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SANLAM AWARDS (article first published : 2000-07-5)

Three adjudicators had the formidable task of selecting winners from about 330 entries for this year's Sanlam Literary Awards.

Andrew Grewar, who lectures in English Language and Literature at the University of Fort Hare, found that the standard in the better works was “very high” and for him, the best poetry dealt with “discovery - self discovery, or discovery of the meaning of the past, whether of history or personal experience”. He was struck by how similar themes emerged in the varied collections: violence, sexual crime, murder, apartheid. A number dealt with colonial history in an imaginative way, retelling the darker sides of things “in some wonderful epic poetry”. He listened for authentic voices “where the language was forceful, but not forced”.

Marion Baxter, of the Institute for the Study of English in Africa (ISEA), elaborates on the difficulty of narrowing the choices. “One likes equally things that are very different, traditional and experimental poetry; or poetry that attempts to offer insights into situations but also poetry which is wholly focused on the natural and material world and celebrates what is seen to be there.” A short-story writer who won the Sanlam Literary Award in 1992 and whose work has been published in two volumes, she believes that more people should read contemporary poetry. Of the judging process she says: “It’s not, I feel, a matter of what is said in a poem as how it is said, the extent to which the words are energised by choice and combination to reproduce the experience they attempt to convey.

“So I was looking for energy and passion, for poems to which nothing could be added or taken away without killing them, for poems which have a vivid life outside the author; and finally, for what Ted Hughes called ‘the goblin in the word’.” All those on her short list possessed what she sought, “in abundance”.

The third adjudicator was Malcolm Hacksley, director of the National English Literary Museum which is based in Grahamstown.

At the award function held in the Monument in Grahamstown earlier today (July 5), Tatamkhulu Afrika was presented with the Sanlan Literary Award for an unpublished work and won R5,000 for his collection Mad old man under the Morning Star. Isobel Dixon receive the Sanlam Literary Award in the restricted category plus R4,000.

A project of the Grahamstown Foundation, the Sanlam Literary Award coincides with the celebration of the Standard Bank National Arts Festival. As part of the prize, the winners are flown to Port Elizabeth and then hosted in the city for the ceremony.

(See also Literature pages)




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