Some events in 2014
In April, Rhodes University in Grahamstown, Eastern Cape, honours Neil Aggett’s memory and legacy with the launch of its Neil Aggett Labour Studies Unit (NALSU) in the Institute of Social and Economic Research, along with the first Annual Neil Aggett Lecture and a Colloquium. The three days bring together labour and social justice activists who knew Neil and today’s younger generation of activists who strive for a society that offers equality and justice for all.
As Neil’s biographer, I am delighted to have been invited to give the first lecture on 2 April.
The all-day Neil Aggett Colloquium on Thursday 3 April focuses on The labour movement and social transformation in democratic South Africa. NALSU draws attention to Neil’s "deep humanism" that "made it impossible for him to to accept the treatment of labour as a commodity". Neil grew up in a society in which he heard workers referred to as ’the labour’... ’my labour’, ’your labour’. He began by transforming himself and his own ways of seeing. He learned the profound meaning behind ’ubuntu’: we are who we are through other people.
Grahamstown has added resonance as this was where Neil, aged ten, came from Kenya to Kingswood College. Kingswood runs an annual Neil Aggett Memorial Lecture under the title ’Standing Up Against Injustice’. It’s wonderful that different, interweaving strands of Neil’s life continue to offer inspiration to younger generations.
In South Africa, I also greatly look forward to working with teachers in Port Elizabeth on a ’Reading for Enjoyment’ workshop and to a ’Meet the Author’ session at Exclusive Books in Walmer, 1 April.
Advance News for 2014...
The list of Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award nominees has been published: 238 candidates from 68 countries. My thanks to the Children’s Writers and Illustrators Group from the Society of Authors for their nomination, including me amongst such fine company. For more, see my blog entry here.
Some events in 2013
Friday 5 April, 5.30pm. La librairie Book in Bar Aix-en-Provence. I also look forward to meeting students of English at Lycée Val de Durance in Pertuis and at Collège Mignet in Aix.
Tuesday 23 April, 6pm. World Book Night at Canada Water Library, London. Hosted by BookAid International.
Conversations about the love of reading with four very different authors
Canada Water Library, London
Comedian and author Natalie Haynes (BBC2’s The Review Show) talking about the joys of a good book with Book Aid International’s other literary guests: James Mayhew (Katie’s Picture Show) illustrating his tale as he tells it, live on stage; Beverley Naidoo (The Other Side of Truth) talking about her love of reading, and biographer Robert Douglas-Fairhurst (Becoming Dickens) discussing why we relish reading about other people’s lives.
Profits from this event go to Book Aid International
Place: Canada Water Library, 21 Surrey Quays Road, SE16 7AR
Tickets £10 from Canada Water Library
I look forward to reading work submitted for the 2013 Wasafiri New Writing Prize. Deadline is Friday 26 July.
Wednesday 18 September Queen Elizabeth Hall, 7.30pm
Nelson Mandela Tribute: Long Walk to Freedom
Tuesday 29 October
Challenging police brutality in South Africa today:
The legacy of Neil Aggett
7-9pm, Khalili Theatre, SOAS, London
My biography Death of an Idealist: In Search of Neil Aggett is available in the UK through Merlin Press. I shall talk about Neil and his story with Jonny Steinberg, author of many riveting books that unpeel layers of contemporary South Africa.
More details here.
Event co-hosted by Royal African Society/Centre for African Studies/Canon Collins Trust
To get a glimpse of what happened, check out my Twitter account for the book here.
I shall be visiting a number of schools and, as ever, enjoy meeting and talking with readers.
Some events in 2012
The book that has occcupied most of my time over the last five years will be published in October in South Africa by Jonathan Ball. Death of an Idealist: In search of Neil Aggett is the story behind the only white detainee to die in custody of apartheid’s security police.
Thirty years ago, the death of this 28-year-old medical doctor, who worked most of the week as an unpaid trade union organiser, made international news. Many thousands of black workers downed tools across South Africa to protest at his death. Thousands followed his coffin on foot through ‘white’ Johannesburg to his grave in a ‘white’ cemetery.
Neil was born in Kenya where his parents were settlers at the time of the Mau Mau rebellion against colonial rule. They brought their family to apartheid South Africa when Kenya became independent. It was the year that Nelson Mandela and the Rivonia Trialists were imprisoned for life. Neil was ten. Although his mother was my cousin, I was soon to go into exile and never met him.
How did this high-flying, sports-loving white schoolboy become the young man who dedicated himself to achieving justice for workers? How did he break from the fears of his colonial childhood? What were the security police after when they detained him, in a swoop on black and white activists including many trade unionists, in 1981? These and many other questions have fuelled my search in writing his biography. This was an era of secrets but the passing of time has enabled people to speak more freely.
Neil’s parents, who had trusted the apartheid state, began a huge journey with his death. The Aggett inquest – said to be South Africa’s longest – did not deliver justice to his family, comrades, friends and the country. Mandela’s lawyer and friend, George Bizos SC, who led the family’s legal team, has written the Foreword.
This is a beautifully written book that weaves a rich tapestry of the interplay between the personal, professional and political. Our country is seriously in need of a dose of idealism to remind ourselves of the passions and energy that drove us to confront and subdue a brutal regime paving the way to the freedom we enjoy today. Neil Aggett’s life story is an essential window into the enormous sacrifices that black and white activists made despite easier alternative choices. Today’s younger generations need to re-commit to the easier task of consolidating a democracy bought at a very high cost.
Dr Mamphela Ramphele
This is the story of a young doctor’s death in custody. But it is more than that. In the sensitive hands of the acclaimed writer, Beverley Naidoo, it is the unmasking of a system where torture was allowed to operate with impunity, where national security was invoked to prevent public scrutiny, where the legal system colluded in injustice and where the Rule of Law was corrupted. There are powerful and universal lessons for all time in the telling of this story. Our collective memory requires a regular jolt to remind us of the need for human rights protections the world over. We have to keep the call for justice forever on our lips.
Helena Kennedy, QC
This unique book, at once disturbing and inspiring, is without question one of the best accounts yet of white activism and black struggles available through the well-told life story of a remarkable individual.
Professor Jonathan Jansen
An exceptionally moving chronicle of the suffering and heroism of Neil Aggett, and a timely reminder of the price paid for our democracy. Meticulous and totally absorbing.
Peter Harris, author A Just Defiance
Some events in 2011
My retelling of Aesop’s Fables with delightful illustrations by Piet Grobler (another South African - and illustrator of The Great Tug of War) is published by Frances Lincoln on 3 March. A number of co-editions (including Danish, Swedish, Dutch and Brazilian) are lined up and, to my great pleasure, my first South African editions, including my first translation into Afrikaans. Lekker! Like most people I grew up thinking that Aesop was Greek, but I think that his tales are very African...
The West Kent Themed Book Awards culminate on 17 March when I’ll be sharing the Tunbridge Wells’ stage with Alan Gibbons. This year’s theme has been on ’Conflict’ and students will have read my short stories in Out of Bounds and Alan’s Caught in the Crossfire among other books. Whatever the outcome, the discussions should be lots of fun, even if heated! Alan is the driving force behind the Campaign for the Book, alerting us to the devastating cuts being made to our public libraries. We need to make our voices heard loudly - and quickly. It has taken decades to build up strong library services which make a huge contribution to our culture and society. They can be destroyed overnight... not by bombs but by people who know how to calculate ’price’ without understanding ’value’.
Tuesday 12 April - if you are visiting the London Book Fair, why not come to hear about The Importance of Prizes in the Children’s Theatre? The event is organised by the International Board on Books for Young People UK (IBBY UK) and I’ll be there with Piet Grobler, Aidan Chambers, Frank Cottrell-Boyce and Philip Pullman.
In July, I shall meet up with students from Hollins University, Virginia, USA, who are coming over to England to be tutored by Jamila Gavin (lucky them!). They are going to quiz me on The Other Side of Truth. They will have read the American edition. The book won a number of awards in the States and this will be a chance for me, in turn, to quiz US readers about how the book ’translates’ for them.
In October I shall make a journey across the Atlantic to deliver the Dorothy Briley Lecture at the 9th Biennial International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) Regional Conference at California State University in Fresno. The conference has a great theme: "Peace the World Together with Children’s Books". The late Dorothy Briley was a dedicated publisher and editor who was committed to broadening the experience of American children through international literature. I’ve read some of the tributes to her and I am moved to have been asked to give this lecture.
Write for Rights: 5x15
5x15 curate an evening in celebration of Amnesty’s Write for Rights Letter-writing campaign.
The heroic writer and humanitarian Terry Waite