LitNet and the Jakes Gerwel Foundation offer a mentorship programme for promising Afrikaans and English writers. The Kommadagga Workshop is targeted at writers who focus on short prose and it is in line with these institutions’ aim to encourage new writers. The name of the workshop refers to the environment where Jakes Gerwel grew up. Rachelle Greeff, the well-known writer, and playwright will be the mentor. Interested writers who focus on short stories, columns, magazine stories, articles, or opinion pieces and who have not published a book before can apply for this residency at Paulet House.
The selected writers for 2021 include:
Twenty-five-year old Jodie Groener currently works as a receptionist in Humansdorp, but a somewhat ‘ambitious streak’ is making her want to travel all across the world and to write a lot. She grew up on the Eastern Cape and was a news reader on Kouga FM for a while. Jodie writes short stories and also enjoys it to try her hand at historical fiction and column writing.
In 2015 she earned national colours in the performing arts and shortly after that she started fencing as a sport. She excelled at this too at national and international level and, although she had to stop it for a while because of funding, her achievement testifies to her perseverance in everything she takes up.
Jodie says that she decided to feel comfortable with whatever the outcome would be of her application for the Kommadagga Workshop. ‘But when the time came that the organisers had to decide who would be selected this year, I was a bundle of nerves.’
She believes that the workshop is not only going to take her writing to the next level, but that it is going to expand her thinking about being a writer. ‘Words can’t describe how much this opportunity means to me. It gives me enormous hope.’
Whaden Johannes is a ‘proud product’ of Mamre. He is involved in various projects in his environment and his biggest challenge is to promote leadership in his community: ‘I try to inspire by doing more than is strictly necessary.’ He has a career in entertainment of ten years behind him and recently decided to focus seriously on writing.
Whaden has a leaning towards stories that are seen by society as myths. He was ecstatic when he received the news that he was selected for the Kommadagga Workshop. ‘I always wanted to be in a space with like-minded people, in this case, writers.’
To Whaden the value of such an experience lies in that aspiring writers can inspire and nurture one another, that they can learn from one another: ‘In my short life I’ve learnt not to look ahead to things too much; I live each day to fullest. This project also gives me the opportunity to make new friends and to create new work.’
Anna-Karien Otto writes in Afrikaans and English. She grew up in Grahamstown (now Makhanda), ‘surrounded by brilliant, eccentric characters’. She trained as a speech and drama teacher and has also worked as a subeditor before. Currently she freelances as a writer in Paarl. ‘A sojourn of two months in Graaff-Reinet sparked my passion for cooking,” she says. ‘I started writing food articles that appear on my website.’
She was overwhelmed by being selected for the Kommadagga Workshop: ‘Writing is a lonely profession and it is discouraging to submit articles, without any guidance, for which feedback is often never received. To me, the contact with other writers is a golden opportunity. And to be mentored by someone like Rachelle Greeff has always been a dream. But this time the dream is coming true!’
As a child, Anna-Karien knew the writer Jan Rabie and she briefly met Jakes Gerwel during a visit to Rabie. ‘What these two great spirits had in common was a deep love for Afrikaans.’ Anna-Karien tells of a school tour through the Karoo during which she and her fellow pupils visited the Walter Battiss Museum in Somerset East: ‘Opposite the museum is Jakes Gerwel’s beautiful old house and it made an impression on me when I first saw it. I feel privileged that these fragile links can form a kind of circle that will be completed during the Kommadagga Workshop.’
‘Writing is the machine that keeps me alive,’ says Daylen Tobias, a nineteen-year-old resident of Gansbaai. ‘My passion for writing started already in my childhood when I had to write about my holidays.’
Daylen is currently tackling Mathematics and Physical Sciences with an eye to getting better marks in this year’s end exam. She writes short stories and poems for relaxation. The magazine Kuier has already published some of Daylen’s short stories. ‘I also love detective fiction, young-adult novels and gruesome stories that make your hair stand on end! Writers take you on a journey and the world no longer exists when you escape in fiction.’
She describes her reaction to the email about her application for the Kommadagga Workshop as follows: ‘When I saw that there was a message from Theo Kemp, my heart started knocking against my ribs. My eyes were fixed on that email for a long time; I was too unsure to open it.’ But when she finally plucked up her courage to read it, her friend Jakob was there to share her joy: ‘I couldn’t stop myself from shouting and jumping up. Jakob fell in too, although he didn’t know what it was all about. I had to check twice that I wasn’t in dreamland. And now I’m sitting with the effects of unnecessary nail biting.’
Kenny Williams describes himself as an ordinary guy who has already been in education for 32 years. ‘I have been writing since my schooldays, but without publishing anything. I do, however, have plans to have my first anthology published soon.’ Kenny writes in AfriKaaps, mostly about his difficult childhood: ‘I’m a Flats boytjie who was born in the heart of Afrikaans – Paarl.’
‘I write what I want and I call myself a “freedom writer” who isn’t scared to tackle sensitive issues,’ says Kenny. He has already written more than 70 poems but has been persuaded by Marita van der Vyver to venture into the unknown territory of short stories as it allows you more freedom with words.
The success of Kenny’s application for the Kommadagga Workshop is even more special to him because he recently read Zelda la Grange’s Good morning, Mr Mandela in which she expressed great appreciation for the contribution of Jakes Gerwel during the Mandela era: ‘I realised again what a giant among men Gerwel had been, and now I was invited by the Foundation that was named after him. I cannot describe the feeling inside me.’
In the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic there is again a ‘hop, skip and jump’ in his step. Kenny jokes: ‘Afrikaans me now! Afrikaans me for always! Afrikaans me right to the grave!’