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LITERARY WINNERS (article first published : 2000-07-5)

When Tatamkhulu Afrika heard that he had won the Sanlam Literary Award for poetry for the second time, he “nearly went berserk”. Although he took the honours in 1994, he has not received much recognition for his work in the past five years. “I’m turning 80 in December, so I decided to have one last shot at it,” he explains. “I’d written a hell of a lot of poems about my old age, and the insanities of old age: some hideous, some faintly amusing.” Tired of rejections, he sent his work in secretly.

Tatamkhulu Afrika has equated poetry with purity of thought and language. He balances the “time-honoured techniques” of the English tradition with a deep recognition of what he has called “our proper cultural as well as ancestral home”. Drawing on the spirit of the continent, he sees no point in sacrificing “our various ethnic creativities”.

Mad old man under the Morning Star, the title of his winning collection, alludes to the pre-dawn ritual he carries out as a Muslim every day in terms of “the sacramental washing of limbs” with cold water.

Winner in the award's restricted category, Isobel Dixon admitted to feeling inspired as well as a little daunted. While some of her poems have been published in individual journals, she believes the award is "special because it is an affirmation of a body of work together”. As a literary agent in the United Kingdom, she represents many South African authors abroad, including Afrika, and she recently translated Marita van der Vyver’s latest novel.

She believes that her involvement with South African fiction has made her years spent in London seem “worthwhile, and not entirely ‘away from home’”. If she is excited at being “at the hub of the literary world”, her poems often capture “a certain sense of loss of something else”. She and her husband plan to return home in the future. “I love travel and change,” she reflects, “but belonging is a different thing entirely.”

The three adjudicators were Andrew Grewar who lectures in English language and literature at the University of Fort Hare; short story writer and former winner of the Sanlam Literary Award Marion Baxter from the Institute for the Study of English in Africa (ISEA), and Malcolm Hacksley who is director of the National English Literary Museum.

At a function earlier today at the Monument in Grahamstown, Tatamkhulu Afrika and Isobel Dixon received the awards, plus R5,000 and R4,000 respectively

See also Festivals pages




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