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Archive for the ‘Short Stories’ Category

Ivan Vladislavic Ponders Air Travel, Sherwood Anderson and Death by Unusual Causes on Lit Hub

101 DetectivesIvan Vladislavić has written a quirky but thoughtful piece for Literary Hub on an article he once read in an in-flight magazine.

Vladislavić was on his way to Stellenbosch University to take part in a “public conversation” with Marlene van Niekerk when he read the article, which was about “people who had met with death in some peculiar or memorable way”.

“Just the ticket when you’re about to leave the ground in an aeroplane,” Vladislavić says.

The article mentions some famous people who met unusual deaths, including stoic philosopher Chrysippus, “who laughed himself to death at the sight of a drunken donkey”, and legendary dancer Isadora Duncan, “who died of a broken neck when her long scarf got caught in the spoked wheel of an open car”. But it is the off-hand treatment of Sherwood Anderson’s demise that causes Vladislavić to brood over the piece and its implications.

But the story that brought a lump to my throat concerned Sherwood Anderson and the perils of putting things in your mouth. It was the shortest of the items that made up the article, a mere paragraph. This is what it said: “Take Mr Sherwood Anderson, for example, who swallowed a toothpick at a dinner party in 1941. This fairly successful writer later developed a case of peritonitis and his life and career came to a grim and painful end. Peritonitis is the inflammation of the serous membrane that lines the abdominal cavity, leading to infection, internal bleeding and a rather long and painful death.”

Several thoughts went through my head. I will order them below, because I am writing, but in truth they came to me in a jumble, as thoughts often do.

I thought: Poor old Sherwood.


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Ivan Vladislavic’s First and Latest Books, The Folly and 101 Detectives, Hit America

101 DetectivesThe FollyTobias Carroll has written a piece for Electric Literature on Ivan Vladislavić’s The Folly and 101 Detectives, which are new to American shores.

The Folly was Vladislavić’s first novel, first published in 1993, while 101 Detectives, a collection of short stories, was published locally in April.

“Taken together,” Carroll says, “they offer a fuller picture of his skills as a writer.”

Read the article:

Corporate satire plays a part in several of these stories; for all that Vladislavić can understandably be compared to the likes of Teju Cole and Edward St. Aubyn, stories like “Exit Strategy,” whose main character is referred to as “the corporate storyteller,” and “Industrial Theater” call to mind the likes of Tom McCarthy’s Satin Island and David Foster Wallace’s “Mister Squishy.” Even the title story explores ideas of archetypes and employment, as a detective as a conference attempts to figure out just what sort of detective he happens to be.

Carroll, who came across Vladislavić’s work through Teju Cole’s introduction to Double Negative, interviewed the author for Vol.1 Brooklyn last year.

Vladislavić chatted about revisiting his work for republication, the continuities between the different versions of South Africa in his work, and the reception he had received in the US.

Read the interview:

What kind of a response are you getting to this novel and Double Negative from people in places where these books are appearing for the first time?

I’ve had a great response so far. I’ve been very pleased with the reviews so far of The Restless Supermarket, for instance. Double Negative feels a little different in that it was not published that long ago. The book appeared here in 2010 in a joint collection with a book of photography. The final version of the book only appeared in 2011. So there’s not much of a lag. It feels to me, more or less, like it’s happening in one concrete moment, if you like. Whereas with The Restless Supermarket, I had a distinct feeling that earlier work is being published. So far, I’ve been very happy with the response. I was a little apprehensive about publishing work that goes back a few years. I would have wondered at the time how the work would have been received outside of South Africa, because it has quite a lot of local references. That would have been an apprehension anyway. Now, one has the added thing of a bit of distance from the time that I wrote it. So far, we really seem to be engaging with readers of the book. I’ve been very happy with it.



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Spanish Translation of Henrietta Rose-Innes’ Nineveh to be Launched in Mexico in October

Green LionNinevehHomingThe Rock AlphabetShark's Egg

Henrietta Rose-Innes has announced that her novel Nineveh will soon be launched in Mexico.

The Spanish translation of Nineveh will be published by Mexican publisher Almadia and Rose-Innes will be at the Oaxaca International Book Fair to launch the book in October.

Follow Henrietta Rose-Innes on Facebook for more:

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Image: Martin Figura

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Archipelago Books to Host Readings and Conversations with Ivan Vladislavic in USA

The Folly101 DetectivesArchipelago Books will be hosting Ivan Vladislavić in New York and Massachusetts during the month of October.

Vladislavić will be reading from his latest US release – The Folly – at four seperate events. 101 Detectives, an anthology of short stories, is the latest work by this celebrated South African author, published locally by Umuzi.

The four events sees him in conversation with renowned novelist and critic Katie Kitamura; Vanity Fair journalist and PEN World Voices advisor Anderson Tepper and University of Massachusetts director of Interdisciplinary Studies Stephen Clingman.

Don’t miss these opportunities to listen to one of South Africa’s greatest living authors!


  • Date: Monday, 5 October 2015
  • Time: 7 to 9 PM
  • Venue: Community Bookstore,
    143 Seventh Avenue,
    Brooklyn, NY 11215
    United States | Map
  • Interviewer: Katie Kitamura
  • More information: Archipelago Books

New York

  • Date: Tuesday, 6 October 2015
  • Time: 7 to 9 PM
  • Venue: Book Culture,
    450 Columbus Avenue
    New York, NY 10024
    United States | Map
  • Interviewer: Anderson Tepper
  • More information: Archipelago Books

Bard College

  • Date: Wednesday, 7 October 2015
  • Time: 7 to 9 PM
  • Venue: Bard College, Bard Hall
    70 N Ravine Roadd,
    Annandale-On-Hudson, NY 12504
    United States | Map
  • More information: Archipelago Books

University of Massachusetts Amherst


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Flashback Friday: Ivan Vladislavic Shares His List of Essential Reading

101 DetectivesThe FollyFlashback HotelDouble NegativeThe Loss Library The Restless Supermarket


This Flashback Friday, read Jan Steyn’s interview with Ivan Vladislavić, which ran in The White Review in 2012.

In the interview, Vladislavić discusses the visual art associated with his books, his reputation as Johannesburg’s “writer of place”, and his “desert island” list of four books.

Vladislavić says his list of essential reading is “too long and varied to make a sensible choice of four”, but names Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, The Story of San Michele by Axel Munthe, Stones of Aran: Pilgrimage by Tim Robinson and the Condensed Oxford Dictionary, the last on the advice of Aubrey Tearle, the narrator of The Restless Supermarket.

On writing, Vladislavić refers to a quotation by Italian writer Italo Calvino once told to him by Tim Couzens:

I’m always intrigued to hear what writers say when they’re asked this question. I obviously consider the reader to the extent that I hope someone will read what I’ve written and I expect them to get something from the exercise. But I cannot say that I think about this reader when I’m working. It feels to me like the contract is entirely between myself and the text; I am trying to resolve something for myself by working it through in language. What happens afterwards doesn’t concern me at the time. In this limited sense, you could say I’m writing for myself. Limited because I’m also not the intended reader; the pleasure for me is in the writing rather than the reading. Tim Couzens once told me something Calvino said about writing, to the effect that it was ‘hiding something so that the reader can find it’. This seems like a good description of the activity. When I’m ‘hiding something’ in written form, I imagine that someone will come looking, but I don’t know who this person is and I don’t consider how good their eyes are.

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Ivan Vladislavic on Winning the Windham Campbell Prize, Literary Festivals and “Corporate Storytellers”

101 DetectivesEarlier this year Ivan Vladislavić, Teju Cole and Helon Habila received the 2015 Windham Campbell Prizes for Fiction.

Karina Szczurek did an interview with the 101 Detectives author about his work and how the prestigious achievement has changed his writing life. “The prize money will come in useful,” Vladislavić told Szczurek.

On the subject of literary festivals, and the controversial debates that were sparked at this year’s Franschhoek Literary Festival, he said: “Festivals can serve all kinds of causes … But in my experience their primary function is to entertain readers.”

Szczurek also asked the author about the issues of writers as “corporate storytellers” as raised in 101 Detectives. Read the article:

Festivals as “marketing platforms” resonate with issues raised by several stories in 101 Detectives. When a CEO of a company has to defend his choice of painting hanging in the boardroom in “Mountain Landscape”, or a new car model is introduced to the public as part of a theatrical spectacle in “Industrial Theatre”, or a corporate storyteller aspires to rise above her level in “Exit Strategy”, creativity and corporate attitudes mingle. I asked Vladislavić whether he felt that in today’s world, where there is so much focus on productivity and financial gain, writers were becoming “corporate storytellers” like the character in “Exit Strategy”. His assessment of the situation is sober and practical: “Nearly all writers are involved in the marketing of their books and are caught up in the corporate machinery. Some clearly enjoy it more than others, and a few keep out of the fray and still manage to find readers.”

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SJ Naudé Contemplates His “Imploded Novel” The Alphabet of Birds (Plus: New UK Cover)

The Alphabet of BirdsAlfabet van die voëlsSJ Naudé’s collection of short stories The Alphabet of Birds has been published in the UK by independent publishing house And Other Stories.

The Alphabet of Birds was first published in Afrikaans in 2011, as Alfabet van die voëls, winning the 2012 Jan Rabie Rapport Prize and the 2011/2012 University of Johannesburg Debut Prize (Afrikaans).

Naudé himself translated the stories for the English edition, which The Guardian called “bursting with transcendence”.

The UK edition of book has been given a lovely new cover:

Carli Coetzee of Africa in Words chatted to Naudé about the process of translation, the “estranging effect” of writing in Afrikaans, and how his short story collection could be seen as “an imploded novel”:

CC: Is the collection an imploded novel? How would this collection be different if it were in fact marketed as “a novel”? Is it perhaps a novel but an imploded one?

SJN: I like the idea of an “imploded novel”: a collection of connected stories that refuse to become a novel. Stories that retreat from the novel form, rather than approach it. Texts that may be either the scaffolding for, or the ruins of, a novel, and that intend to be nothing more and nothing less. Why should we insist that something is a novel, even when it actually wants to be something less easily classifiable, simply because the demands of modern publishing require that something must parade as such? There is, of course, nothing new about the idea of a cycle of stories that are linked through themes, motifs or reappearing characters. Such stories may be mirrors or shadows of each other, may answer or oppose or undermine each other. The lengthy (sometimes novella-length) stories in my collection do, I hope, something slightly different. They are exceptionally diverse in their subject matter and setting, but are also closely linked in certain ways. They seem to both clash and engage intensely with each other at the same time, which is why the violence suggested by your notion of an “imploded novel” seems apt.

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“Mountain Landscape” by Ivan Vladislavic Adds to Debate: Is Pierneef’s Work Relevant in Contemporary South Africa?

101 DetectivesThe FollyDouble NegativeThe Restless SupermarketThe Loss Library

A short story by Ivan Vladislavić – published in his latest anthology, 101 Detectives – has found itself included in a larger debate about the stigma attached to, or increasingly detached from, artworks by internationally renowned iconic South African artist Pierneef.

Sue Blaine writes in her review of the current Standard Bank Art Gallery exhibition titled “JH Pierneef: A Space for Landscape” for Financial Mail that the November purchase of a Pierneef landscape for R11.9 million made one thing clear: “the painter’s work sells, despite some people dismissing him as an Afrikaner nationalist hero”.

“Its main premise is that, while Pierneef was a product of his time, he was not painting paeans to the Afrikaner nation,” Blaine writes of the collection on display in Johannesburg until 12 September. This is the first major exhibition of his work in 30 years.

Read the article:

What is true is that the nationalist government in the 1960s adopted Pierneef as its artistic hero. It’s also true that he took official commissions — among his most famous works are the 32 panels (unveiled in 1932) that were displayed in the concourse of the then new Park Station in Johannesburg.

Van Rensburg says that one way to read Pierneef’s work is to say that, like any other artist, he “just wanted to make a buck”.

“It was as difficult for Irma Stern, Maggie Laubser and Wolf Kibel to break into a very conservative orthodoxy as it was for him. The reigning orthodoxy was the 19th century English-Dutch one. That was what people bought.”

Pierneef’s work sells well because what he produced, over and over, was “undeniably an SA landscape”, says Peffers. “You can almost taste the dust in your mouth.”

What does this have to do with Vladislavić? His perceptive story “Mountain Landscape” is included in the exhibition catalogue. It is written as a black CEO named HK Khoza’s defence of a Pierneef piece hanging on his office wall – refuting the notion that the artist’s work is to be reserved as Afrikaner nostalgia.

Read an old article by fine artist and author Andries Bezuidenhout in which he explores Vladislavić’s story and the main character’s reason for loving Pierneef’s work so, questioning the writer’s own struggle in identifying with the art in question.

Bezuidenhout also shares a quote from “Mountain Landscape” in which Khoza explains why he swapped the photograph of Tokyo Sexwale and a soccer team for the seemingly inappropriate painting:


“I have spent some time looking at Mountain Landscape. Occasionally, I bring a cup of tea in here, turn my back on our much envied city panorama, and simply gaze at that square of paint on canvas. There are golden foothills, soaring peaks in purple and mauve, storm clouds advancing or retreating. I get quite lost in it… Afterwards, when I return to the present… I feel as if I’ve been away to some high place where the air is purer. I feel quite refreshed. I cannot speak with authority – one day at the Louvre will hardly atone for a lifetime of ignorance – but I suspect this capacity to refresh the senses and the spirit is one of the marks of great art.”

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Image courtesy of 5th Avenue Auctions

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Read Chris Thurman’s Paper on “Poison”, by Henrietta Rose-Innes, from the Wits End Times Colloquium

HomingThe post-apocalyptic short story “Poison”, from Henrietta Rose-Innes‘s Homing, was rich material for discussion at the End Times Colloquium held at of the Wit University last year.

Christopher Thurman’s paper from the conference, “Apocalypse Whenever: Catastrophe, Privilege and Indifference (or, Whiteness and the End Times)”, has been published online by Taylor & Francis. In the paper, Thurman argues that “Poison”, despite being set in an imagined post-apocalyptic community, tells us a lot about present social faultlines in South Africa. He aims to offer a “metonymic or allegorical reading of the focalising protagonist of ‘Poison’, Lynn, and her white identity”.

Read the abstract:

Henrietta Rose-Innes’ short story ‘Poison’ (from Homing 2010) is set in the aftermath of a chemical explosion of cataclysmic proportions in Cape Town. The story’s protagonist and narrator, Lynn, is among the last to flee the city; she ends up alone at an abandoned highway petrol station. She sips Coke and eats crisps and waits passively – for a rescue team, for the will to try and escape, or for the (presumably) inevitable end. The story provides us with some clues as to her lack of motivation, although she remains enigmatic. This article offers a reading of ‘Poison’ that examines Lynn’s apparent indifference to her fate and considers what it may represent. Her character is read metonymically in order to pose and, tentatively, answer certain questions. Does she stand for a particular kind of response to impending or actual catastrophe? Is it a common response, arguably one that is analogous to global responses to climate change and environmental degradation? How is it inflected by the privilege of whiteness? What might the race and class dynamics of an imagined post-apocalyptic community tell us about present social fault-lines in South Africa? Recruiting the diverse discourses of Shakespearean universality and Twitter hashtags towards a common end, the article investigates the relationship between whiteness and the ‘End Times’ – and finds in ‘Poison’ a critique of the ways in which imagined utopian and dystopian futures may perpetuate white privilege and the dominance of whiteness.

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BBC Podcast: Nadia Davids, Lauren Beukes and SJ Naude Discuss Cape Town – Place and Contested Space

Three Umuzi authors were featured in the latest edition of BBC World’s “Writing a New South Africa” series.

Broken MonstersAn Imperfect BlessingThe Alphabet of BirdsThabiso Mohare, a street poet from Johannesburg, travelled to Cape Town to hear more about beautiful yet complex Mothercity which has inspired so many authors to write incredible works. He spoke to Nadia Davids (An Imperfect Blessing), Lauren Beukes (Broken Monsters) and SJ Naudé (Alphabet of Birds) as well as poets Nathan Trantraal, Ronelda Kamfer and Toni Stuart and literary activist Thando Mgqolozana.

The discussion was centred around the theme “Cape Town: Place and Contested Space” and offered insight into the authors’ views on the history of the city and how it affects the work of writers, poets and playwrights.

Davids spoke about the undealt-with legacy of slavery in the city; Beukes shared why her sci-fi visions of South African cities are so popular; Naude helped Mohare uncover roots of a language that was appropriated as a tool of oppression but is still felt to be a language of struggle and resistance among the communities where it originated.

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