I just finished an inspiring few days as part of PEN’s programmatic exchange in South Africa, with a stop at the African Leadership Academy in Johannesburg. The Academy selects promising young students from around the continent and provides them with a first rate education, with a focus on entrepreneurship.
Using lesson plans prepared by PEN American Center’s Readers & Writers Director, Stacy Leigh, I taught a creative writing workshop that focused on setting and character. I also gave a lecture on free expression and entrepreneurship to a room full of very motivated students. Four of the students in the second photo—Priscilla Takondwa Semphere, Alexia Paradrai, Hayat Mohammed Seid, and Israel Majale founded their own PEN Africa Club, which they hope to use to hold writing contents and compile children’s stories from around the continent. (The other student, Hazem Fahmy, confided to me that he suffered from writer’s block after beginning his own epic fantasy novel series.)
It’s an impressive place, with students represented from 35 countries and all walks of life.
It was a warm welcome to South Africa. Tomorrow I travel to Cape Town to join the poet Cathy Park Hong at the Open Book Festival for readings and discussions on free expression with South African PEN VP (and crime fiction writer) Margie Orford.