Following in the footsteps of writers – and seeing places through their eyes – is boosting tourism to the province.
Not only is it attracting overseas visitors, but it is also enabling people from KwaZulu-Natal to become tourists in their own cities.
There are now seven literary tourism trails, and an eighth is in the pipeline, said Lindy Stiebel, Professor of English Studies at UKZN, who has spent the last 10 years developing a unique project – “KZN Literary Tourism” – which has opened up a treasure trove for the literary fan or researcher.
Offering more than the traditional tourist “must sees” of sun, sea, Zulu dancing and game reserves, it combines two different disciplines – literature and tourism – and links writers, places and their works.
It includes following the route that a fictional character takes in a novel, visiting particular settings from a story or tracking down places linked to a writer, like his or her birthplace, home or burial site.
Literary tourism is big news overseas: millions flock to Shakespeare’s birthplace every year, while countless others will help celebrate the 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens’ birthday this year.
South Africa is also rich in writers: those who were born and raised in the province, like the world-famous Alan Paton, author of the best-selling Cry, The Beloved Country, and those who passed through or who came and worked, like Rider Haggard, author of King Solomon’s Mines.
The whole aim of literary tourism is “to spread the word about our writers and link them to places in our province,” said Stiebel.
Literary tourists get to look at the landscape that writers saw, and experienced things through their eyes.
And while they are tracing the writer’s meanderings and experiences, they will also get to know something about the province’s tourist attractions because they are also told about the history of the area and interesting places to visit.
Seven very detailed and informative brochures have been produced, one for each of the existing trails.
Tourists can go on some trails themselves, and trained guides take them on others.
There is a South Coast Writers Trail, a Midlands Writers Trail, a Grey Street Trail, a Rider Haggard Trail, an Alan Paton Trail, an INK (Inanda, Ntuzuma, KwaMashu) Writers Trail and a Cato Manor Writers Trail – and now KZN Literary Tourism is partnering with the iLembe District Municipality to develop the North Coast Writers Trail.
The project started with stand-alone authors and then moved on to promoting area-based trails and clusters of several writers.
One of the most popular routes is the Grey Street Trail, which involves a three-hour guided walk. The brochure on the area describes it as a historic literary region, comparable to Sophiatown in Gauteng and District Six in Cape Town.
“…all three were vibrant multicultural areas existing in defiance of the apartheid policies.
“Sophiatown and District Six were destroyed by the state and so exist purely in the national consciousness as symbols of the struggle. Grey Street, luckily, can still be visited,” the brochure says.
Tourists stop off in a café for chilli bites, samoosas or other delights, just as they take a break on the INK tour by calling into a homestead and having tea and scones.
The brochures are supported by an excellent website (www.literarytourism.co.za) with over 100 author entries.
And when it comes to trails and supporting brochures, KZN is well-off, said Stiebel.
When she visited Rome, home of many an author, there was only one literary trail, and that was for angels and demons. And that was only supported by a “flimsy map”, she said.