Press release: Belgian and South African writers to share the vibrant Brussels to Karoo residency in KwaNojoli, Eastern Cape

The Jakes Gerwel Foundation (JGF) and Passa Porta international house of literature in Brussels are thrilled to welcome two Belgian and four South African writers to their two-week Brussels to Karoo residency at Paulet House in KwaNojoli, Eastern Cape.

Belgians Nele Van den Broeck and Gerda Dendooven and South Africans Sibuyiselo Sbuja Dywili, Shireen Mall, Charl-Pierre Naudé and Ayanda Xaba will share the two-week residency borne out of Professor Jakes Gerwel’s considerable legacy – it was from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel that he received his doctorate in literature and philosophy (magna cum laude) in 1979. The time he spent there led to Professor Gerwel’s lifelong fascination with Flanders literature.

The collaboration between JGF and Passa Porta with the support of the Delegation of Flanders in South Africa, not only provides uninterrupted time to write, but also creates an opportunity for cross-pollination of ideas and knowledge between writers from different backgrounds, thereby enriching the body of literature here and abroad.

In residency, Nele hopes to get a good writing flow going, undisturbed by her penchant to spend too much time tidying her workspace instead of writing when at home. In applying for a foreign residency, she says she chose a place where she speaks the language with a view to broadening her international network and facilitating the translation of her first novel.

“I want to work on my second novel, The Aphid (working title), a novel about a classical pianist who stops playing,” says Nele.

Ayanda recently lost her sister whose young children have become her responsibility. “Now that we have found stability, I am ready to return to my writing and finish a novel I abandoned in 2022 when my sister got sick. I hope to find the space to work on my project and meet other authors who will be part of the programme. This will also be my first time in Gqeberha and Somerset East, and I am looking forward to being inspired by the new places I am going to see there,” she explains.

For Charl-Pierre, the residency will entail “a little estrangement from my usual life to kickstart submerged categories of the imagination. Hopefully.” He is currently working on two new novels, one in Afrikaans and the other in English.

The Salt Lesson, his debut play in English, is what Sbuja will be working on at Paulet House. As sole breadwinner in his household he has been struggling to find the time to write. He says, “I applied for the Brussels to Karoo residency solely because I knew that it would allow me a great time to think about nothing else but my play, write it and finish it. I hope to make meaningful connections while at the residency. I aim to finish my play and contribute to other writers’ projects with my thoughts and ideas.”  

Shireen intends refining her novel Moy. “In the main, gaining acceptance to this programme to me means I am being taken seriously as a writer firstly and boosts my confidence to reach even higher. And the luxury of unencumbered time with my writing in the company of other like-minded people in a beautiful, serene setting such as Somerset East is something that was never possible. I’m hoping to forge links and friendships to more open doors and to share,” she adds.

Author bios

Gerda Dendooven

Gerda Dendooven (1962) was born in Kortrijk, Belgium. She studied Free Graphics at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Ghent. At the beginning of her career, she supervised children’s art studios in museums for several years. She currently teaches Illustration at LUCA School of Arts in Ghent. She makes drawings for stories by other writers, but also for her own stories. Many of her stories became theatre plays and she is sometimes on stage herself. For several years now she has regularly made live images at concerts or literary performances. In 2020 she made live images for the Brussels Philharmonic during the full performance of Peer Gynt and together with Mauro Pawlowski and Fikry El Azzouzi she forms Trio El Azzouzi. In 2007 she was appointed the first (and only) Children’s Consul on behalf of the Belgian Reading Foundation. Their focus is on art, culture and especially literature. (Photo: Gerda Dendooven Facebook page)

Nele Van den Broeck

Photo: Kaat Pype

Nele Van den Broeck (1985) is a theatre maker, musician, frontwoman of the band Nele Needs a Holiday and has been a regular columnist at De Standaard for eight years. Nele studied music production at the London College of Contemporary Music. Previously, she simultaneously studied Drama at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Ghent and German and Spanish at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. She lives in Brussels. Nele’s work addresses themes such as psychological vulnerability, big dreams, hilarious failures, and philosophical mundanity. Her work is a constant quest for the manual of life. She has taken an atypical path, which took her through theatre, then music, eventually leading her to writing and back again. In 2019, an anthology of Nele’s columns, Halfvolwassen (Half Adult), was published by Uitgeverij Horizon. Her debut novel Iemand Anders (Someone Else) was published in 2023. (Photo: Uitgeverij Horizon)

Sibuyiselo Sbuja Dywili

Sibuyiselo Sbuja Dywili (2000) is a published playwright, as well as an award-winning performer on screen and stage. For his 2021 play Ganga Nyoko! Inzima Nyoko, published by Junkets Press and in which he performed, he won the Zabalaza Theatre Festival’s awards for Best Production and Best Actor and was nominated for three Fleur du Cap Theatre Awards, winning Best New Director. In 2021, he was invited by Lara Foot of the Baxter Theatre to participate in the Masambe Writing Residency, where he was supported while writing his second play, Ngxi! He holds an Advanced Diploma in Filmmaking, with majors in directing, screenwriting and producing. Sbuja had the distinct privilege of being taught Musical Theatre Writing by the legendary David Kramer at the Baxter Theatre.

Shireen Mall

Shireen Mall hails from a family of eight boys and three girls where she ranks sixth in the menagerie, all born and bred in a run-down semidetached cottage in Athlone on the Cape Flats. Shireen is the only one who went on to obtain a BA Hons in English Literature from the University of the Western Cape and an MA in Creative Writing from Rhodes University in Grahamstown. Shireen has always nurtured a quiet ambition to become a great writer one day; recognised for her contribution long after she had gone. And this is a wish she bestows on all who so desire.

Charl-Pierre Naudé

Photo: Alet Pretorius

Charl-Pierre Naudé (1958) is a South African poet and novelist. He is also a trained and published philosopher with a special interest in the memory of history and why societies evolve the way they do. He has several books and anthologies to his name. He has featured on the literary festival and residency circuits in Europe, South Africa and Indonesia, and his poetry has appeared in translation in literary magazines and anthologies in The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Norway, France, Indonesia, Britain, and the USA. Born in Kokstad, on the foothills of the Drakensberg, he spent most of his childhood and growing up years in East London, Eastern Cape surrounded by the dignity of flat trees and small rivers. He attended the universities of Stellenbosch and the Free State, and lives and works in Johannesburg.

Ayanda Xaba

Ayanda Xaba (1990) is originally from Ladysmith in KwaZulu-Natal. Her passion for writing began at 10 years old, blossoming during high school when she formed part of a writers’ group, Dancing Pencils, that saw her work being published in numerous anthologies. She published her first novel, The EZ Gang (umSinsi Press), at 16, followed by five self-published hard copies: Ulala: The Journey of Discovery, award-winning Through Her Eyes, The Maiden & The Bear, SCARRED and DAMNED; and an e-book, No One’s Hero, on Amazon. Ayanda is a contributor for FunDza Literacy Trust and her work has also been featured in Reader’s Café Africa, Drum magazine, Kalahari Review, and Gamaphile. She obtained a Creative Writing Certificate from INTEC College and a Journalism Diploma from ICESA Education and continuously improves her writing skills by attending workshops. In February 2024, she coordinated the inaugural iLembe Book Festival that took place at the Luthuli Museum in KwaDukuza (Stanger) in KwaZulu-Natal. She will be working on the third book in her SCARRED series, Triggered.

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