Maren Bodenstein © Suzy Bernstein
This new residency allows ten months of research and writing time and the sharing of experiences with other writers and the public in monthly zoom events on the theme of "memoir writing" and "female lives and transgenerational meaning-making mirrored in contemporary writing".
This first virtual writer's Retreat is offered to South African writer Maren Bodenstein and is endowed with a stipend of 30.000 ZAR.
Maren Bodenstein is a South African writer of German descent. Leaping cross forms, she has published a novel, children’s stories, flash fiction and essays. Lately Maren has come to the pleasures of poetry and an anthology is currently brewing. Over the years she has held writing workshops in many different context including prisons, with a group of professors and at retreat centres. She is also well known for her sex-writing workshops!
Maren has spent the last two years digging through a trunk of historical documents and family letters which her mother left her. Out of this she is shaping a family memoir called The Sinner’s Bench. The book is an investigation into her parent’s stormy love story, in which the writer acts as a detective looking for a crime. It is also a poetic exploration of the migrations of her German ancestors. Permeated with a restless homesickness, the narrative moves between Germany, India, Africa, the foothills of the Drakensberg, Pretoria and Cape Town. But there is also always a return to the village of Hermannsburg – a small pocket of conservative and religious Germanness in KwaZulu Natal, and the ambivalent home where Maren’s parents raised their children and from which they were eventually expelled. While the book is based on research and fact, it is also shamelessly subjective.
Some of the themes being explored are:
• the project of establishing small pockets of Lutheran Germanness all over South Africa;
• how women asserted themselves in an authoritarian society which had original sin at the centre of its religious beliefs;
• and the destructive nature of secrets.
In many ways the book thematically links to Maren’s first novel, Shooting Snakes. Just like that book, The Sinner’s Bench looks at the vexed relationship between past and present; at the intergenerational trauma that has shaped South Africans; and the wounds inflicted by patriarchy and spiritual colonialism. This memoir hopes to be part of the recording of a not too well-known part of South African colonial history.