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THE DREAM IN THE NEXT BODY (article first published : 2005-03-21)

The Dream in the Next Body, the debut collection by award-winning poet Gabeba Baderoon, has just been released by Kwela Books in association with Snailpress.

Growing up in Athlone, she attended Livingstone High School in Claremont. She studied English at the University of Cape Town, attaining her doctorate with a thesis on the way Islam is portrayed in South African media and art. Her initiation into writing poetry occurred during a four-month fellowship to the United States in 1999 when she enrolled in an evening class. She submitted one of her class exercises to a competition in Philadelphia. During the December holidays she received a phone call from her mother saying that she had won the poetry competition.

“I learned two lessons from that experience,” says Gabeba Baderoon, “one correct and one gravely mistaken. The mistake was that I thought winning an award meant I knew how to write poetry. The valuable lesson was that I realized that I loved doing the hard work of turning up morning after morning to write, to struggle, to lose faith in something, almost to abandon it, and still try to produce a poem that rings true. That poetry is something I want to do for the rest of my life.”

In the six years since, her poems have been published in journals South Africa, the US and Britain.

She continued her studies in poetry when she was a visiting scholar at the University of Sheffield as part of her doctorate. She enrolled in the respected MA in Writing at nearby Sheffield Hallam University taught by the decorated British poet and playwright Sean O’Brien. Her poetry education was rounded off with an Advanced Poetry Workshop with the distinguished American poet Robin Becker at Pennsylvania State University. In 2004 she concluded her studies when she graduated with her PhD.

The poems written in the past six years have been collected into Gabeba Baderoon’s first book, The Dream in the Next Body. “As a poet in this country, you wait a long time to receive a phone call telling you your manuscript has been accepted by Kwela Books and Snailpress. Every writer knows them. When I heard the news I couldn’t talk and just ran around the house like a cat,” she confesses.

Baderoon was nominated for the DaimlerChrysler Award for South African Poetry for 2005 by one of her heroes, the much-honoured Keorapetse Kgositsile. Professor Joan Hambidge, the chairperson of the jury, said on behalf of the panel that Baderoon “finds the poetic in the ordinary with a fine sense of locality and space. She weaves political and social issues into her poetry without sloganeering. Her work tackles a wide range of themes, astutely shifting the focus from the outside to the inside.”

As part of her prize, Gabeba Baderoon will spend much of 2005 writing and reading her poetry. The DaimlerChrysler Poetry Award includes the opportunity to give readings of her work in the major South African centres. She will also be a contributor to the South Africa Day celebrations in Stuttgart, Germany and will spend a three-week residency on the German island of Sylt in May, where she will work on the manuscript of a new book of poems to be published as part of the Award.

Gabeba Baderoon will take part in Poetry Africa in Durban in October.




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