We are grateful towards Mrs Phoebé Gerwel for the donation of Prof. Jakes Gerwel’s beloved historical Paulet Street house at the foot of the Bosberge mountain range in the picturesque Somerset East – about 200 km north of Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape – to the Foundation. This friendly house with its old-world charm, spacious rooms, wooden flooring and luscious garden offers the ideal opportunity to writers to work on their manuscripts in an inspiring environment. Throwing the doors of the Paulet House wide open, the Jakes Gerwel Foundation wants to fulfil its mission to support especially emerging literary artists during the writing process.
Mentoring programme for emerging writers
This programme we are undertaking in partnership with NB Publishers (home to the imprints Tafelberg, Human & Rousseau, Kwela, Queillerie, Lux Verbi and Pharos) aims at nurturing and supporting emerging writers during the process of developing their manuscript and making it publishable. We focus on those writers with a story to tell, who have never been published before and perhaps don’t quite know how to pen it down. It’s further meant for writers without the means to pay entrance fees to writing schools. The Jakes Gerwel Foundation and NB Publishers are eager to take hands with these writers in telling stories that are fresh or scarcely exploited in the South African literature. Knowledgeable and experienced mentors will help the participating writers polish their stories inside the group of writers and also individually. Writers and mentors will work together for some periods of time on Somerset East in the writers’ house of the Foundation and will remain in contact per e-mail during the rest of the year. We focus on both fiction and non-fiction in English and Afrikaans.
The Jakes Gerwel Foundation initiated the Yoh! project in 2018 at the Grassy Park High School on the Cape Flats where both Mrs Phoebé and Prof. Jakes Gerwel left deep footprints. Yoh! is facilitated by Dr Thérèse Hulme, an experienced narrative therapist and presenter of a number of creative writing projects for young people in the Western Cape.
Yoh! is both a creative writing and a mentorship project for their teachers.
Thérèse says: ‘I’ve come to realise that there is a richness of authentic experience, language usage and wisdom in the lives of young people. These riches are waiting to be exploited and brought to light. The project is about creative writing as a means to bring these riches to light. It is also about my own reactions to the traumas marking the lives of so many of the young people of the Cape. The project aims to become a place where anger, neglect, displacement, despair and hurt can be brought into the open and recognised. At the same time, young people discover what they value, such as respect for others, social justice, compassion for those who suffer and finding the beauty in everyday existence.’
Beyond the exploitation of language, the project also aims at establishing a relationship of trust with young people so that they can discover that they have something of value to say and that there is someone who wants to listen to them. The project is about believing in the experience of young people and learning to listen.
Thérèse has found that, when teachers follow this narrative approach, they discover talents that surprise them, insights and language that touch the heart, sometimes coming from learners from whom it was least expected. Yoh! is finally a project of mutual discovery and development, and of finding expression in various forms of poetry.
Some of the 2018 Yoh! poets speak about what the project has contributed to their lives:
‘Yoh brought out qualities in me, like writing skills. It inspired me to inspire other people with my own work.’
– Shawaal Swartz
‘It’s about expressing myself, especially talking about difficult situations.’
– Georgia Abrahams
‘It’s a way to express yourself. I remember the day Mrs Thérèse and I talked for the first time. That moment I blinked, it started … words that came out of my mouth. I thought: maybe I have a talent. Maybe. I will see what happens. Phenomenal stuff has happened: going to a concert, expressing the outer self, expressing the inner self, showing people what you are all about.’
– Connor Sives
‘Being part of the Yoh! group has allowed me to grow in my knowledge of poem-writing and has boosted my self-confidence in public speaking and spreading the message of my poetry to a crowd. The group has been very supportive in listening to my poems and criticising it positively to help me make better ones.’
– Daniel November
‘When I heard of Yoh for the first time I was thinking: I can’t write poetry! And then I came and I listened and thought everyone else is amazing. I can’t do it. But then I started writing. I realised this is MY poetry. No one else can write like I do. I started writing about ordinary things: beetroot, rain or school. At the Jakes Gerwel Celebration in Woodstock, I read the poem I wrote for my grandfather who is suffering from dementia. People told me how much it resonated with them. They told me how much feeling I had put into my poem. It felt good… I don’t compare myself as much to other poets any more.’
‘The group gave me a new opening for my feelings, and a perspective on myself that I didn’t know was there.’
– Leila Abrahams
Jakes Gerwel commemorative celebration
Through the annual commemorative celebration in November our foundation wants to pay tribute to the rich heritage of Prof. Jakes Gerwel by encouraging free speech, reflection and appreciation of the arts. You can see photos of the 2018 celebration here. Keep watching this website for details about the 2019 programme.
Suidoosterfees books and discourse programme
Prof. Jakes Gerwel was involved in the conception of the Suidoosterfees that takes place in the Artscape Theatre Centre in Cape Town on an annual basis. Every year the Foundation presents a books and discourse programme during which the most recent publications and most burning questions receive attention. The 2019 Suidoosterfees takes place from 25 April to 1 May. Access the complete programme here.
Books in the hands of children
The Jakes Gerwel Foundation shares the mission of Book Dash to give books to all South African children whose parents and schools cannot afford to do so. During 2018 we have donated more than 3 000 books to 1 000 Grade 0 to 3 learners in the most isolated communities of Somerset East and with the highest poverty likelihood. The Foundation further donated books to every classroom visited so that teachers and children can rediscover the wonder of stories every day. Many of these learners don’t have schoolbags and so we’ve given a schoolbag to each of these children. The bags we donate are made by women who’ve been unemployed before.
Book Dash creates new books every year by getting together a team of illustrators, writers and designers for one day. The stories in these books are home-grown and are available in several languages. We donate books in Afrikaans, English and Xhosa. Our foundation would like to reach as many learners as possible as we know that there can be no writer without readers. In 2019 we reach out to even more schools in Somerset East and we invite everyone to donate products to put inside the schoolbags we hand to the children.
Read more about Book Dash here.