Hedley Twidle

Research Interests

South African literature, history and performance culture; colonial, postcolonial and ‘world’ literatures; literary non-fiction – life-writing, oral history, reportage, prison writing, narrative non-fiction; environmentalism and literature; ecocriticism; the environmental humanities; the Cape archive and the contemporary writer; creative writing – non-fiction and the essay.

Having lived and studied in Johannesburg, KwaZulu-Natal, Oxford, Edinburgh and York, I joined the Department of English Language and Literature at UCT in January 2010 as a lecturer in southern African and postcolonial literatures. Much of my research is concerned with very local materials – writing in and of the city of Cape Town. My doctoral work explored the difficult relation between natural and social histories in this part of the world, and the interface between postcolonial and environmentalist approaches in the humanities. Since 2013, I have been involved in the conceptualisation and planning of a new M Phil in the Environmental Humanities at UCT.

My current research project concerns the current popularity of ‘creative’ or ‘literary’ non-fiction in South Africa. What, after all, does the word signify in a phrase like ‘literary non-fiction’? And how can one trace appropriate lineages for the array of non-fictional modes that are simultaneously drawn on, refashioned and blurred into each other in contemporary South African writing: investigative journalism, the prison memoir, the diary, life-writing, urban studies, microhistory and archival reconstruction. I have a strong interest in the essay as a critical, narrative and creative form.

The Archive & Public Culture forum has proved an ideal intellectual space for developing a project that considered the history and contemporary status of the Grey Collection (and its ‘indigenous’ language texts) at the National Library of South Africa. I envision this as one part of a larger enquiry into the library in colonial and postcolonial contexts: as an institution that produces (and polices) certain forms of knowledge, but also as an unpredictable resource and catalyst for the literary imagination.  

Between 2007 and 2012, I worked closely with David Attwell and Derek Attridge (University of York) as a researcher and copy-editor on (as well as contributor to) the Cambridge History of South African Literature. Prior to this, I assisted with initial archival work for a project that resulted in Peter D. McDonald’s acclaimed book The Literature Police: Apartheid Censorship and its Cultural Consequences (Oxford University Press, 2009).


Fuller details about my academic (and other) work can be found at

Journal articles:

'Nothing Extraordinary: E. M. Forster and the English Limit.' English in Africa, 40:2 (October 2013). To be republished in an anthology collecting pieces adapted from the GIPCA Great Texts / Big Questions public lecture series (UCT Press).

‘"The Sea Close By": The Coastal Diaries of Camus, Fugard and Stephen Watson.' Alternation, Special Issue No. 6: Coastlines and Littoral Zones, (2013).

'Writing the Company: From VOC Daghregister to Sleigh’s Eilande.' South African Historical Journal, 65:1 (2013).

‘"In a Country Where You Couldn’t Make this Shit Up?" Literary Non-fiction in South Africa.' With responses by Stephen Clingman, Rob Nixon and others. Safundi, 13:1-2. Special Issue: Beyond Rivalry: Fact | Fiction, Literature | History, ed. Rita Barnard, (2012).

‘"All like and yet unlike the old country": Kipling in Cape Town 1891-1908: A Reappraisal.' English in Africa, 39:2 (2012).

'First Lives, First Words: Camões, Magical Realism and the Limits of Invention.' Scrutiny2, 17:1 (2012).


'Rachel Carson and the Perils of Simplicity: Reading Silent Spring from the global South.' Ariel. Special Issue on Postcolonial Ecologies (2014).

'Sea Point Contact: Prologue to a Literary History of Cape Town (Never Written).' Weeds and Viruses: Ecopoetics after Postmodernism, ed. Cordula Lemke and Jennifer Wawrzinek, Freie Universität Berlin (2014).

Book chapters:

‘The Bushmen’s Letters: |Xam narratives of the Bleek and Lloyd Collection and their Afterlives’
Chapter One, The Cambridge History of South African Literature (2012), ed. David Attwell and Derek Attridge.  

‘From The Origin of Language to a Language of Origin: a Prologue to the Grey Collection’, in Print, Text and Book Cultures in South Africa, ed. Andrew van der Vlies, Johannesburg: Wits Press, 2012.

‘Main Road, Kapstadt,’ Neue Rundschau 120:2 (2009) Special issue on Africa. A translated version of the piece in A City Imagined (see below), placed alongside contributions by Chinua Achebe, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Helon Habila and Binyavanga Wainaina.

‘Taxi on Main,’ in Stephen Watson (ed.), A City Imagined: Cape Town and the Meanings of a Place, (Penguin, 2005). A sketch of the literary history of Cape Town (as seen from the window of a minibus taxi) in an anthology which includes pieces by André Brink, Damon Galgut and Sindiwe Magona.

Selected reviews, review essays and literary journalism:

Indefinite Delay. The Last Days of Nelson Mandela. New Statesman, 10 October 2013. Cover story.

Highway N2 Revisited. Financial Times, 20 September 2013.

Alchemists of the Ordinary. Review of Isabel Hofmeyr, Gandhi’s Printing Press: Experiments in Slow Reading + Archie Dick, The Hidden History of South Africa’s Book and Reading Cultures. Mail & Guardian, 23 August 2013.

The Enlightenment, the colonial Cape and post-apartheid discourse. Review of David Johnson, Imagining the Cape Colony: History, Literature and the South African Nation. Cape Town, UCT Press, 2012. Historia, 58:1, May 2013.

Train Wreck. Review of Paul Theroux, Last Train to Zona Verde: Overland from Cape Town to Angola. New Statesman, 23 May 2013.

Modern Mystery Play. Review of J. M. Coetzee, The Childhood of Jesus. Financial Times, 8 March 2013.

The Oscar Pistorius Case: History Written on a Woman’s Body. New Statesman, Cover Story, 7 March 2013.

Don’t Say Etc: Lost and Found in the Work of Ivan Vladislavic. Public Books, 6 March 2013.

Getting Past Coetzee. Winner of the inaugural Financial Times / Bodley Head Essay Competition, (28 December 2012). Also published as digital e-short by Vintage/Bodley Head.

For Real? Arguing with David Shields. Reading Reality Hunger from Africa South. Rhodes Journalism Review (2012).

The Future Eaters. Review of Rob Nixon, Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor. Harvard University Press: 2011, for SLiPnet (Stellenbosch Literary Project) and The Daily Maverick.
Elegy on Trial: Writing the African Resistance Movement. Review of Hugh Lewin, Stones Against the Mirror: Friendship in the Time of the South African Struggle. Cape Town: Umuzi, 2011, for SLiPnet (Stellenbosch Literary Project).

Between a Howl and a Whine. Review of Letter to South Africa: Poets Calling the State to Order (Cape Town: Umuzi, 2011) for SLiPnet (Stellenbosch Literary Project).

What the Butler Didn’t See: Review of Guy Butler: Reassessing a South African Literary Life, by Chris Thurman (Scottsville: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, 2010) in South African Journal of Science, (2011).

Marabi Nights, Merry Blackbirds, Epistles and Exiles: Jazz in South African Literature 1950-1970. Review surveying works by Gwen Ansell, David Coplan, Michael Titlestad and others. English in Africa (October 2010).

Review of Representing Bushmen: South Africa and the Origin of Language, by Shane Moran. (Rochester NY: University of Rochester Press, 2009). Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History (Winter 2010).

Mixed Metaphors: Review of Mark Gevisser, Thabo Mbeki: The Dream Deferred (Johannesburg: Jonathan Ball, 2007) in Journal of Southern African Studies 34:4 (2008).

Selected presentations:

'A Literary Con: The "memoirs" of Herman Charles Bosman and Dugmore Boetie.' Conference of the American Comparative Literature Association (ACLA), New York University, 20-23 March 2014.

'N2: A Literature Review – Narratives of the road in South Africa.' Research seminar, Stellenbosch English Department, 13 March 2014.

'Unusable Pasts: Writing Tsafendas and the African Resistance Movement.' The Lives of Objects: Inaugural Conference of the Oxford Centre for Life Writing, Wolfson College, directed by Hermione Lee, 20-22 September 2013.

'Histories of the African Farm: Land and literary non-fiction from Sol Plaatje to Jonny Steinberg.' A Land Divided: Land and South African Society in 2013. Conference at the University of Cape Town marking the centenary of the 1913 Natives Land Act. 24-27 March 2013.

'Teaching World Literatures from the Cape.' Panel discussion for the ‘Africa, Reading, Humanities’ seminar series, with Victoria J. Collis-Buthelezi and Meg Samuelson. English Department, University of Cape Town, 12 March.

'Rachel Carson and the Perils of Simplicity: The Literary Ecology of Silent Spring.' Symposium on the Environmental Humanities, HUMA, University of Cape Town, (21 May 2012): Silent Spring and the Making of Environmental Publics. A day-long event marking the 50th anniversary of Carson’s work.

'Nothing Extraordinary: E. M. Forster and the English Limit.'
Great Texts | Big Questions: Public Lecture, Gordon Institute for the Performing and Creative Arts (GIPCA), Thursday 13 October 2011, Hiddingh Hall, University of Cape Town. Abstract.

'From "Kipling of the Malay Archipelago" to Conrad of the Karoo: The Making and Unmaking of Literary Reputation in the late 19th century.' Outposts of Progress: Joseph Conrad, Modernism and Post(colonialism). International Conference in Cape Town, December 2011.

‘African Renaissance: A Prologue to the Grey Collection.’ The Courage of ||Kabbo and a Century of Specimens: Conference and Exhibition, Centre for Curating the Archive, 17-12 August 2011, University of Cape Town.

‘Sea | Point | Contact:  Natural Histories, Coastal Diaries and the Sensual Intelligence at the Cape.’ The 8th Annual Literature and Ecology Colloquium, Coastlines and Littoral Zones, 12-14 August 2011, Kleinmond, Western Cape.

‘The Perils of the Archive: Peter D. McDonald (Oxford University) and Hedley Twidle in Conversation.’ Joint seminar on apartheid censorship and its cultural consequences: English Department and the Archive and Public Culture research initiative, 14 April 2011.

‘Just So Stories? Green Imperialism, Evolution and the Literary Imagination at the Cape.’ Paper presented at UCT / UWC / Rhodes Literature, Film and Ecology Colloquium, Goedgedacht Organic Farm, 2010.

‘Dream Topographies: Kipling in Cape Town 1891-1908.’ Paper presented at international Kipling Conference marking centenary of his Nobel Prize, University of Kent, Canterbury, September 2007.