Once Upon A Time…

Darryl Earl David, founder of BookBedonnerd in Booktown Richmond – Karoo, initiated the Midlands Literary Festival in 2010.

“I have always maintained that the Midlands should be the literary capital of South Africa. We boast direct links to writers like Alan Paton, Bessie Head, John Coyngham, Mahatma Gandhi (he wrote volumes here for his autobiography), David Robbins, Moira Lovell, Kobus Moolman, DJ Opperman, Ina Rousseau, Herbert Dhlomo (first black man to publish a drama in English); Sibusiso Nyembezi (whose The Rich Man of Pietermaritzburg was voted one of Africa’s 100 best books of the 20th century); Reginald Dhlomo (first black man to publish a novel in English); and Magema Fuze who was the first man to publish a book in Zulu.”  Darryl’s enthusiasm for local literature is infectious.

Darryl David

The first festival was hosted by Yellowwood Café in Howick on the first weekend of September 2010.

Some highlights over the years:


This year, the focus was on African languages, as a Zulu Literary Museum was launched as part of the festival. The Zulu Literary Museum is based on the Pietermaritzburg campus of the University 0f KwaZulu-Natal, housed at the Centre for African Literary Studies. 

The line-up of speakers in 2012 included:

Gcina Mhlope,  Ahmed Kathrada, Miriam Tlali (first South African black woman to write a novel in English), Anton Harber (founder of Mail & Guardian and Paton Prize finalist), McIntosh Polela (Paton Prize finalist), Judge Chris Nicholson, Oswald Mtshali (Schreiner Prize-winner many moons ago), David Robbins (past winner of the coveted CNA Prize and author of that South African classic The 29th Parallel), the legendary Ian Player, and Ashwin Desai (Shakespeare on Robben Island).

Chris Nicolson and Ashwin Desai

Many of the speakers were literary critics speaking about iconic writers: Michael Chapman is to English literature what John Kannemeyer was to Afrikaans. He spoke on Lewis Nkosi; Prof Maphumulo spoke on South Africa ‘s first Poet Laureate, Mazisi Kunene, a giant of Zulu literature; Elwyn Jenkins, Emeritus Professor from Unisa, Jonathan Draper, on Magema Fuze, who penned the first book in Zulu. Draper is also the author of Eye of the Storm, a book about Bishop Colenso. Writers like Aziz Hassim, who placed Indian writers on the map with The Lotus People, and Solly Dangor, talked on Muslim traders of KZN. Daphne Olivier about her documentary fiction about Irish women who came to the Eastern Cape as part of a marriage scheme. Kyle Allen and Hector Kunene, wowed us with their poetry readings.  Elana Bregin swopped her publisher’s cap for a writer’s, as did The Witness books editor Margaret von Klemperer, who launched her debut novel at the festival.

Gcina Mhlope

Since the early days, generous sponsorship from Shuter and Shooter Publishers, has made it possible to gather writers from across the country for this festival. Lythwood Lodge accommodated the out-of-tow writers in the lap of luxury during the festival. 


Spring began on the Midlands Meander with the 5th Midlands Literary Festival at Yellowwood Cafe in Howick. 

The line-up included one of the great names in South African literature: Marguerite Poland. Marguerite presented a talk on her anthology The Keeper and touched on her exquisitely beautiful book The Abundant Herds: a celebration of the Nguni cattle of the Zulu people as well as her last book Taken Captive by Birds.

The Abundant Herds by Marguerite Poland

Other presenters included:  Nicki von der Heyde’s on her Field Guide to the Battlefields of SA. Theatre director and critically acclaimed author and theatre personality Craig Higginson author of such classics as The Landscape Painter, winner of the UJ Literary Award talked on the creative interplay between his drama’s and novels. Chris Albertyn on his book book Keeping Time: The Photographs and Cape Town Jazz Recordings of Ian Huntley, Barbara Siedle on her book Breathe the Dust, Mike Hardwich about his memoir of being a vet in KZN and Kerry Jones on the first picture book dictionary of a San language ever to be published. Famous dancer Tossie van Tonder added her poetic name and book, and Howick High pupil Jonathan William spoke on the history of Japanese comics. Duncan Brown talked about his passion – Are Trout South African: Fish, People and Places.

Bruce Haynes and poetry fan

Many people have supported the Midlands Literary Festival since year one. The likes of acclaimed Pietermaritzburg poet Kobus Moolman; the legendary Ian Player, Judge Chris Nicholson who unveiled his debut short story anthology and Ashwin Desai, undoubtedly the most prolific author in SA.  

A popular speaker was Ian Player: The Importance of Dreams – A Jungian Perspective. Ian is an internationally recognised environmentalist and conservationist – a man of many facets and contradictions, not just a ranger: a man of culture and the arts, a deep thinker and Jungian, an irascible campaigner and a maverick. He is a writer, a lecturer and international diplomat and a deeply committed man to all he believes in.

Bruce Fordyce and Ian Player

We were so grateful to Yellowwood Café, PanMacmillan Publishers, Zulu-Lulu, Signco, Exclusive Books, and guesthouses who accommodate our visitors – Stocklands Guesthouse, Rawdons, Lythwood Lodge, Fiddlewood Guesthouse, Nutmeg Guesthouse and Howick Falls Hotel.

Pianist Nicky Grieshaber is always part of the MLF magic!

Nicky Grieshaber


Over a short time MLF gained a reputation for attracting some of the country’s biggest writers and other participants.   This year the opening was hosted at Ike’s Bookshop in trendy Florida Road in Durban, before the weekend festivities at Yellowwood Café as usual.

Teatime at Yellowwood Cafe

Unmissable talks included:  Ashwin Desai’s talk on Gandhi. The book was published by Stanford University Press, one of the most prestigious publishers in the world, and is a book that will take South Africa by storm. Chris Nicholson and Mike Hickson on “How the Aurora Cricket Club stumped Apartheid”. Their book chronicles the birth of non-racial cricket, and indeed non-racial sport, in South Africa. Roger de la Harpe’s talk on his book 21 African Icons, which documents the most iconic places in Africa.  Ranjith Kally – a name many will not know. But his book Memory against Forgetting will go far. It is published by Quiver Tree Publishers, who up to now have specialised in award-winning cookbooks, but must have sensed the potential of Kally’s book – subtitled “a photographic journey through both sides of South Africa’s history 1946–2010” – and decided to venture into this genre. 92-year-old Ranjith Kally deserves a wider audience.


Vernon Head aka The Bird Man. In Search of the Rarest Bird in the World was one of the most talked-about books at the festival. Mary Kleinenberg, with her book Standing on Street Corners packed the hall for the opening. This book, a history of the Black Sash in KZN, has been a bestseller since its launch. The first biography of legendary cricketer Eric Rowan; Perfect Parties by Dianne Kohler, which won the coveted Gourmand Award; Carol Campbell, author of Karretjiemense (My Children Have Faces), whose follow-up novel, Esther’s House, can’t be far off the mark if both books have been snapped up by filmmakers.

Darryl David with authors and friends


This year the programme included: John Conyngham: Hazara: Elegy for an African farm: Brian Khoza: Smiling after lost love: Nikki Brighton: Mnandi: A taste of Mphophomeni; Thomas Mollett: Bloody lies – the Inge Lotz murder; Marí Peté: Step through; Darryl Earl David: Church tourism in South Africa; Mike Norris: Artist round the bend; Elizabeth Pienaar: Bobby; Allen Goddard: Wendell Berry – Prophet of Bloom; Irene Fischer: I am still here; Thomas Mollett: Oscar Pistorius vs The Truth; Fikile Hlatshwayo: Blacks Do Caravan

Michael Nuttall: Number Two to Tutu;  Elwyn Jenkins: The chronicles of Peach Grove Farm – a rare children’s book; Heinrich Bömkhe: Sarie; Chris Mann: Lifelines; Barbara Siedle: The lady in white; Jackie Cameron: Baking with Jackie Cameron; Ashwin Desai: The Bard in Africa;  Vincent Reid: Drawn in Africa; Nkosinathi Sithole: Hunger eats a man, John Matisonn: God, Lies and Spies and Jessica Pitchford: Switched at birth.

As usual, authors sold their books in the lovely Yellowwood grounds, creating a very festive atmosphere during the weekend.

Mbali Mlambo, Nikki Brighton, Ntombenhle Mtambo and Penz Malinga


The seasons literally and figuratively turned the page from 2 to 3 September 2017 when the 8th Midlands Literary Festival, now something of an institution in Howick, took place at Fern Hill Hotel.

Heading the line-up was ex-Hawks boss Johan Booysen, who spoke on his book Blood on their hands, a talk about the state capture of the investigative arm of the legal profession. Another book that drew a full house was Hennie van Vuuren’s Apartheid, guns and money, which lifts the lid on the darkest economic crimes of the apartheid regime.

Perennial favourite Ashwin Desai stepped up to the crease with his latest book, Reverse sweep, which looked at cricket post-apartheid. No administrator is spared in this hard-hitting exposé of the charlatans parading as the saviours of cricket in South Africa. If the beautiful cricketing imagery does not grab you, the sections on Ali Bacher are a tour de force.

Retired judge Christopher Nicholson dusts the web of deceit off his 21-year-old Paton Prize Finalist book Permanent removal, a riveting read on who killed the Cradock Four. Underberg poet Kyle Allan returned to Howick with a poetry anthology, House without walls. Moira Lovell, a regular book reviewer for The Witness and one of our most enthralling poetic voices, spoke on her hot-off-the-press collection of poems, The road Less Traveled. Literary vet Tod Collins enthralled with his newest collection of short stories in The Black Sheep. Nicki von der Heyde on her latest book, Sieges of the Anglo-Boer War; Rosemary Forrester told the tale of Tara the terrier who sailed around the world with her and her husband; Donve Lee, a first-time visitor to the Midlands Literary Festival, brought a biography of sorts on a KZN musical icon – Syd Kitchen- in her beautifully titled book Scars that Shine. Heather Costaros’ book How Heather got her HAT’ness back is bound to be one of the finds of the South African literary scene in 2017.  Stephen Pryke booked his place in the pantheon of great South African photographers with a volume of sublime beauty which took almost 15 years to compile.

Also on the programme: Jeff Gaisford – The navigator triangle;  Barry Smith and Andrew Blaine – Next Step: Planning the road through retirement; Mark de Wet – A family on a rubbish dump; Johan Booysen – Blood on their hands; Marilyn Mills – Twisted blood vines; Sylvia Garib – The wrath of Kali; Elwyn Jenkins – An early ABC book from Nottingham Road discovered in Canada.

Read the next post for the 2018 Festival – Stories for Days.

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