So you want to go on a writing residency?

In just a few weeks I’ll be heading to my third writing residency in Nerac, France. I can’t tell you how much I look forward to residencies for the dedicated and selfish time of writing. At home it feels like there are a million things that distract me and pull me away from it, and none of those exist on a residency or at least they just get less important.

I’ve been so lucky to be accepted to residencies and sponsored to attend some so I wanted to share some tips for anyone else who might want to go on one, but isn’t sure how to, or where to start looking.

Where to start looking

My absolute best place to start looking for residencies is Aerogramme Studio – they provide a list each year of residencies to apply for. Their 2019 list is available here.

Submittable is also a great place to look for calls for residencies, competitions, and opportunities for writers.

ResArtis also has a regularly updated list of upcoming deadlines. Not all of these are for writers – some are for other artists – so make sure you read the full description.

Africa Centre has an annual Artists in Residency call. Keep your eyes out here.

Erika Krouse made an incredible list of free residencies for writers, here.

Are there any South African residencies for writers?

I’ve spent some time looking and whilst there seem to be a few residencies for artists, there aren’t any that I can find for writers. That being said, there are a number of workshops and retreats you might like to try. For example:

This year my husband took himself on a writing retreat to Bramleigh Manor in Fort Nottingham, KZN, where he thoroughly enjoyed the forest, the peace and quiet, and the wonderful fresh produce.

Costs and Funding

The cost of residencies vary significantly. Most of the time you have to pay your transport costs at the very least, as well as some fees for the time you’re staying there. Some places offer partial grants or funding too. Some organisations, like Africa Centre who I mentioned above, award residencies.

I found success in crowdfunding in 2017, and also in approaching the local consulate of the country I was visiting.

The National Arts Council also has a funding applications portal for projects, as does the Academic and Non-Fiction Authors of SA.

On the plus side, if you’re thinking of travelling to a country anyway, writers residency accommodation is normally WAY cheaper than your average hotel / AirBNB / hostel. So you might want to tick things off your bucket list and write about them too.

What can you expect?

This is also super variable (in my humbly limited experience).

For example, at the Vermont Studio Centre you get your own office to write from complete with desk, lovely view of the river, and printing facilities. You also get three meals a day cooked for you (I cannot quite express how good the food was there – phenomenal!) and talks a few nights a week to draw inspiration or technical skills from. I also got a room in a shared house with shared shower facilities. It was below freezing for most of my time there, and these were all so comfortable, warm and cozy.

At the CAMAC centre for the Arts in Marnay-Sur-Seine, which is sadly no longer operating, we got a fridge stocked with food, a workspace either attached to our room or separate from it, and incredible dinners cooked for us by visiting chefs. We didn’t have to go to any talks, but we did have to give one reading of something that we’d be working on whilst we were there.

This year I’m visiting Studio Faire for the first time and I will be provided with a working space, and comfortable room, but I have to cater for myself.

Most of the websites where you apply tell you what you can expect, so make sure you read them. The last thing you want is hungry writing or an awkward presentation you don’t feel happy about doing.

Pros and Cons?

Pro: Unfamiliarity. I can’t really explain the difference you feel when writing in an unfamiliar space. You’re suddenly aware of all your senses, you don’t give two shits if the dishes are dirty, the people are interesting, the food is new, even the grocery store has different things in it. I find this wakes me up.

Con: Writing residencies are not often free. At the very least you have to pay for transport to get there. Sometimes you have to pay for some or all of your food. You’ll probably have to take leave from work too.

Pro: You will be surrounded by people who believe you are a writer, who believe in the value of the arts and of writing, and that is just truly magical.

Pro/Con: You are far away from everything and everyone you know (no judgment here – you do you!)

Pro/Con: You have to take yourself seriously as a writer. I normally find that I take a few days to settle in to being on my own, getting used to letting go of the dictates of a 9-5 work schedule, and then I’m A-for-Away. Taking yourself seriously as a writer means different things for different people. I find that residencies are like a letter I write to myself, giving myself permission to write. You might be able to write that letter at home, or feel free enough or dedicated enough in your day to day to just do it. I applaud you. I need space and time.

So now?

I hope that some or all of this information is helpful to those of you out there who have been thinking of this.

There are literally hundreds of residencies you can go to all around the world. Good luck!

Dear new parliamentarians,

Congratulations.

You have been given the honour of serving your country, and serving its people.

Very few people get this chance to make laws that change lives, change lived realities, give or take away access to justice and health and safety. Yours is a job that comes with extreme power. I hope you use that as positive power to do things and make change, rather than power over people and progress.

I worked at the South African Parliament between 2013 and 2017 and I had the pleasure of working with some of you. I worked as a researcher and my job was to provide non-partisan evidence and information that could support Members of Parliament in making the best decision for the South African people. My work was focussed on women’s rights and gender equality.

During my four years at Parliament I encountered politicians from across the political spectrum who took their mandate seriously – they thirsted for evidence-based research, and they listened to civil society and individuals who told them their stories or shared research in public hearings or at Parliament to the People events.

The parliamentarians who I saw make the greatest difference were the ones that listened not just with their ears but with their hearts and minds. I was inspired by the long hours that often had to be worked, and by the distances that parliamentarians travelled to get input and to listen to the people affected by their decisions. There are many Members of Parliament who we owe a great debt of thanks to for this work.

For so many South Africans, it is hard to make our voices heard and many previous Members of Parliament were committed to giving us that opportunity and to taking seriously our ideas. This happened even at times when political parties were at ideological war in public. In private and in the committee rooms, Members put differences aside and worked hard to make the right choices. Thank you to all of you who have served in this way.

But, it would not do a service to reflect my time at Parliament as a bed of roses. That would be an incomplete picture. During my time I also encountered parliamentarians who did not, in my humble opinion, put the people they served at the core of their work.

I worked with parliamentarians who were caught up in scandals of violence, I worked with parliamentarians who did not treat those that worked with them with respect or dignity, and I worked with parliamentarians that ignored the evidence that myself and other researchers and content advisors gave them because it was not in line with their party or personal position. I worked with parliamentarians who were known for sexual harassment and who were never disciplined. I worked with parliamentarians who did not listen to the people, the academics, the organisations, or the movements who came to share the truth with them. There were people in Parliament at the time I worked there who did not uphold the constitutional values that they had a duty to uphold.

It often strikes me that when we enter a job we do not enter it on a blank slate. We bring with us our own opinions, experiences, personal grievances, and knowledge sets. Sometimes these are advantageous – they help us to make decisions based on a bigger picture. Other times the things we know can obscure the things we don’t know, or make it more difficult for us to ask for help or advice because we are afraid that being vulnerable, or showing that we don’t know everything, will make us appear weak.

As you start these five important years I have a few requests for you — our new legislators — as you do your work:

  1. Listen to the ordinary people who are affected by the laws you are considering. It is your duty to take their views back to your political parties and your committee rooms, and to hold those views as essential and paramount. If people express something that is contrary to what you had planned, be open to hearing it and seeing what a common ground might be. Please listen, with your hearts, and not only your ears.
  2. Use the resources you have at your disposal at Parliament. You have some of the brightest minds in the country working on your precinct. In the library, the communications department, the committee section, and the research unit. All of those people are working there because they know how to help you find out what you need to know to make a non-partisan informed decision. They are paid for you to ask them for information. Please ask them. And when they provide information, consider it with an open mind.
  3. Partner for progress. A committee works best when its members talk to each other as people, not as party members. It works best when you use all the skill you have in the room to process issues and make decisions. You are each other’s resources. Draw on each other.
  4. Address the corruption at Parliament, including the issues related to the former Secretary. During my time at Parliament, working relations soured as it became clear to us all working there that the way the institution was being run was not transparent or fair, and did not advance its purposes. Many incredibly valuable employees left Parliament because the working conditions were fraught, exhausting, and difficult. Last year a person took their own life because of this. This must urgently be addressed, because as I said earlier, you have excellent people there who can help you to do your job well, but many of them are unhappy and suffering.
  5. Take gender equality seriously, and make good on South Africa’s commitment to equality by thinking creatively about how to schedule and address gender equality in your committees. Over the past twenty-five years the South African Parliament has been a leader in the world in terms of women’s representation. The previous Parliament has previously had two primary committees that dealt with women and gender issues – the Multi-Party Women’s Caucus and the Portfolio Committee on Women. In the NCOP, gender issues were allocated to the Select Committee on Cooperative Governance, Traditional Affairs, Intergovernmental Relations, Women, and Youth. I think that if you can’t fit the name of a committee on a single line it’s pretty unlikely that it’s going to get to all of those issues. If, as many of you have said in your manifestos, women and gender issues are a priority, then make them a priority. Make sure that each and every committee includes a gendered analysis in their work. Make sure that the NCOP has a dedicated committee addressing women’s issues and that it is not an add-on. Make sure you are thinking about the gendered impacts of the budgets you review and pass, and of the work the department(s) you monitor undertake.

I am hopeful as this new Parliament begins its work that it will recommit to its duties, and take them forward with energy and enthusiasm. I am grateful for the work you have all done before, and I look forward to monitoring your work over the next five years.

Jen

On International Women’s Day – Defend Our Line in the Sand

It has been a hard week for women, a hard day. A hard month, a hard year, a hard lifetime. I could write this sentence at any moment in history and it would have been true. Even on the weeks and days when victories are won, the backlash is the shadow lurking behind them.

I spoke to someone recently about why I do the work I do. Why, she asked, did I think I’d chosen a career where the chance of success – of women being full free and equal in my lifetime – was so small?

I’m not a person who self-sabotages, and I’m not a masochist either, so the question gave me pause, and I took that pause to try and find the thing in me that makes me believe in the value of women’s activism and in broader gender activism today.

And it is this: I am defending the line in the sand that others before me have drawn, and I will never, ever, let that line be washed away. We have made progress, that progress was hard won, and we must defend it.

The beauty is – I’m not alone. Each day thousands of people around the world wake up and choose to speak our truth, to write our stories, to go to court in the name of justice, to be there for and with survivors of violence and to believe their stories, to demand reproductive justice, to rally against legislative inequality, to demand better representation in government, to demand safe transport and better pay, to demand the rights to our lives and homes and land — each day we do this and we dig that line deeper. We dig our heels in and we defend. We take steps forward and we advance in the name of justice and what we know to be right. Each day we draw strength from one another, and are grateful for the others who are with us. We draw this line in the sand around the world, and we will never, ever let this line be washed away.

This doesn’t mean that this is easy. It is hard to fight every day. It is very, very hard. And it is alienating sometimes. It can lead you to some dark places and make you doubt your sanity and make you feel different and alone and afraid. It can make you angry, so angry you explode like a bomb. It has cost hundreds of human rights defenders their lives. It can make you sad, so sad you can’t enjoy the things you used to enjoy anymore. It can give you headaches and back pain and body aches. It is not easy.

The patriarchal system forms the bricks of our culture, and the world continues to build systems and institutions with these bricks. This system of inequality so pervasive that at times it will try to convince you that the line is isn’t worth defending, that you’ve won already. Complacency is the threat we face. The misogynists are easy (more often than not) to spot, outright sexism and hatred – even easier. But the idea that we are fine now, that we can pack up and go home because of the the law will be enough, that idea is dangerous. It is not time to rest on our laurels.

The situation today demands constant vigilance. It demands courage. It requires that you find allies, and friends, and loved ones who will support you on those hard days. It requires self-awareness and self-care and paying attention to the signs that your body and heart give you that say that this might be a day for rest. It requires love and hope and passion.

For you, who is reading this today and feeling like International Women’s Day tomorrow is nothing more than ceremony. It isn’t. It is our legal line in the sand. It is our rallying point. It is our call to do more, to advance further, to remain aware, and to be brave.

As if it is a new year I wish for you, reading this now, a year of bravery and certainty that you are not alone. We are here with you, and we will never, ever give up.

See you at the line, today and always.

2019 Creations

We’re in the early days of a new year, and so there are still many messages around about being a new you and how to set goals so you can adjust the parts of your life that aren’t working as well as you think they should.

This type of message – FIX YOURSELF IN ONE YEAR OR LESS – can be a real mood dampener because it forces you to focus on what you don’t like. Way to make you want to reach for a croissant or lie in bed watching a whole series of Sex Education in a weekend. What? Who did that? (No seriously, go watch it).

Instead, this year I’m trying to take the advice I got from a very rad podcast I listen to called Kombucha and Colour. They suggest setting an intention as a guide to your year – i.e. how you want to feel / what you want to live like. This seems way easier than setting a resolution or a goal because it provides a bit more spaciousness for mistakes.

This year I’ve set the intention to CREATE.

Create writing. Create time and space for rest and for exercise and being outside. Create art. Create yummy food. Create energy in my relationships. Create new work. Create creations (whatever those are! the mystery! the intrigue!)

It’s big enough to fit all my hopes and dreams into, and small enough that I can’t judge myself. Loving it.

I’ve started out the year on creating time for writing, especially for new writing. I’m not sure how other writers feel but for me the writing is way more fun than the editing and refining process. The act of putting ink on a page and watching words come out of your own mind is thrilling. So I’ve:

  • Finished an edit on my novel and sent it off to the publishers for feedback (hold thumbs and cross your fingers and toes please).
  • Signed up to a monthly writing workshop with Maire Fisher and Chantal Stewart.
  • Signed up to a memoir writing course next week with the Life Righting Collective.
  • Signed up for a writing residency at Studio Faire in France in June/July and booked my tickets!

I’m hoping that this will be a year of happy creation, and I’m wishing anyone who reads this the same!

10 tips on marriage

Yesterday my husband and I celebrated ten months married. When you read that you might be laughing at the fact that I’m dishing out advice like a seasoned married person – don’t worry, I’m laughing with you.

Last month I had the honour of being asked to speak at my uncle’s wedding. He asked me to write something from the heart for him and his future husband, and so I put my mind to the past few months of my own life and tried to be honest about what I had learned. Disclaimer – this could all be wrong. Except for the bit about the psychic.

First – here is a picture of the happy couple ❤

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Brayden and Andy (Mr and Mr Slezak)

1: Your partner is not, except on rare lucky occasions, a psychic

This means you need to learn to explain what you need, rather than assume that your partner knows just because they love you. (Thanks Alain de Botton for this bit of advice, by the way).

2: Love is a second chance

Love is a chance to be the very best version of yourself. To amplify the goodness and kindness in you, and share that with another person. Marriage allows you to do this for the rest of your life. That being said…

3: Nobody is perfect

At our wedding, Sam’s cousin Kevin gave us some very valuable advice. He said

“You choose your partner not because they are perfect, but because they are perfect for you. There is a big difference. They have what life wants and needs to teach you. Some lessons are hard, especially the ones that deal with your ego and insecurities…Marriage will bring out the best in you, it will also bring out the worst. No one will make you happier, and no one will be as proficient at pressing the wrong buttons as your partner.”

4: You must own up

See 3 (above) – nobody is perfect. At a friend’s wedding a few years ago the pastor said there are two phrases that are essential to make a marriage work. The first – I love you. The second – I’m sorry, I was wrong, please forgive me. Hopefully, you get to say the first more than the second, but just in case I’d suggest practising in the mirror.

5: Be honest – to yourself and to your partner

Love and marriage require you to be incredibly vulnerable – to acknowledge that there are parts of you that sometimes feel unlovable and to ask another to love them. This is an act of radical bravery.

6: Don’t worry about how anyone else does ‘being married’

Love is not a competition. There are no marriage Olympics. Your marriage doesn’t have to look a certain way to be good. It has to meet your specific needs as a couple. Love is not in grand gestures – though they can be very nice – it’s in the little things that only the two of you notice. Treasure those.

7: You are not alone

Though the wedding day is a day about just you two, if you look around you’ll notice that everyone at your ceremony is there because they love you, both separately and in your togetherness. This is your support system, and they are not only there for the wedding day.

8: Marriage is not just the wedding

I know that at the wedding you feel like your hearts might explode with love, but amazingly there is still room for more. More love and more happiness. Put as much effort and thought into each day of your marriage as you have into today.

9: Write down your vows

Keep them somewhere special so that you can look at them often. Remember what you’ve promised, and keep your promises.

10: Marriage is magic

Always feel grateful that in the world of billions of people, you found each other and chose each other. Enjoy the adventure and never forget how lucky and wonderful it is to love and be loved.

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Total babes ❤

South Africa hates women – are you fine with that?

This morning I’m sitting with a heavy heart.

The past years months weeks have been full of news that would make even the unobservant reader realise that South Africa is not a country for women. On paper we are equal. Yet, in the day to day, we are living with the constant threat that we will become the victim of violence if we have not already become one.

I don’t believe we’re hearing more about this just because it’s women’s month, and if women’s month is just an opportunity for everyone to remind us of how truly traumatic and tiring it is to be a woman in this country then I’d really like us to forget about women’s month altogether.

As a society at large, South Africa is fine with women’s suffering.

In the past 24 hours, three stories that would have other countries starting commissions of enquiry and plugging resources into social crime prevention will simply disappear by the end of the week amidst the many other stories of violence against women. I don’t want these stories to disappear.

One – almost half of Khayelitsha school learners have experienced sexual violence and girls were more likely than boys to report abuse. Two – a young woman who reported her rape to Rhodes University committed suicide before returning to campus for further discussions following her report of the rape on July 30th. The alleged rapist was only suspended this morning according to a press release sent by the university. Three – police charge protestors raising awareness about violence against women because they demanded that the President of the country they live survive in listen to them and their demands.

To be born a girl in this country and make it to your old age unharmed is a statistical improbability. The definition of female might as well be ‘afraid.’

Are you fine with this? I can’t be.

So what are we going to do about it?

 

 

 

 

Feminism Is at the Open Book Festival 2018

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This year’s Open Book Festival in Cape Town has, as usual, an amazing line up of writers and public intellectuals coming together to talk about literature, politics, and many other things. The festival takes place from 5 – 9 September in Cape Town.

This year the Open Book Festival team has given amazing support to Feminism Is, and has five events scheduled around the book, as well as many others with a feminist focus.

5 September
20.00 – 21.00 Feminism Is: Pumla Gqola, Dela Gwala and Thembekile Mahlaba explore their journeys to feminism and answer FAQs in the company of Sara-Jayne King Fugard Studio

GET TICKETS

6 September
16.00 – 17.30 Feminism Is: Listening Room: We invite all persons of trans experience and/or those who identify as women/womxn to share personal experiences that shape their feminist identities in a safe and respectful space. Please keep contributions to a maximum of 5 minutes to allow as many voices to be heard as possible. Hosted by Joy Watson with contributions from Janine Adams, Kit Beukes, Michelle Hattingh and Ming-Cheau Lin and Tshepiso Mashinini. Fugard Studio

RSVP

7 September
14.00 – 15.00 Feminism Is: Body Politics: Anna Dahlqvist, Melanie Judge and Tlaleng Mofokeng speak to Joy Watson about taking control in the context of patriarchy Fugard Theatre

GET TICKETS

7 September
18.00 – 19.00 Feminism Is: Talking Feminism: B Camminga, Helen Moffett and Tlaleng Mofokeng explore divisions and how they can stand in the way of feminist conversations in the company of Yaliwe Clarke Fugard Theatre

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9 September
12.00 – 13.00 Feminism Is: Reflections: Jen Thorpe wraps up the series of ‘Feminism Is’ events and asks Pumla Gqola, Haji Mohamed Dawjee and Nwabisa Mda to share their thoughts on SA feminism today Fugard Theatre

GET TICKETS

Check out the full programme here for more details on other amazing feminist events.