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PEN SA announces programme for season three of The Empty Chair Podcast

31 January 2022 - 14:46 By Christine Skinner

PEN South Africa (PEN SA) presents the third instalment of its acclaimed series, The Empty Chair Podcast: A Transatlantic Conversation.

Starting on February 3, the season continues to illuminate shared histories and values between SA and the USA, engaging with topics around social justice, racial equity and diversity. Coinciding with Black History Month in the USA, this series focuses on conversations inspired by this initiative.

Writers, musicians, historians, theatre practitioners and representatives from historic community radio stations from both sides of the Atlantic engage in compelling conversations across eight episodes.

The podcasts are available on Apple podcasts, Spotify, Anchor FM and the PEN SA website.

The stellar line-up includes Farah Jasmine Griffin, Mandisa Haarhoff, Jehan Jones-Radgowski, CA Davids, Salim Washington, Thandi Ntuli, Linda Sikhakhane, Gwen Ansell, John Edwin Mason, Stefanie Jason, Patricia Hayes, Renee Gladman, Masande Ntshanga, Jacob Ntshangase, Brenda Leonard, Takalane Nemangowe, Nicole Dennis-Benn and Yewande Omotoso, among others.

Every year, on November 15, PEN marks the Day of the Imprisoned Writer, and at each event there is an unoccupied chair. This chair symbolises those who cannot be with us because they have been jailed for their writings and it is from this symbol that the podcast takes its name. In keeping with the focus on social justice, each of the eight episodes is dedicated to a writer in prison or a writer who has been curtailed, harassed, detained or tortured by the state.

“This Season takes place during the United States’ Black History Month and in it, we bring together South African and American writers, activists and artists to reflect on shared histories of struggle and creativity. Through their Transatlantic conversation, our brilliant guest speakers provoke questions of archives, memory, remembrance, revered ancestors, constructed identities, literary influences, our reading histories and how we tell the stories of our past. And they celebrate those working to make the world a better place in the present,” says Nadia Davids, President of PEN SA.

“These invigorating conversations explore issues of social justice, freedom of expression (in art and life), moments of solidarity, difference, uncertain presents, and dreaming of possible futures.”

The programme for The Empty Chair Podcast: A Transatlantic Conversation - Season Three: Black History Month, includes:

February 3

Jehan Jones-Radgowski, acting public affairs officer for the US Consulate General in Cape Town, in conversation with Mandisa Haarhoff lecturer in English and Literary Studies at UCT, about Black History Month, children’s literature, history, and diversity.

Jones-Radgowski first came to SA as an intern 20 years ago. She has worked around the world with the US Foreign Service and is a published author of seven books, with two more coming out in 2022. Haarhoff is a recipient of the National Research Fund’s Black Academic Advancement Programme for her book manuscript in progress, Kaffirland/Vaderland: Black Absenting and White Indigeneity in South African Farm Narratives.

February 8

Harhoff chairs a second episode, talking to authors Farah Jasmine Griffin (Read Until You Understand: The Profound Wisdom of Black Life and Literature) and CA Davids, (How to be a Revolutionary, The Blacks of Cape Town) about their latest books, American poet Langston Hughes, literature and history.

Griffin is professor of African American and African diaspora studies and English and comparative literature at Columbia University as well as the recipient of a 2021 Guggenheim Fellowship.

February 10

Renowned South African music writer and researcher Gwen Ansell chairs a discussion about Jazz and Freedom with Salim Washington, acclaimed musical artist Thandi Ntuli and Linda Sikhakhane, musician, improviser and composer.

Washington is a professor, composer and instrumentalist and is the inaugural International Visiting Professor of African American and African Diasporic Studies at Columbia University. He is also a cluster leader/ HOD (head of department) of Performing Arts, and a professor at University of KwaZulu-Natal.

February 17

The topic for Episode 4 is: Photography and history, Mabel Cetu, late 19th- and early 20th-century portraits of Black Virginians and Gordon Parks. Chaired by Patricia Hayes, the participants include John Edwin Mason and writer and journalist Stefanie Jason, who works at the intersection of research, writing and curating.

Mason teaches African history and the history of photography at the University of Virginia. He has lived in Cape Town and publishes widely on South African history. His long-term documentary project on carnival troupes in Hanover Park and Woodstock led to his book, One Love, Ghoema Beat: Inside the Cape Town Carnival.

Other riveting episodes to catch include the History of Community Radio chaired by Jacob Ntshangase, head of Wits Radio Academy and coordinator at Citizen Justice Network (CJN), in conversation with Managing Director of Bush Radio, Brenda Leonard and Station Manager of Alex FM, Takalane Nemangowe.

In another enticing episode, award-winning author, editor and publisher Masande Ntshanga is in conversation with celebrated American writer and artist Renee Gladman about her innovative work.

Gladman is a writer and artist preoccupied with crossings, thresholds, and geographies as they play out at the intersections of poetry, prose, drawing and architecture. She is the author of 13 published works and two collections of drawings. A 2021 Windham-Campbell Prize winner in fiction, Gladman has been awarded fellowships, artist grants, and residencies from the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard, Foundation for Contemporary Arts, the Lannan Foundation, and KW Institute for Contemporary Art (Berlin).

Also look out for the podcast with PEN SA treasurer and executive vice-president, writer Yewande Omotoso talking to author Nicole Dennis-Benn (Here Comes the Sun, Patsy), about Identity, Home and Belonging.

This podcast series is made possible by a grant from the U.S. Embassy in SA to promote open conversation and highlight shared histories.

Article provided by Christine Skinner on behalf of PEN SA