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Archive for the ‘Poetry’ Category

Alan Paton Award Shortlist: Tymon Smith Interviews Antjie Krog

Antjie Krog, who has won the award previously, is shortlisted for the 2010 Sunday Times Alan Paton Award. The newspaper’s Tymon Smith interviewed her at the weekend:

Antjie KrogBegging to be Black

What made you choose to call the book Begging to be Black?

To make a point about hierarchy. The fact that the title has been heavily criticised by some (and is it coincidence that they are all male and not black?) reviewers and political commentators is proving the point. To beg to be black, or for that matter female/gay/poor confronts every hierarchical fibre.

In the book I suggest that South Africa will never change for the better if everybody wants to become powerful white men raised within a predominantly western context. Change for everybody can only happen when people move towards those who have less. Secondly, one cannot substantially move without being willing to be taught/guided.

To beg for this guidance is therefore not “pleading for identity-suicide”, “expressions of self-flagellation” or “naive guilt”, but simple acknowledgement that change can only begin when those with power begin to listen to what the poor are saying.

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Antjie Krog’s Speech at the Launch of the Tutus’ Made for Goodness

Antjie Krog, Desmond Tutu & Stephen Johnson

An edited version of Antjie Krog’s speech at the launch of Desmond and Mpho Tutu’s Made for Goodness appeared in the Sunday Times this weekend:

Made for GoodnessBegging to be Black

Compelled to Act, Even Against the Voice of Reason

Over the years Tutu has formed and provided this country, consistently and with immense integrity, with a language which took us from defiant outspokenness against injustice, to righteousness, freedom, caring and forgiveness.

It was he who single-handedly had to respond to most of the 2000 Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s testimonies in efforts to comfort or make sense. It was he who coined many of the terms for a young and divided democracy to think and talk about itself alongside human rights and a new constitution. Not for nothing are the terms such as “rainbow nation”, “miracle”, and “special people” being critically discussed up until today. The combination of the well-crafted speeches of Nelson Mandela and the inspired ones of the archbishop brought a vision into which we could think ourselves as a country capable of remarkable things.

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Antjie Krog on the Death of Eugene Terre Blanche and its Aftermath

Begging to be BlackAntjie KrogThree weeks after AWB leader Eugene Terre Blanche was found murdered on his farm, Begging to be Black author Antjie Krog offers her thoughts on the trajectory of the tragedy, from the first equivocations and position-takings by the main political parties, to the strange confrontations that developed afterwards. That we must resort to English as a common language, Krog writes, is partly what divides us:


“Why am I so shocked about Terre Blanche’s death?” I asked my husband as we watched the events unfolding on television news. “Perhaps one regards him as the number one boer!” he suggested. “If he gets killed, where are we as number hundred-thousandth?”

Although notions of an ultimate boer are odious, it became an interesting exercise over the following weeks. Confronted with the dilapidated house and its meagre possessions, I had to face up to the fact that the number one boer was poor. When stories did the rounds that he possibly had a sexual relationship with one of his attackers, I had to accept that the number one boer was homosexual (or bisexual, or, God forbid, a child molester).

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Photo courtesy Victor Dlamini

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LBF Discussion with Antjie Krog in Cardiff Bay, Wales

Begging to be BlackAntjie KrogAcademi LogoNotes from the Welsh National Literature Promotion Agency, Academi:

South Africa Meets Wales

As part of the Cultural Programme at this year’s South Africa Market Focus at The London Book Fair, Academi is working with the British Council and Wales Arts International to present two events in Cardiff. The South African poet and author Antjie Krog will be visiting Wales on Thursday 22 April to take part in two events with Welsh poet Menna Elfyn and other Welsh writers.

In the afternoon of Thursday 22 April, Antjie will visit Cardiff University and speak to a group of Creative Writing MA students about her work, in conversation with Menna Elfyn. Antjie will discuss her experience of writing during and following the apartheid government and the challenge of creating work from personal experience which is also of international importance.

At a special event in the Norwegian Church, Cardiff Bay in the evening, there will be a chance to hear Antjie read alongside four Welsh poets: Menna Elfyn, Nigel Jenkins, Elin ap Hywel and Paul Henry. Menna, Nigel and Elin all spoke out against apartheid in the 1980s and Menna and Elin contributed to a poetry collection dedicated to the anti-apartheid movement called Du a Gwyn: Beirdd yn Erbyn Apartheid (Black and White: Poets Against Apartheid). Drawing parallels in their experiences of the politicisation of language and bilingualism, the events will include readings in Welsh, English and Afrikaans.

Event Details

  • Date: Thursday, 22 April 2010
  • Time: 6:30 PM for 7:00 PM
  • Venue: Norwegian Church, Norwegian Church Arts Centre, Harbour Drive, Cardiff Bay, Wales | Map
  • Guest Speaker: Menna Elfyn
  • RSVP: Academi,, 029 2047 2266

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New Editions of Antjie Krog’s Trilogy

Country of My SkullA Change of TongueBegging to be Black

Antjie Krog’s Begging to be Black was released in July last year, completing the trilogy that began with Country of My Skull and followed with A Change of Tongue. To celebrate, RHS is bringing out new editions of the first two books in the trilogy modelled on the same style as Begging to be Black. Now it’s simply a case of collect all three!

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Antjie Krog on Blackness vs Whiteness at Kalk Bay Books

Antjie Krog

Begging to be BlackMarianne ThammWhen word went out that veteran journalist Marianne Thamm would be interviewing Antjie Krog on her most recent book, Begging to Be Black, on the same day that the country celebrated the twentieth anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s liberation from prison, Kalk Bay Books received some 200 emails accepting! Fully a half an hour before the much-loved author arrived the bookshop was filled to capacity.

Those who braved a long stand in the late summer heat were not disappointed by the frank and funny discussion. True to her inimitable form, Krog engaged the topic of what it means to be living in South Africa with a different dominant hegemony with wry humour, irreverent observation and her insights that range from profoundly compassionate to utterly withering.

Thamm reflected how that historic day had marked the formal beginning of the country’s transformation at every level, political, social and economic, and less obivously, psychic and spiritual. She said, “Transformation, as we know, is an ongoing process, but if your cup is already full, it’s a problematic journey, and almost, a non-existent one.”

She said, “Krog’s work over twenty years prods, provokes and excavates at a deeply personal and metaphorical level what it means to be a South African, in particular a white South African, in this new transforming landscape. Few other people dare to go where Antjie Krog has gone.”

The dialogue launched straight into the vexing nature – “irritating” said Thamm – of the title that many have found disturbing.

Krog said, “It wants us to talk about what we mean when we say ‘black’. It’s a plea to understand to what we should be changing. It’s an assumption that we have to change.” She referred to a conversation with the Dutch writer, Adriaan van Dis: if you could take a pill that would make you black, would you take it?”

“When you start thinking about this,” said Krog, “people are shocked to think that we should become ‘black’. We like and prefer to be white. Like men like and prefer to be male. When I was a child my mother said that if I ran through the rainbow, I’d become a boy. I spent my days trying to run through the rainbow, but none of my brothers ever wanted to be a girl. Why is that? It’s the same with straight people, which of you would take a pill to take a pill to make you gay? Who wants to join the less powerful group?”

Thamm noted that much of the contemporary discussion about identity and belonging is happening amongst Afrikaans speaking South Africans. She referred to Max du Preez’s “being confounded by Antjie’s excessive handwringing about her white skin, her overdeveloped feelings of guilt about apartheid and colonialism, her over-romanticisation of Africa’s black people and her naivety about politics of the region.”

She mentioned that Du Preez had said he was happy with who he is as a white Afrikaner. The question of ‘blackness’ had never occurred to him. “Perhaps,” she said, “Max’s cup is already full?”

Krog responded that it wasn’t only Max, it was all the “old lefty ooms” spouting the tired jargon of women: “you’re crazy, you’re naïve, you’re angry”. For her, English is no longer the language of white English speaking people only. “When I write Eglish, I no longer think I’m in conversation with white English speakers only. English non-fiction is a conversation with the country. It comes to me through English.”

The candour with which people asked questions of Krog implies that perhaps there is an open-heartedness to pursuing the ongoing challenges of connection, transformation and apology. Maybe there are those for whom the cup is not yet full.

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Antjie Krog in Conversation with Marianne Thamm at Kalk Bay Books

Begging to be BlackRandom House Struik and Kalk Bay Books invite you to a discussion with Antjie Krog on her new book, Begging to be Black.

Begging to Be Black is a book of journeys – moral, historical, philosophical and geographical. These form strands that Krog interweaves and sets in conversation with each other, (more…)

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Antjie Krog se Ontnugtering tot die poësie soos gelewer tydens Versindaba 2009

Antjie Krog

Begging to be BlackAntjie Krog is sekerlik ‘n besige dame; haar nuutste boek Begging to Be Black is onlangs gepubliseer en sy het ‘n boeiende pleidooi in die naam van poësie gelewer by vanjaar se Versindaba. Kry hier jou dosis van pragtige Afrikaans met Krog se volledige teks.

Ek neem die volle wapenrusting van die gedig op, sodat ek staande kan bly teen die liste van vervlakking en dwaasheid in hierdie dae van weeklagery en onheil.

Ek staan dan vas, my lendene met metrum omgord, met die borswapen van beeldspraak. En as skoene aan my voete die bereidheid van die versreël met sy grenskuiwende enjambement. Behalwe dit alles neem ek die skild van gefokuswees op waarmee ek al die vurige pyle van die te-lui-om-te-dinkers sal kan blus. Ek laat sak die helm van klank oor my kop en neem in my regterhand die swaard van die metafoor.


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Percy Zvomuya Interviews Antjie Krog on Begging to Be Black

Begging to be BlackAntjie KrogAn in-depth look at Krog’s themes and thrusts in Begging to be Black, Zvomuya’s carefully-plotted interview is a must-read:

The book asks whether it is possible to “make a moral decision within an immoral context”. How do you counter the grand national narrative that recognises two sets of morality: one black and another white? “A white life has meaning only for whites, while a black life means nothing for both black and white.” Small wonder a teacher at a black school asks: “My question is what do I teach children who are not scared of death?”

Riven by such conflicting feelings, extending right to the personal, Krog tries to locate a different framework of morality that admits the interconnectedness (Krog’s favourite phrase) of humanity that finds itself in a world in which different sets of values fight for dominance.

These questions take her back to King Moshoeshoe (1787-1868), founder of the Basotho nation. In an interview with the author in Johannesburg, I remark on the strangeness of that choice. King Shaka would have been the conventional option, I hazard.

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Begging to Be Black Author Antjie Krog On How Wrong We Are When It Comes to Right and Wrong

Begging to be BlackAntjie KrogAntjie Krog’s Cape Town Press Club launch for Begging to Be Black – the third volume in a trilogy that began with Country of My Skull – centred on the concepts of right and wrong in South Africa.

Krog asserted that our perceptions of what’s right and what’s wrong remain warped by our country’s warped history – citing the Tony Yengeni corruption case as an example:

“I know that one thinks the only way to save this country is to create a non-tolerance for corruption … But I am concerned that the strong daily emphasis on yet another example of corruption leaves us with only a vocabulary of non-tolerance.”

Krog said when the scandal around Tony Yengeni broke, a part of her wanted him to be contextualised in a space which also understood his past – not only as an activist but also the specific hurt and damage he experienced at the hands of his torturer.

“What are the consequences in one’s psyche when one’s lived through that?

“I am not saying he should be regarded as not guilty. But shouldn’t he be treated with an understanding of the complicated and complexness and the f****d-upness of oneself inside?”

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