Chain of Fire in their Arabic translation by Samar Qutob. It’s a rare treat for a writer to spend time with their translator and it was wonderful to be accompanied by Samar in the West Bank schools and libraries. I was also accompanied by Jehan Helou from IBBY Palestine, joint sponsor of my visit with Tamer Institute of Community Education in Ramallah and British Council Palestine. I found the visit moving and deeply educational and you can read a short account here. I came away with huge admiration for how the people I met have held on to their dignity and humanity while under a military occupation. I am still absorbing what I saw and learned on this visit but you can read my response to my first visit 16 years ago here. The picture below was taken with children of Rawdat El-Zuhur (’Garden of Flowers’ in Arabic) school in East Jerusalem.
In July, I spent a fascinating day with children from Grafton Primary School at the Museum of Immigration and Diversity @19PrinceletStreet in Spitalfields, London. The museum is run by volunteers and in dire need of funding for restoration. It is the kind of place where I could easily hear voices from the past within its walls.
19 Princelet Street is only a few blocks away from the street where my mother’s father was born. I know this from a copy of the 1901 census which also documents that his parents had been born in Russia and were Russian ’subjects’. I visited the address and found a primary school with a garden where once there must have been a row of narrow terraced houses. It was much better than finding one of the huge blocks of offices or apartments that seem to be taking over the East End.
...and here is Journey to Jo’burg in Collins Modern Classics.
Some events in 2015
In January, I began (in earnest) to sort through 40 years of papers for archiving. For a glimpse of the personal challenge, read ’Parting from papers’ on my blog. The picture below shows Sarah Lawrance and Kris McKie from Seven Stories in Newcastle as they begin to pack up my files on 12 February.
18 March 2015 is the 30th anniversary of the launch of Journey to Jo’burg. I wrote a bit about the 1985 event in ’Parting from papers’.
I shall be remembering extraordinary Ethel de Keyser whose persistence enabled this little book to see the light of day.
With Journey to Jo’burg papers due to be catalogued and available to researchers at Seven Stories, plans are under discussion for a 30th anniversary year event involving young people from a former mining community near Durham. I shall cross my fingers. There’s an interesting connection with Naledi’s and Tiro’s father having been a miner in South Africa’s gold mines. I hope I convey some of the danger in my poem ’G is for Gold and eGoli’. It appears in S is for South Africa, published in paperback by Frances Lincoln last year.
In March, for the first time, I shall have a book published in 5 South African languages. Illustrator Piet Grobler is also very pleased. Who is King? will be our third collaboration. We are indebted to Jacana Media and the inspiring Little Hands Trust, co-publishers with Frances Lincoln who will bring out their English edition in the UK and USA in April (a Janetta Otter-Barry Book). Here are our covers in Sesotho, English, Afrikaans, isiZulu and isiXhosa.
I am delighted and honoured to be nominated by the Society of Authors’ Children’s Writers and Illustrators Group for the 2015 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award. The company is wonderful. We are listed by by countries of origins, hence my inclusion under South Africa. It’s great to be alongside illustrators Piet Grobler and Niki Daly and two organisations doing vital work in promoting reading by celebrating SA’s many languages: PRAESA and Biblionef.
Some events in 2014
In April, Rhodes University in Grahamstown, Eastern Cape, honours Neil Aggett’s memory and legacy with the launch of its Neil Aggett Labour Studies Unit (NALSU) in the Institute of Social and Economic Research, along with the first Annual Neil Aggett Lecture and a Colloquium. The three days bring together labour and social justice activists who knew Neil and today’s younger generation of activists who strive for a society that offers equality and justice for all.
As Neil’s biographer, I am delighted to have been invited to give the first lecture on 2 April.
The all-day Neil Aggett Colloquium on Thursday 3 April focuses on The labour movement and social transformation in democratic South Africa. NALSU draws attention to Neil’s "deep humanism" that "made it impossible for him to to accept the treatment of labour as a commodity". Neil grew up in a society in which he heard workers referred to as ’the labour’... ’my labour’, ’your labour’. He began by transforming himself and his own ways of seeing. He learned the profound meaning behind ’ubuntu’: we are who we are through other people.
Grahamstown has added resonance as this was where Neil, aged ten, came from Kenya to Kingswood College. Kingswood runs an annual Neil Aggett Memorial Lecture under the title ’Standing Up Against Injustice’. It’s wonderful that different, interweaving strands of Neil’s life continue to offer inspiration to younger generations.
In South Africa, I also greatly look forward to working with teachers in Port Elizabeth on a ’Reading for Enjoyment’ workshop and to a ’Meet the Author’ session at Exclusive Books in Walmer, 1 April.
Advance News for 2014...
The list of Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award nominees has been published: 238 candidates from 68 countries. My thanks to the Children’s Writers and Illustrators Group from the Society of Authors for their nomination, including me amongst such fine company. For more, see my blog entry here.
Some events in 2013
Friday 5 April, 5.30pm. La librairie Book in Bar Aix-en-Provence. I also look forward to meeting students of English at Lycée Val de Durance in Pertuis and at Collège Mignet in Aix.
Tuesday 23 April, 6pm. World Book Night at Canada Water Library, London. Hosted by BookAid International.
Conversations about the love of reading with four very different authors
Canada Water Library, London
Comedian and author Natalie Haynes (BBC2’s The Review Show) talking about the joys of a good book with Book Aid International’s other literary guests: James Mayhew (Katie’s Picture Show) illustrating his tale as he tells it, live on stage; Beverley Naidoo (The Other Side of Truth) talking about her love of reading, and biographer Robert Douglas-Fairhurst (Becoming Dickens) discussing why we relish reading about other people’s lives.
Profits from this event go to Book Aid International
Place: Canada Water Library, 21 Surrey Quays Road, SE16 7AR
Tickets £10 from Canada Water Library
I look forward to reading work submitted for the 2013 Wasafiri New Writing Prize. Deadline is Friday 26 July.
Wednesday 18 September Queen Elizabeth Hall, 7.30pm
Nelson Mandela Tribute: Long Walk to Freedom
Tuesday 29 October
Challenging police brutality in South Africa today:
The legacy of Neil Aggett
7-9pm, Khalili Theatre, SOAS, London
My biography Death of an Idealist: In Search of Neil Aggett is available in the UK through Merlin Press. I shall talk about Neil and his story with Jonny Steinberg, author of many riveting books that unpeel layers of contemporary South Africa.
More details here.
Event co-hosted by Royal African Society/Centre for African Studies/Canon Collins Trust
To get a glimpse of what happened, check out my Twitter account for the book here.
I shall be visiting a number of schools and, as ever, enjoy meeting and talking with readers.
Some events in 2012
The book that has occcupied most of my time over the last five years will be published in October in South Africa by Jonathan Ball. Death of an Idealist: In search of Neil Aggett is the story behind the only white detainee to die in custody of apartheid’s security police.
Thirty years ago, the death of this 28-year-old medical doctor, who worked most of the week as an unpaid trade union organiser, made international news. Many thousands of black workers downed tools across South Africa to protest at his death. Thousands followed his coffin on foot through ‘white’ Johannesburg to his grave in a ‘white’ cemetery.
Neil was born in Kenya where his parents were settlers at the time of the Mau Mau rebellion against colonial rule. They brought their family to apartheid South Africa when Kenya became independent. It was the year that Nelson Mandela and the Rivonia Trialists were imprisoned for life. Neil was ten. Although his mother was my cousin, I was soon to go into exile and never met him.
How did this high-flying, sports-loving white schoolboy become the young man who dedicated himself to achieving justice for workers? How did he break from the fears of his colonial childhood? What were the security police after when they detained him, in a swoop on black and white activists including many trade unionists, in 1981? These and many other questions have fuelled my search in writing his biography. This was an era of secrets but the passing of time has enabled people to speak more freely.
Neil’s parents, who had trusted the apartheid state, began a huge journey with his death. The Aggett inquest – said to be South Africa’s longest – did not deliver justice to his family, comrades, friends and the country. Mandela’s lawyer and friend, George Bizos SC, who led the family’s legal team, has written the Foreword.
This is a beautifully written book that weaves a rich tapestry of the interplay between the personal, professional and political. Our country is seriously in need of a dose of idealism to remind ourselves of the passions and energy that drove us to confront and subdue a brutal regime paving the way to the freedom we enjoy today. Neil Aggett’s life story is an essential window into the enormous sacrifices that black and white activists made despite easier alternative choices. Today’s younger generations need to re-commit to the easier task of consolidating a democracy bought at a very high cost.
Dr Mamphela Ramphele
This is the story of a young doctor’s death in custody. But it is more than that. In the sensitive hands of the acclaimed writer, Beverley Naidoo, it is the unmasking of a system where torture was allowed to operate with impunity, where national security was invoked to prevent public scrutiny, where the legal system colluded in injustice and where the Rule of Law was corrupted. There are powerful and universal lessons for all time in the telling of this story. Our collective memory requires a regular jolt to remind us of the need for human rights protections the world over. We have to keep the call for justice forever on our lips.
Helena Kennedy, QC
This unique book, at once disturbing and inspiring, is without question one of the best accounts yet of white activism and black struggles available through the well-told life story of a remarkable individual.
Professor Jonathan Jansen
An exceptionally moving chronicle of the suffering and heroism of Neil Aggett, and a timely reminder of the price paid for our democracy. Meticulous and totally absorbing.
Peter Harris, author A Just Defiance
Some events in 2011
My retelling of Aesop’s Fables with delightful illustrations by Piet Grobler (another South African - and illustrator of The Great Tug of War) is published by Frances Lincoln on 3 March. A number of co-editions (including Danish, Swedish, Dutch and Brazilian) are lined up and, to my great pleasure, my first South African editions, including my first translation into Afrikaans. Lekker! Like most people I grew up thinking that Aesop was Greek, but I think that his tales are very African...
The West Kent Themed Book Awards culminate on 17 March when I’ll be sharing the Tunbridge Wells’ stage with Alan Gibbons. This year’s theme has been on ’Conflict’ and students will have read my short stories in Out of Bounds and Alan’s Caught in the Crossfire among other books. Whatever the outcome, the discussions should be lots of fun, even if heated! Alan is the driving force behind the Campaign for the Book, alerting us to the devastating cuts being made to our public libraries. We need to make our voices heard loudly - and quickly. It has taken decades to build up strong library services which make a huge contribution to our culture and society. They can be destroyed overnight... not by bombs but by people who know how to calculate ’price’ without understanding ’value’.
Tuesday 12 April - if you are visiting the London Book Fair, why not come to hear about The Importance of Prizes in the Children’s Theatre? The event is organised by the International Board on Books for Young People UK (IBBY UK) and I’ll be there with Piet Grobler, Aidan Chambers, Frank Cottrell-Boyce and Philip Pullman.
In July, I shall meet up with students from Hollins University, Virginia, USA, who are coming over to England to be tutored by Jamila Gavin (lucky them!). They are going to quiz me on The Other Side of Truth. They will have read the American edition. The book won a number of awards in the States and this will be a chance for me, in turn, to quiz US readers about how the book ’translates’ for them.
In October I shall make a journey across the Atlantic to deliver the Dorothy Briley Lecture at the 9th Biennial International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) Regional Conference at California State University in Fresno. The conference has a great theme: "Peace the World Together with Children’s Books". The late Dorothy Briley was a dedicated publisher and editor who was committed to broadening the experience of American children through international literature. I’ve read some of the tributes to her and I am moved to have been asked to give this lecture.
Write for Rights: 5x15
5x15 curate an evening in celebration of Amnesty’s Write for Rights Letter-writing campaign.
The heroic writer and humanitarian Terry Waite