Karoo. - The Story of an African Farm by Olive Schreiner, first published in 1883, has become synonymous with South African fiction.
It’s not an easy read, but it’s one well worth persevering for the invaluable insight it gives into farm life on the barren landscapes of the Great Karoo. From a feminist, free thinking, liberal and rather brave perspective for the time. All of which I understand Olive Schreiner to have been.
Each year rather aptly, Cradock the town where she lived for a while and where she is best honoured, hosts her namesake Schreiner Karoo Writers Festival, which I was invited to attend. It was my first writers festival and I felt much inspired by the great South African talent that presented and shared their insights there.
The three day festival offered a busy program with book launches, author hosted lunches, literary walking tours, presentations, interviews, film screenings as well as concerts.
Among them was the endlessly talented and very gracious crime writer Deon Meyer, who was about to release his latest book Cobra. I’m such a fan of his work and can’t wait to read it. The brilliant Niel Stemmet and his heritage food book back+page. The wonderful Chris Marais and Julienne du Toit who are leading the way with their incredible photography and words now released online as Karoo Space eBook. Please support them here.
One of the best portrayals of raw literary passion at the Festival came to us at the Open Microphone event where the insurmountable Toast Coetzer, Patricia Glyn, Randall Wicomb and others shared their words and stories.
Other must have books launched at the festival include Interviews with Neville Alexander and The World’s Greatest Question - Olive Schreiner’s South African Letter 1889-1920. If you love words and letters that offer an almost voyeuristic insight, do get this book or take a look at www.oliveschreiner.org for more insight into this incredible woman’s influence at the time.
I spent a great deal of time at Schreiner House where Olive Schreiner had once lived and which now keeps a pictorial history of her life, reading the timelines and letters displayed, this was my favourite:
'I love nature, and I love men; I love music and I love science; I love poetry and I love practical labour: I like to make a good pudding and see people eating it; and I like to write a book that makes their life fuller. I can do very little and have never been so situated that I could do my best - but I can live all the lives in my love and sympathy!' Written 25 July 1899, exactly 105 years prior.
My role at the Festival was to present a Social Media workshop at Albert House, which gave me the opportunity to introduce the advantages of an online presence to numerous local businesses, artists and writers. This with the support of Hein van Tonder, my friend and founder of the very beautiful food blog - Heinstirred. It always give me great pleasure to encourage others to use this powerful medium to promote their own voice and build a community.
Spread across the town with each event modestly charged for, the atmosphere was relaxed and informal with writers happy to engage with the crowd. It was here that I felt most grateful that I too can follow my heart and keep my own humble words flowing.
Over and above the workshop, talks and presentations, Hein and I spent hours walking the streets of Cradock, personally exploring its history and enjoying warm Karoo hospitality everywhere we turned.
Inside Schreiner House, the museum.
Above Deon Meyer being interviewed about the characters in his book and how involved we all become with them. As though they were real.
Neil Stemmet in the Victoria Manor kitchen, working on his next book.
Most important revelation of the weekend?
I’ve at last found my kind of festival. One that speaks to words and imaginings, to ideas and dreams, to history and remembering. I’ve already booked to be at there next year and will be keeping an eye out for others around the country. Specifically where writing workshops are offered.
Olive Schreiner may have left the world in 1920, but her memory and influence live strong. I can think of no way she’d rather be honoured for all that she gave us, than by the talent that presents at the Writers Festival. May there always be words to write and share …
For more detail please contact Catherine Knox at email@example.com who made all of the arrangements and looked after Hein and I while we were there. Thank you for all Catherine. Also to Victoria Manor and Die Tuisehuise for your warm hospitality.
Look out for the Karoo Food Festival held in Cradock in March each year. Always wonderful with true Karoo taste sensations!
Also, what Hein had to say about the weekend and get his Karoo influenced recipe here.