27 November 2020 | Story Rulanzen Martin | Photo Rulanzen Martin
From the left: Prof Henning Pieterse, Dr Francois Smith, Madré Marais, and Anton Roodt during the joint book launch in the Free State Botanical Garden in Bloemfontein.

The Creative Writing programme in the Department of Afrikaans and Dutch, German and French at the University of the Free State (UFS) experienced a book bonanza this year, with the publication of three books. This includes the satirical novel Weerlose meganika by architect Anton Roodt; Die kleinste ramp denkbaar by Dr Francois Smith; and the collection of short stories, Luistervink, from the pen of Madrė Marais. 

Prof Henning Pieterse describes the titles of these books as ‘pure poetry’, and although each of the three books takes place in its own world – whether it is the world of the eavesdropper, the unconscious policeman in the doctor’s consulting room, or the artificial intelligence robots which can wipe out humanity – there is a recurring theme in all three books, namely the end of the cultural period or dominant regime.

The story behind the stories 

In Roodt’s debut novel, Weerlose meganika, robots, artificial intelligence as well as digital beings form the background of the story. It is a fantasy world of technology and biological beings. “The story comes from people’s resistance to robots, the fear that the technology we create could become smarter than us and then turn against us (humans),” says Roodt. 

The dictionary defines an eavesdropper as a ‘secret listener’, and this is also the title of Madré Marais’ collection of short stories. Some of the characters in the short stories take on these ‘eavesdropper’ characteristics by immersing themselves in the world and events around them.

“The writing process was a quest for the identity of the characters. During the course, I sent a character to South America to see what he was going to do there,” Marais said. 

With the events of 2020, the title of Dr Smith’s book, Die kleinste ramp denkbaar, is almost prophetic. “The book attempts to say something about the current life in South Africa; it is attempting to discover a secret,” says Dr Smith. The origin of the story and events in the novel stem from a personal experience for Dr Smith.  

Significant milestone for course

“It is quite special for a small department to be able to publish so much in one year – the result of a process of many years,” said Prof Pieterse, who is heading the course. The course was revived in 2015 and has since published five books, including Die ongelooflike onskuld van Dirkie Verwey by the poet Charl-Pierre Naude, which was published in 2019. 

The course is just one of the many success stories in the department – as evidenced by the publication of Luistervink, Die kleinste ramp denkbaar and Weerlose meganika. The books also serve as the authors’ dissertations for the master’s degree in Creative Writing.

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