South Africa has a vast and impressive literary history spanning generations and producing such talent as Commonwealth Writer’s Prize winner, Zakes Mda, as well as Nobel Prize winners, J.M. Coetzee and Nadine Gordimer.
But our literary heritage doesn’t stop there. There are lauded poets, such as Mongane Wally Serote and Afrikaan icon Breyten Breytenbach. Multi-talented authors like Sol Plaatje who, in addition to his own novels, also translated four of Shakespeare’s works into Setswana. Then there’s there new wave of genre fiction authors such as Deon Meyer and Lauren Beukes whose novels have been optioned for film and TV.
Cape Town has always been an integral part of this literary heritage. University of Cape Town and the University of the Western Cape are hubs of creativity and innovation. If you’re a book fiend looking to explore the literary underbelly of the Mother City then this guide is for you.
Festivals and Conventions
With such a vast selection of literature (and wine), you’d be forgiven for thinking that book-loving Capetonians never leave the house. But during special times of the year we gather to celebrate the art and craft of the written word.
Cape Town FanCon
Cape Town FanCon is Cape Town’s answer to the San Diego Comic-Con, and involves cosplay, comics and a whole lot of fun. If you’re into comic culture and want to experience a small but dedicated fandom doing their thing then check it out.
The Franschhoek Literary Festival
The Franschhoek Literary Festival is a far more serious affair, at least until the panels finish and the dining and drinking begin. The beautiful valley of Franschhoek is home to dozens of wine farms and great restaurants and is the perfect place to delve into deeper literary questions over a good bottle of red.
The Open Book Festival
If you’re looking for a book festival closer to the city centre then the Open Book Festival is one you have to catch. It’s Cape Town’s hippest book festival and is on the cutting edge of what’s happening in the literary world, always striving to bring the best local and international writing talent.
Books About Cape Town
There are plenty of guide books about Cape Town, but here a couple of books about the Cape that are a little different.
Cape Town, An Illustrated Poem
A creative, lyrical take on Cape Town’s neighbourhoods by local artist Julia Mary Grey. It uses a dynamic, interesting palette and makes a pleasantly intriguing coffee table book.
The Cape Town Book
Nechama Brodie had great success with her book about Joburg, and has applied the same level of passion and research for The Cape Town book. It covers the people, history, and stories of Cape Town, deftly weaving together the different strands that make up this beautiful and complex place.
Hidden Cape Town
Want to delve deeper into the most iconic buildings in Cape Town? Paul Duncan and Alain Proust have collaborated to reveal the artworks and architectural secrets that lie behind the doors of some well-known, and lesser known, landmark buildings in and around the Mother City. The book is highly recommended if you’re looking for a different perspective on the city.
A city’s literary scene can really be kept alive by literary magazines and there a couple that you should look up.
Jungle Jim, unique African Pulp Fiction Magazine, some truly excellent stories. Although they aren’t as active as they once were, you can still find back copies of this. Snap them up because these pieces of pop culture are collector’s items.
Prufrock Magazine is a more literary affair, and offers a space for some of the continent’s best writers to showcase their stories and essays. This is a great place to discover up-and-coming writers, so pick up a copy if you’re looking for the next generation of African storytellers.
The Centre For The Book
The Centre for the Book is the National Library’s outreach arm, and has the mission of promoting literacy and increased access to books. The building is a national monument and it’s a beautiful and unique space that often hosts talks and concerts. It’s well worth visiting just for the experience.
Where To Buy Books
Readers Den Comic Shop
Readers Den (they don’t have an apostrophe) is a second home for Cape Town’s comic book fiends. Situated in the Stadium on Main mall it’s like a curiosity cabinet of full of comics, collectible action figures, and wall art. The staff are friendly and knowledgeable so if you’re looking for somewhere to ask about local comic culture then this is the place to go.
The Book Lounge
The Book Lounge is an independent book shop that is a proud part of the local literary scene. It has an incredible selection, and the staff is more than happy to recommend local authors. It’s also the host of the majority of book launches that happen in Cape Town. Connect with them if you’re looking to attend a book launch while you’re in the city.
Kalk Bay Books
Kalk Bay Books is a great place to browse after a leisurely walk through this idyllic seaside suburb. It has a great selection of books and also regularly hosts book launches, often authors do two books launches; one at The Book Lounge and the other at Kalk Bay Books.
Exclusive Books is our national book chain. With shops in several locations throughout Cape Town it’s the place to go if you’re looking for a big, diverse selection of books. Often local authors are filed under ‘African Fiction’, so be sure to check out that section when visiting.
Quagga Rare Books
Quagga Books looks like the kind of book shop Sherlock Holmes would visit to scour ancient texts for cracking a case. It’s a magical place if you’re an appreciator of rare books. If you’re looking for leather covers adorned with gold leaf then this is the place. There are also old maps available for purchase if you’re a cartophile.
The Book Shoppe
The Book Shoppe in Tokai is a secret goldmine for second-hand books. With many second-hand bookstores you have to sift through the junk to find a hidden gem. At the Book Shoppe the shelves have been carefully curated and you’ll only find good books in good condition. The only drawback is that you might have to buy another suitcase to fit in all your finds.
Chimurenga Book Store
Chimurenga is an online publication that deals specifically with Pan-African art, politics and culture. They also have a bookstore at the Pan-African Market in Long Street where you can find a unique selection of African books. It’s well worth visiting if you have an interest in African literature.
Cape Town has a thriving market scene that is bursting with organic produce, second-hand goods, artisan food, and local art. But at certain markets, you can also find books for a steal.
The Milnerton Market is a traditional flea-market where vendors sell everything from old furniture to DIY equipment. There are always several stores where you can sift through books and sometimes find a first edition.
The Bluebird Garage market in Muizenberg is a great place to go and have a beer and some food on a Friday evening. But there’s also a small bookstore in among the tacos and artisan pancakes. You can pick up anything from anarchist literature to old Chinese occult texts. Well worth a browse.