Senior Lecturer

Dr Hedley Twidle

BA (Hons) Oxon, MA PhD York

Office: Arts Block 127
Tel: +27 (0)21 650 2844

Research Interests

  • 20th-century and contemporary literature
  • South African writing, history and performance culture
  • Literary non-fiction: life-writing, long-form, memoir, essay
  • Environmental humanities; Anthropocene arts and activism; literature and the environmental imagination 
  • Creative writing: narrative non-fiction and the essay
  • Writing and music

I joined the department in 2010 as a lecturer in southern African and postcolonial literatures. Much of my current work addresses contemporary life-writing and non-fiction narrative. What, after all, does the word ‘literary’ signify in a phrase like ‘literary non-fiction’?  And how can one explore the array of non-fictional modes that are simultaneously drawn on, refashioned and blurred into each other in South African writing: experimental auto/biography, investigative journalism, the Struggle memoir, the diary, microhistorical and archival reconstruction.

My research also explores the difficult relation between environmental thought and social history in southern Africa. Since 2013 I have been involved in the conceptualisation and planning of a new interdisciplinary M Phil in the Environmental Humanities, launched in February 2015. I am also a member of the Archive and Public Culture research initiative, a dynamic intellectual space where new research can be presented to experts in the field.

I have a strong interest in the essay as a critical, narrative and creative form, and write regularly for publications like the New Statesman, Financial Times and Mail&Guardian.

  • Bodley Head / Financial Times Essay Prize, 2012.
  • Maill&Guardian 200 Young South Africans, 2013.
  • UCT Distinguished Teachers Award, 2013.

Selected Publications

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


Firepool: Experiences in an Abnormal World (Kwela Books, 2017).
A collection of my essays and creative non-fiction.

Journal articles:

N2: Reading and Writing the South African Highway. Social Dynamics 43:1 (2017).

An Interview with Rustum Kozain. Wasafiri, 31:2 (2016).

Unusable Pasts: Life-writing, Literary Non-fiction and the Case of Demetrios Tsafendas.Research in African Literatures, 46:3 (2015).

Invasive Narratives and the Inverse of Slow Violence: Alien Species in Science and Society. Environmental Humanities, vol. 7 (2015). Co-authored with Susanna Lidström, Simon West, Tania Katzschner and M. Isabel Pérez-Ramos (KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden).

Visions of Tsafendas: Literary Biography and the Limits of ‘Research’. Safundi, 16:4 (2015).

Rachel Carson and the Perils of Simplicity: Reading Silent Spring from the Global South. Ariel 44: Special Issue on Postcolonial Ecocriticism (May, 2014).

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).

Book chapters:

Nothing Extraordinary: E.M. Forster and the English Limit. Relocations: Reading Culture in South Africa ed. Imraan Coovadia, Alexandra Dodd and Coilin Parsons (University of Cape Town Press, 2015).

Sea Point ContactPreface to a Literary History of Cape Town (Never Written). Weeds and Viruses: Ecopolitics and the Demands of Theory. Editors: Cordula Lemke (Friedrich Schlegel Graduate School) and Jennifer Wawrzinek (English Institute), Institute of English, Freie Universität Berlin (2015). Foreword by Dipesh Chakrabarty.

‘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.

Reviews, essays and literary journalism:

The Firepool: Hedley Twidle on scandal, Jacob Zuma and swimming in South Africa.  Financial Times, 18 August 2017.

‘Three great hopes for a post-apartheid culture, gone too soon’ – On Phaswane Mpe, Moses Taiwa Molelekwa and K Sello Duiker (excerpt from Firepool). Johannesburg Review of Books, 3 July 2017.

Journey's End. Review of Mohsin Hamid, Exit WestFinancial Times, 25 February, 2017.

The Sound of Islay. Introducing the FT / Bodley Head essay competition. Financial Times, 11 November 2016.

The Institute for the Less Good Idea. Profile of William Kentridge for Financial Times magazine, 2 September 2016.

Half-lives, Half Truths. Svetlana Alexievich and the Nuclear Imagination. South Africa PEN essay series, 18 August 2016.

Nuclear Summer. A walk through South Africa’s nuclear pasts and futures. Sunday Times, 7 February 2016.

The Art of Fear. Review of Julian Barnes, The Noise of Time. Financial Times, 15 January 2016.

A Mighty Fry Up. Review of Chigozie Obioma, The FishermenNew Statesman, 15 September 2015.

Confession of the Lioness. By Mia Couto, translated by David Brookshaw. Review, 31 July 2015, Financial Times.

That Middling Line. Review of Alberto Fernández Carbajal, Compromise and Resistance in Postcolonial Writing: E.M. Forster’s Legacy. Journal of Postcolonial Writing, 2015.

The Marvellous Real. Review of E. C. Osondu, This House is Not for Sale. Financial Times, 5 June 2015. 

An Unnatural History. Review of Henrietta Rose-Innes, Green Lion. Sunday Times. 9 May 2015.

Distant Horizons. MAN Booker International Prize Finalists and Rhodes Must Fall at the University of Cape Town. Financial Times, 3 April 2015.


Selected presentations:

The Pitfalls of Geological Consciousness: Thinking the Anthropocene from Africa South. Karoo Futures seminar group, Stellenbsoch, 20 July 2017.

Misreading, Risk and Heterodoxy in the Work of Jacob Dlamini. Paper delivered at the Department of English and Related Literatures, University of York, 27 April 2017.

A Brief History of Deep Time in South Africa. Paper delivered at the Karoo Futures: Trajectories of Change conference, Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study, 7-8 November, 2016.

Literatures of the World and for the Planet: African Literary/Cultural Positions. Plenary panel and roundtable discussion. Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies. Stellenbosch and the University of Cape Town, 14 July 2016.

Literatures of Betrayal: Risk, collaboration and collapse in post-TRC narrative. The Eleventh International Conference for Literary Journalism Studies: ‘Literary Journalism: Telling the Untold Stories’. Pontificia Universidade Catolica do Rio Grande so Sul. Porto Alegre, Brazil, 19-21 May 2016.

Convening and Curriculum Change: Problems and Possibilities. Third Space Symposium: Decolonisation and the Creative Arts, Hiddingh Hall, University of Cape Town. 13-14 May 2016.

Visions of Tsafendas: Life-writing and the limits of ‘research’. Seminar at the Department of Psychology, Stellenbosch University, 11 April 2016.

Half-lives, Half-truths: Nuclear legacies and some forms of non-fiction. Paper delivered at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WiSER). Literature in the Age of the Anthropocene colloquium, 10 to 11 November, 2015.

N2: Reading and Writing the South African Highway. Paper delivered at the Institute for the Humanities in Africa (HUMA), 21 May 2015 and the AUETSA Conference, 13 July 2015, Rhodes University, Grahamstown.

27 Years: Listening to Moses Taiwa Molelekwa. Ways of Writing: Creativity, Knowledge and Experimentation in the Academy.
Africa, Reading, Humanities. English Department, University of Cape Town. Brenda Cooper, Lesley Green and Hedley Twidle in conversation, 5 August 2014.

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.

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.

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