Upon my arrival at Rhodes I was warmly received and taken to my quarters (on campus, in a block that houses research fellows and post-graduate students: I had a bedroom, living room and a small kitchen) by a member of the Creative Writing team, Paul Mason, an old friend…and later on, the same day, treated to a great dinner in his company and that of another old friend and teacher, Paul Wessels. Beautiful start.
First...the fellowship itself allowed me to explore my own writing in the way in which writers should. That is, without having to worry about external factors like having to chicken-scratch in the muck for food & shelter (for the three month period in which i held it). Beautiful. It bought time & space for me. A major plus was not having to worry about delivering any text to some principal-type character standing there with a ruler and scissors trying to whack-n-snip me into line. So...perfect.
Then was the added pleasure and benefit of engaging with the creative writing students & their work. On a personal level (& as an unrepentant devourer of literature, who loves watching the word being born), I truly appreciated that. Especially the possibility of playing devil's advocate and mischievously (even childishly, but NEVER maliciously) poking fun at the students just in order to bring the said WORD bubbling raw to the surface, was great.
I found the course teachers quite giving, warm....prepared to engage, dissect, construct, de-construct, debate, argue...I don't know if it helped that I knew most of them before I went there but the constant, intense, intelligent and selfless to-and-fro bits of dialogue, experimentation, critical battles, etc were not just energising but humanising too, ultimately... there was much conviction and passion there, in the main. I am proud to have been a part of it.
Readings and book-launch – I gave a few well-attended and well-received readings and talks on and off campus. Some of these were organised with the help of the good people at NELM.
Public lecture – I delivered a public lecture at the Humanities Dept, hosted by the Dean of Humanities, and it was more than just worthwhile for me, and I hope, for all involved.
Media interest – I had an opportunity to come across what should be the first lesson in Journalism 101 ‘How not to conduct an interview’ – when I had a sorry encounter with a Rhodes journalism lecturer writing for Grocott’s. She spoke for 90 percent of the time, tried to get me to mouth her opinions and views on things, and then went off and wrote the most pathetic, error-filled article I have ever encountered. What rendered the episode even more comic was that the paper, in trying to rectify the matter, published their apology cut off mid-way by accident.
Young Anna-Karien, with much excitement, conducted a couple of interviews and wrote for the Rhodes online publication. A bit of naivety there but some promise too, sweet.
Workshops – I had a Tuesday slot in which to conduct workshops where people off-campus could come and share/exchange their work with those who were part of the creative writing class. As time progressed I noticed that there were barriers. This had little or nothing to do with the creative writing crew, though, but flowed out of the social dynamics/problematics entrenched in the university-community relationship. Some people came from the township and as far afield as East London. However the reticence was overwhelming. It was obvious how uneasy they were on the Rhodes campus. I am referring of course to people who were not part of the creative writing programme. It was sad to witness.
There is much economic disparity and racism in Grahamstown. Clusters and little laagers. Enclaves where people lock themselves in behind invisible doors of class. They greet one with fake smiles and never outright turn anyone away, and yet…each person knows their place without being told. The university feeds off the community (black) and yet the said community gets little out of it and subsists on…well…its own stark abjection –across the street from the university there is utter poverty, whole families begging in the street. It is heartbreaking.
I experienced this myself, being personally insulted and put upon when I was stopped on numerous occasions by the university’s security guards and asked my business…& to produce my Rhodes card…back to the dompas. How sad then, subsequently being told, by one of the creative writing teachers, around my farewell lunch-table, that it was because black people often come to the university to steal.
All in all though, my experience at Rhodes was quite enlightening, positive, soul-enriching, and I believe that I came out of it a better person. No regrets whatsoever and I can only hope the students and the community at large took from it as much as I did.
Last Modified: Tue, 24 Sep 2013 18:26:18 SAST