Sisonke Msimang is the author of two books: Always Another Country: a memoir of exile and home (2017); and The Resurrection of Winnie Mandela (2018) and has written for a range of publications including The New York Times, Al Jazeera, The Guardian and Newsweek.
In the lead-up to this year's Festival, Sisonke sat down with us to talk about her curated sessions, her current reads and the talks she is most looking forward to at this year's Festival.
1. This year's Festival theme is Stories For The Future. What prompted or motivated you as you were thinking about the sessions you've curated with Artistic Director Ann Mossop?
I'm a huge history buff, mainly because I'm so deeply invested in the future. When Ann and I discussed the theme, I was excited because so many of the questions that will shape how we rise to meet the existential crises we face are rooted in the past.
When I thought about the writers who inspire me, and who have a keen sense of how we might approach the creation of a new world born out of the scars and triumphs of the past, I could think of no one better than Alexis Wright. I have been a long-time fan, and her new book Praiseworthy offers us exactly this – a vision for how the past helps us make a way in the present. And Bernardine Evaristo, whose historic Book Prize win for Girl, Woman, Other, and whose form-shaking work speaks to new ways of being – well that too was a no-brainer.
Sisonke's Curated Events
2. What influence do you think books and authors can have on shaping the future?
A few years ago, I interviewed Zadie Smith and she talked about her frustration with the online world, and her questions about the extent to which an algorithm shapes and tracks us. She said that books – in their original, paper form – remain the only place where she feels she is not being monitored. Her eyes can wander the page, and no one knows what she is reading, which sentence she is on. It strikes me as important that this sort of intellectual privacy be preserved; that we can hold on to the power of books to shape how we think, because they are demanding masters. Books require time and patience. They ask us to re-read sentences we don't understand. They make us put them aside in sadness or frustration, and then, deliciously, they compel us to return. It seems to me that these traits – patience, compassion, curiosity – are precisely the characteristics we will require to face the future.
3. What books are currently on your nightstand?
Praiseworthy by Alexis Wright; We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo; Another Australia edited by Winnie Dunn; and Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid.
Sisonke's Recommended Events
Storytelling Gala: Letters to the Future
As host, I'm of course looking forward to the Storytelling Gala. I'm a huge fan of American writer and poet Jason Reynolds, so I'm excited to listen to him on stage.
PEN Lecture: Believing the Black Witness
Everything Amy McQuire writes is urgent, important and beautifully crafted, and so I'm looking forward to her PEN Lecture: Believing the Black Witness.
In Conversation: Anthony Joseph
I'm stoked to see Anthony Joseph on the program. His poetry is beautiful on paper, but the opportunity to hear it spoken aloud, with that combination of Trinidadian patois and Black British English, is very special.