Reading & Discussion: Great Conversations: An Evening with Renowned South African Poet Breyten Breytenbach

Sun, December 19, 2010 6:00 pm at Alwan for the Arts

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Alwan will host Breyten Breytenbach in an evening of poetry readings followed by thoughtful conversation on issues of aesthetic imagination and its relationship to social justice, intellectual resistance, as well as reflections on world events that have shaped our current realities.

Breyten Breytenbach, a native of South Africa is Executive Director of the Gorée Institute, a non-governmental organization whose vision is an Africa of open and self-reliant institutions with states that are effective and democratic, enterprises that are successful and transparent, civil societies that are socially-engaged and independent, and free and responsible citizens who may participate in all of these processes. In 2011, Alwan, together with the Goree Institute, will establish an artist residency.

Breyten Breytenbach is a distinguished painter and a writer of more than 30 books of poetry, numerous novels, short story compilations, essays and dramatic works. A committed opponent of apartheid, Professor Breytenbach was a political prisoner in South Africa from 1975- 1982, serving two terms of solitary confinement in a cell adjoining death row inmates in Pretoria's central prison, after he was charged with high treason for starting an organization that was the white wing of Nelson Mandala's ANC. His most renowned non-fiction work is the four-volume memoir of his South African odyssey. A Season in Paradise; The True Confessions of an Albino Terrorist; Return to Paradise; and Dog Heart: A Memoir. His books have been translated into more than a dozen languages.

Known as the finest living poet of the Afrikaans language, Professor Breytenbach's verse volumes include The Iron Cow Must Sweat; Footscript and most recently Lady One. His most recent dramatic work is The Play. He has had solo exhibitions of his artwork in numerous cities around the world. He has been honored with numerous international art and literary awards, including the APB Prize, the CAN Award (five times), the Allan Paton Award for Literature, the Rapport Prize, the Hertzog Prize, the Reina Prinsen-Geerling Prize, the Van der Hoogt Prize, the Jan Campert Award, and the Jacobus van Looy Prize for Literature and Art. Professor Breytenbach has taught at the University of Natal, Princeton University, and the University of Cape Town and currently is Distinguished Global Professor of Creative Writing at New York University.

In 2010, Breytenbach won the Mahmoud Darwish award for poetry for his long commitment to the Palestinian struggle. In his obituary to Mahmoud Darwish, he writes: “Mahmoud Darwish, the Palestinian poet (1941-2008), was a friend. … Immediately after his passing [on 10 August 2008], I started writing the series [Voice Over] as fragments of a continuing dialogue with him. … Over the following weeks I was to travel north – first to Catalonia and then on to Friesland … The poems reflect this trajectory. Translation – that is, to proceed from one language to the other – is also a journey. Perhaps too, an attempt to draw the veil from the known face which has now gone silent. … The images, and to an extent even the rhythms and the shaping, are his. … The journey continues and the conversation will carry on, in the attempt to look for Mahmoud Darwish among the words.” For “Voice Over” Breytenbach won the Max Jacob award, France’s most prestigious literary prize for poetry.

In 2002, Breytenbach was part of a delegation of writers to visit Palestine during the Israeli invasion that included two Nobel Prize laureates: the Portuguese Jose Saramago and Nigerian Wole Soyinka, after which he wrote an open letter to Ariel Sharon condemning Israeli atrocities. Click here to read his letter.

For some New York Times articles on Breyten Breytenbach, see:

Great Conversation is series that invites thinkers to choose people from other disciplines who are of intellectual and inspirational interest to them in an attempt to enlarge the scope of our understanding of the production of knowledge. The series is meant to offer a paradigm of comparative experiences, where other forms of knowledge can better enrich consciousness of the self.

Last updated: 2011-04-18 20:18:30

Breyten Breytenbach
Breyten Breytenbach

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