LITERATURE

South African literature on stage

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Diversity and freedom will be acknowledged at a one-day colloquium held by the British universities of York and Cambridge to mark South Africa's 20 years of freedom and democracy.

Since the first democratic elections in 1994 and the signing of the Constitution, the country has racked up two decades of realising human rights in a transformed society. With the title "Writing South Africa Now: Twenty Years On" the universities are calling for papers reflecting "on the complex changes and continuities concerning South African literature and literary studies".

It has been a tumultuous two decades and South Africa today is a place of great variation. In the literary world, there is a generation of newcomers joining the older voices in unpacking the human condition. The big names Ivan Vladislavić and Antjie Krog are joined by Niq Mhlongo and Kopano Matlwa in grasping and embracing the complex challenges of social inequality, HIV/Aids, and violent crime. These contentious issues continue in the post-apartheid era. Jonny Steinberg interrogates and explores prisons and Aids clinics, and Lauren Beukes gives a South African spin to cyberpunk. Zoë Wicomb investigates racial identity and inclusion, and Mike Nicol's characters tough it out on the streets, while JM Coetzee casts his eye to other shores.

The 20-year milestone is a time for reflection on the complex changes and continuities in South African literature and literary studies. Questions that will be asked at the colloquium will include ways that post-apartheid texts have responded to the socio-political changes following the downfall of formal apartheid. It will also seek to list the noteworthy new voices of the past two decades, and interrogate how their texts draw on and depart from South African classics. How should scholars go about identifying contemporary currents in a critical landscape that often simplifies or elides any substantive scholarly or social distinctions between "now" and "then"?

"Writing South Africa Now: Twenty Years On" will be held on Saturday, 7 June at the University of York, in the city of York, in northern England. The event is the second in a series initiated by the University of Cambridge aimed at making heard new critical voices from the United Kingdom and elsewhere. Convenors will privilege proposals from post-graduate students and early-career researchers dealing with any aspect of South African textual cultures. Possible research fields include but are not restricted to: literature, media, theatre, film, spoken word, publishing, and translation studies.

The University of York says that although the conference will be in English, considerations of South African texts produced in other languages are welcome. A range of submissions will help to achieve the colloquium's overarching goal to facilitate critical conversations across literary genres and relevant disciplines. For this reason, the convenors will also accept proposals based on research being conducted now on South African literature of any period. This will help to place contemporary research projects within broader historical, national and transnational contexts. A concluding interview with professors Derek Attridge and David Attwell from the University of York will encourage questions and further discussion on the conference theme as a whole.

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