1st Edition

Reading for Water Materiality and Method

Edited By Isabel Hofmeyr, Charne Lavery, Sarah Nuttall Copyright 2024

    An experiment in reading for water, this book offers students and teachers a toolkit of methods that follow the sensory, political and agentive power of water across literary texts.

    The chapters in this book follow rivers, rain, streams, tunnels and sewers; connect atmospheric, surface and ground water; describe competing hydrological traditions and hydro-epistemologies. They propose new literary regions defined less by nation and area than by coastlines, river basins, monsoons, currents and hydro-cosmologies. Whether thinking along water courses, below the water line, or through the fall of precipitation, Reading for Water moves laterally, vertically and contrapuntally between different water-worlds and hydro-imaginaries. Addressing southern African and Caribbean texts, the collection draws on a range of elementally inclined literary approaches: critical oceanic studies, new materialisms, coastal and hydrocritical approaches, hydrocolonialism, black hydropoetics and atmospheric methods.

    The chapters in this book were originally published as a special issue of Interventions.

    Introduction: Reading for Water

    Isabel Hofmeyr, Sarah Nuttall and Charne Lavery

    1. On Pluviality: Reading for Rain in Namwali Serpell’s The Old Drift

    Sarah Nuttall

    2. Hydrocolonial Johannesburg

    Louise Bethlehem

    3. Postcolonial Plumbing: Reading for Wastewater in Antjie Krog’s A Change of Tongue

    Charne Lavery

    4. Shadow of a Drought: Notes from Cape Town’s Water Crisis

    Hedley Twidle

    5. A Mermaid in a Dry City: A Watery Reading of Yvonne Vera’s Butterfly Burning

    Confidence Joseph

    6. Words on Black Water: Setting South African "Plantation Literature" Afloat on the Kala Pani

    Nafisa Essop Sheik

    7. Dark Water: Rustum Kozain’s This Carting Life (2005)

    Simon Van Schalkwyk

    8. "Does the Water Repeat?" Reading Caribbean-South African Contemporary Fiction

    Victoria J. Collis-Buthelezi

    9. Is the Anthropocene Conniving with Capital? Water Priva(tisa)tion and Ontology Reimagined in Karen Jayes’ For the Mercy of Water

    Philip Aghoghovwia

    10. Shipwreck and Psychosis: Sheila Fugard’s The Castaways

    Michael Titlestad

    11. Anomalous, Containerized and Inundating Waters: Thinking from the Cape and through Blue Focalization with K. Sello Duiker’s Thirteen Cents

    Meg Samuelson


    Isabel Hofmeyr is Professor Emeritus at Wits University, based at WiSER and was Global Distinguished Professor at New York University from 2013 to 2022. Over the last three decades, she has pioneered research on global, oceanic and transnational forms of literary and cultural history that seek to understand Africa’s place in the world. Her most recent book is Dockside Reading: Hydrocolonialism and the Custom House (2022). With Charne Lavery, she co-directs the Oceanic Humanities for the Global South platform (www.oceanichumanities.com).

    Charne Lavery is Senior Lecturer in the Department of English at the University of Pretoria.  She is the author of Writing Ocean Worlds: Indian Ocean Fiction in English (2021), co-editor of Maritime Mobilities in Anglophone Literature and Culture (2023) and Reading from the South (2023), and co-editor of several special issues. She co-directs, with Isabel Hofmeyr, the Oceanic Humanities for the Global South platform (www.oceanichumanities.com).

    Sarah Nuttall is Professor of Literary and Cultural Studies at WiSER, Wits University. For a decade, from 2012 to 2022, she was the Institute’s Director. She has taught at Yale and Duke Universities and in 2016 she was an Oppenheimer Fellow at the DuBois Institute at Harvard University. She is the author of Entanglement: Literary and Cultural Reflections on Postapartheid, editor of Beautiful/Ugly: African and Diaspora Aesthetics and Your History With Me: The Films of Penny Siopis and the co-editor of many books, including, most recently, Hinterlands: Extraction, Abandonment and Care and Reading From the South: African Print Cultures and Oceanic Turns in Isabel Hofmeyr’s Work.