Readersforum's Blog

November 2, 2012

If you build it, they will come

By Denis Beckett

This is a tale of the Karoo, of a dry, dry, dusty, dusty bit of it. Ah, as I write I feel koppie beneath my feet; clear crisp view to forever.

This is a tale of the Karoo today, but it begins far away in 1960. Hay-on-Wye – un-dry, un-dusty, where England meets Wales – was heading for its 900th birthday and was in trouble. Time and change had swallowed its economy.

So it rebuilt itself, on books; on talking books, reading books, ogling books, selling books. It called itself “Booktown Hay” and it created a phenomenon. Its annual festival fills 100 000 beds. It became grandaddy of 28 booktowns from Jinbocho, Japan, to Archer, Texas, via Bosu-dong, South Korea, and Redu, Belgium.

There were booktowns in every continent except Africa.

And then, in 2007, along came a rare figure, an Indian professor of Afrikaans. Darryl David took leave from UKZN to tour SA looking for a booktown. He scrutinised dorp after dorp and explained per internet why this one, that one, the next one, wouldn’t do.

Then he came to Richmond, and explained why it would do.

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