Etonnants Voyageurs is really a fantastic literary festival. Earlier this year I spoke at the Brazzaville event (which was amazing) and last week I got to go to the Saint-Malo, France edition. Saint-Malo was totally French and totally European in every way that Brazza was so refreshingly African. After the 3 hour plus train ride from Paris, all the invitees of the programme were piled into buses and taken into the Old City. It's a beautiful historic part of the town, all cobbled streets and seagulls. At the opening ceremony (an event which I guess was supposed to be lunch), we were served champagne and oysters. Champagne is always a winner for me, especially after I visited the region in March and learned much more about the process of actually making the bubbly. However, oysters are not my idea of lunch. I'm much more of a generous buffet with delish veggies and yummy desserts kind of girl. I'm just not fancy enough to enjoy caviar, oysters, mussels, single-malt whiskey - can I maybe just have a Woolies couscous salad? Despite my despair over the champagne plus oysters lunch option, I've got to say it really set the tone for the rest of the festival. It really was a celebration of the finest in culture and literature, being by the seaside and above all being French - and I loved it.
There were some great panels. The focus on Africa - Nigeria and SA in particular - was well-promoted and well-supported. Events that would usually only attract 12-20 people in Joburg, for example, were packed with 200-250 people. Some events didn't just fill the place - people were standing in doorways, sitting on the floor, in corner next to the bathroom, and pressed against the back walls of hotel boardrooms, auditoriums and cafes just to catch a glimpse of the authors speaking. It made me feel very proud to be in publishing because there are clearly so many people who are not in publishing who care about literature, literacy and innovation and that's encouraging.
Of course, there were the usual literary politics. Besides the organisation-level stuff, personally, I felt very much the outcast in the SA delegation. There aren't any photos of me in their "official" Team SA pics, for example. But some of the cool(er) South African writers and the Nigerians and the translators really took me under their wings. They made me feel part of their uncool gang of cool kids. As one of the Nigerian authors pointed out: "All writers are nerds anyway. We all feel like outcasts."
Welcome to Saint-Malo!
Nigerian writer and all-round awesome person, Sefi Atta, and I
Palais du Grand Large, Saint-Malo, where many of the SA/Nigerian events happened
Writers Niq Mhlongo, Richard Poplak, Kevin Bloom, Sefi Atta and others on the longest walk to dinner ever
Writer-superstar Damon Galgut who graciously signed a tapas menu for me
Lovely Saint-Malo on a stormy, miserable day
Writer Teju Cole and his amazeballs wife on the train ride back to Paris. What happened on that train car, stays on that train car...