Open Book Festival

The Open Book Festival will be held at Bertha House in Mowbray, Cape Town, this week. Image via Unsplash

In-person Open Book Festival offers smorgasbord of literary discussions

Open Book Festival: In an exciting first since 2019, the much-loved literary festival will once again host an in-person programme.

Open Book Festival

The Open Book Festival will be held at Bertha House in Mowbray, Cape Town, this week. Image via Unsplash

The Open Book Festival is set to take place in Cape Town from 23 to 27 March, following a two-year hiatus from in-person engagement. In contrast to pre-pandemic days, the literary event will take on a different form this year. 

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Open Book Festival usually took place over the course of a week in September. The 2019 festival — which was hosted in the Cape Town city centre, primarily at the Fugard Theatre — was the last in-person edition.

During the lockdown, the festival switched to a digital format marked by podcast discussions in 2020 and 2021.

Open Book Festival: From Fugard Theatre to Bertha House

With the closure of the Fugard Theatre in 2021, event organisers have had to find an alternative venue for the Open Book Festival. The recently renovated Bertha House, in Mowbray, Cape Town, will serve as the new venue this year. The space — dedicated to creatives and activists — is managed by the Bertha Foundation

“Bertha House is so much more than just a venue: The vision is to connect resources and space to people committed to a more just society,” said festival coordinator Vasti Calitz.

The on-site cafe and restaurant will mimic the social atmosphere of the Fugard Theatre, with celebrated chef Jane Nshuti set to prepare plant-based African meals. 

Adherence to social distancing

Because of social distancing regulations, audiences will be smaller than before and there will be fewer events.

“Patrons can expect a more intimate atmosphere,” says Calitz.

Start of Open Book Festival to focus on SA literary scene

The events taking place from 23 to 27 March , will serve as the kick-off for a year-long programme and another festival-style gathering will take place in September. The festival is primarily supported by the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture, as well as the Heinrich Boll Foundation.

The initial emphasis this year will be on the South African literary scene.

Organisers say, per a newsletter announcement, that, due to the “catastrophic” consequences of the pandemic it is only right to channel funds towards writers based in South Africa.

Regular panellists Pumla Gqola, Finuala Dowling and Hedley Twidle will return to the Open Book Festival stage and Ougat by Shana Fife and How to be a Revolutionary by CA Davids will be some recent works that will be discussed by the authors.

“With a programme this pared down, every event is a highlight. Each one has been very carefully curated. We also tried to achieve some variety in the programme,” according to Calitz.

What to look forward to on Open Book Festival programme

  • In “Unmaking Fear”, Sara-Jayne King will moderate a discussion on resisting patriarchy with Shana Fife, Pumla Gqola and Sue Nyathi.
  • Vangile Gantsho, Toni Giselle Stuart, Jessica Mbangeni, Julie Nxadi and Quaz Roodt will talk about the pandemic and the future in “A Pandemic. Pause. Poetry”.
  • Other topics include family, the land question, memory and the relationship between capitalism, creativity and mental health.
  • As usual, there will also be some interactive workshops on offer, including one on screenwriting and another on the writing of creative non-fiction.


The full programme of events, as well as where to buy tickets, can be found on the festival website.