In Light of What We Write – Julie Nxadi and Sabrina Mahfouz

| by Eleanor Turney

Julie Nxadi and Sabrina Mahfouz share their thoughts about being part of In Light of What We Write at Edinburgh International Book Festival


Photo: Sabrina Mahfouz. Credit: Naomi Woddis.

How did you get involved in In Light of What We Write?

Sabrina Mahfouz: I was invited to take part by Michael Pederson, the co-curator. I’ve been part of Neu Reekie! events before and have loved them – Michael always has a great mix of performers and a warm, attentive audience. This one was extra exciting to be performing with writers from Southern Africa. 

Julia Nxadi: I was reading an excerpt from one of my short stories at a gathering to honour the life of the late Ntate Keorapetse Kgositsile earlier in the year, when Linda Kaoma [co-curator] approached me to do a longer and perhaps more experimental reading for a project she was curating. She told me about how the project aimed itself at making the literary realm of storytelling more accessible and it sounded really appealing to me. I strongly believe that whatever arbitrary hierarchies of storytelling we may have had – dictating which medium is more credible, which voice more audible, which code more legible – need to be interfered with, collaborated and collaged so that we might challenge ourselves towards more limber narrative exchanges.

Tell us a bit about the writing scene in which your work sits, and how your work fits into/challenges the landscape?

SM: I run rather than sit between scenes, I guess – theatre, poetry, performance, opera, film, TV, fiction. No doubt each influences the other, but my work generally fits into them however it needs to for the individual project, and hopefully challenges by bringing this cross medium experience with it. 

JN: I mean, this is a tough one. The scene I am writing in is as precarious as the body I am writing from, isn't it? It is as much an articulation of itself as it is a response to its reading, it is as rusted with history as it is plush with narrative, and it is as much fact as it is fiction. I can only really speak honestly about my own relationship with and ambitions for storytelling, and I suppose the privilege I would wish upon myself is the privilege of not having to choose between my experiences and my fantasies. So how my work fits or challenges, I am not sure. But I hope that it will contribute to collapsing the hierarchy between the physical and the abstract by being as familiar as it is hallucinogenic. 

Julie Nxadi 2 copy

Photo: Julie Nxadi

What excites you about coming to Edinburgh?  

SM: I’ve been to Edinburgh every year since 2011, when I produced and performed my first play Dry Ice at the Underbelly. It is the most exhilarating, frustrating, mind opening, angering, heartbreaking (expensive!) place to be immersed in, if you live for stories anyway. This year I have two mini plays on at the Traverse Theatre and a few events at the book festival. 

JN: The book festival is the largest in the world and I believe that being in Edinburgh at this time is like being at an international narrative carnival. I think events such as these are great opportunities to not only stand in awe of the breadth of the voices that are present but also attend to those who are not. The flat lines in our narrative tapestries show themselves quite quickly in instances such as these and we are presented with opportunities to address them with the care and urgency that they require.

What else are you hoping to do/see/hear while in Edinburgh?  

SM: I have a comprehensive six day schedule covering the Fringe and the Book Festival – many children’s shows and events because I’m coming with my son, and then as much as I can at Summerhall and Traverse.  

JN: I’ve been told that Edinburgh Castle is beautiful, so that is on my list. I like to walk, so I will most likely be soaking up the elements and seeing some friends. Suggestions are welcome though.

Sabrina Mahfouz and Julie Nxadi will be part of In Light of What We Write at Edinburgh Book Festival on 14th August 2018. For more information and tickets, visit the Edinburgh Book Festival website. Read co-curator Lina Kaoma's introduction to the event on our blog.

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