A new reader is born

Edward Tsumele

Edward Tsumele

The venue is the trendy Pan African book shop Xarra Books in Newtown. Filling up the place to capacity are all sorts of people, the suit and tie type, the scruffily dressed artists, some successful, others clearly struggling.

But all are united by one mission, to have their word heard and heard clearly in the discussion.

Moderators including respected writer and emerging novelist Zukiswa Wanner had to fight to have their views define the nature and the course of the discussion as the audience threatened to take over their role.

The discussion was robust. Bookshop co-owner June Josephs-Langa was forced to take more questions from the audience than she had anticipated.

This was last week at the launch of yet another book by newspaper columnist and author Fred Khumalo.

While the Xarra crowd are known to be vocal, sometimes unreasonably pompous, and at other times meandering incoherently in putting their point of views across, significantly, they represent a new kind of a reader, and a new kind of literary criticism, authorship, and attitude that has come to define new literati culture among new, emerging book consumers in the country's urban areas.

While Minister of arts and culture Pallo Jordan told Sowetan this week that the department had taken note of the emerging new voices in literature, he said he was not quite sure about the effect of this new literature on the consumers.

But judging by the Xarra crowd, it is having an effect. A new type of reader and writer is slowly awakening.

For example, Khumalo's launch of his Seven Steps to Heaven novel, a third book he has published within two years, marks an important trend whereby young South Africans, particularly black writers, are starting to be taken seriously by publishers.

Wanner published her first novel last year, which got her a nomination for an award at this year's South African Literary Awards, which takes place at Vodaworld on December 8.

New young writers are indeed emerging to define the course of literature in the country.