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 our foundation wants to pay tribute to the rich heritage of Prof. Jakes Gerwel by encouraging free speech, reflection and appreciation of the arts.
In 2019 the Commemorative Celebration coincides with the Opening of our Writers House, Paulet House, in Somerset East. On the programme were the seasoned poet Antjie Krog, Ronelda S Kamfer, Niël Rademan, Terry Fortune and the beloved Soweto String Quartet.
The Jakes Gerwel Foundation presented the conversation series and book discussions at the 2019 Suidoosterfees in Cape Town, as has become customary. Burning issues were discussed openheartedly – such as the seamlessness of the arts, identity in post-apartheid South Africa, inclusivity of Afrikaans and the stigma that still clings to Afrikaans in many young people’s perception.
The legendary Pieter-Dirk Uys was in conversation with Amanda Botha about his memorable Memoires van toe en nou as part of the book programme. Chase Rhys, Charles Abrahams and Sylvia Walker talked about the representation of the Cape Flats in their writing while Fatima and Gadija Sydow discussed their book Kaap, kerrie en koesisters.
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.
Jakes Gerwel Foundation and PEN Afrikaans writers’ residency
Most writers cannot get away from their daily tasks and do not manage to get enough time to sit and write productively. In this way books remain ideas and valuable talent is not fully exploited.
The Jakes Gerwel Foundation and PEN Afrikaans are therefore excited to pilot a writers’ residency in order to give Afrikaans authors a chance to stay in Paulet House to work on a writing project for a period of a month.
The Jakes Gerwel Foundation and Die Dagbreek Trust will cover the costs of the authors’ stay from 8 July to 5 August 2019 – this being inclusive of costs towards Internet, cleaning services, three meals a day and return tickets to Port Elizabeth and travel to and from the airport.
The particular focus of the residency program falls on authors bringing new stories to the Afrikaans literature and who are writing open worlds of experience that haven’t been sufficiently explored. Through this initiative, the Foundation wants to celebrate Jakes Gerwel’s love for and promotion of Afrikaans.
The writers who were selected through an open application process for this year’s residency are: Jeremy Vearey, Kirby van der Merwe, Ronelda S. Kamfer, Nathan Trantaal, Lynthia Julius and Ryan Pedro.
Young Stars project offers an exceptional opportunity to young playwrights
Nurturing and promoting young talent are key concerns of both the Jakes Gerwel Foundation and the Suidoosterfees. These two organisations are thus partnering up this year in order to give young upcoming playwrights the chance to perfect their written stage plays under mentorship by taking part in the festival’s existing Young Stars project.
Amy Jephta, respected playwright and known for, among others, the award-winning play Kristalvlakte, is the mentor. The travel and accommodation costs of the young writers will be covered by the Jakes Gerwel Foundation while the Suidoosterfees will create the opportunity to produce the plays after completion of the mentorship programme.
With this project the late professor Jakes Gerwel’s passion for language is continued by offering support and mentorship to talented individuals who wouldn’t otherwise have had such an opportunity.
Flemish writers invited to Paulet House
Jakes Gerwel obtained his doctorate in literature and philosophy at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel in Belgium. It is in this context that the Jakes Gerwel Foundation is taking hands with the Representation of the Government of Flanders in South Africa and Passa Porta, an international house of literature in Brussels. With this project we are inviting writers from Flanders to apply to come and write for a period of three weeks in South Africa, in Paulet House. Moreover, we are also inviting South African writers to come and share this writing period with the writer from Flanders in Somerset East. Our aim is to bring about cross-pollination between writers from different backgrounds and, in so doing, to enrich literature – here and abroad.