/ 25 May 2016

Literary awards: ’Tis the season to toast the best of local authors

Golfer Papwa Sewgolum
Golfer Papwa Sewgolum

First up, though not in purely monetary terms, is the Olive Schreiner Prize for 2015, which went jointly to Jill Nudelman for her novel Inheriting the Earth (UKZN Press, 2012) and Imran Garda for his novel The Thunder that Roars (Umuzi, 2014).

Nudelman’s win marks another success for the writing group mentored by David Medalie, a novelist, award-winning short-story writer and English literature professor. Another of the group, Maren Bodenstein, was shortlisted for the Sunday Times Fiction Prize a few years ago, before it changed its name to a moniker acknowledging Barry Ronge’s contribution to South African letters (and the Sunday Times).

Inheriting the Earth is an exploration of origins and heritage on personal and community levels. Its protagonist, Rose Clemens, is an orphan. Left further bereft by the death of her foster mother, she discovers a box of archaeological artefacts that offers clues to her family history.

Rose sets off from the Johannes- burg where she has grown up to the hamlet of Oberon in the Drakensberg, where she hopes to unravel the mystery of the objects. She finds spiritual empathy with the mountains and, of course, she has glimpses and finds traces of people who are said to be descendants of the last surviving San community.

International news network journalist Garda drew on his own work experience to write a thriller — or maybe “faction” puts it better — about a South African reporter, Yusuf Carrim, who has made it in the New York media world, most recently and notably with his cover- age of the Arab Spring.

He’s summoned home, though, by paternal authority, to help look for a missing friend of the family. Thriller elements are melded with an examination and revelation of identity, which makes Garda’s book one in theme with Nudelman’s.

It’s the whirlwind aspect of The Thunder that Roars that most likely accounts for its being optioned for the big screen by Tsitsi Dangarembga, the celebrated Zimbabwean author of Nervous Conditions. It is as founder and chief executive of Nyerai Films that Dangarembga optioned Garda’s novel last October; she plans to supervise the adaptation and production as creative producer.

The Sunday Times hands out South Africa’s biggest rewards for fiction (the Barry Ronge Fiction Prize) and nonfiction (the Alan Paton Award). Both have reached the shortlist stage with the naming of the traditional five nominees in each category.

The Paton panel, led by author Achmat Dangor, with academics Tinyiko Maluleke and Pippa Green, plumped for this final five: JM Coetzee and the Life of Writing by David Attwell (Jacana); Papwa: Golf’s Lost Legend by Maxine Case (Kwela Books); To Quote Myself: A Memoir by Khaya Dlanga (Picador Africa); Rape: A South African Nightmare by Pumla Dineo Gqola (MF Books/ Jacana); and Showdown at the Red Lion by Charles van Onselen (Jonathan Ball).

Dangor says in the awards media release: “Each of the writers has approached their chosen subject matter with candour and honesty, and do not hesitate to challenge many popular notions that have become ‘accepted truths’ in our daily public discourse.”

Among the most tragic of apartheid’s stories is that of the golfer Papwa Sewgolum, who, had he been born elsewhere, would have had a long career in international golf. He decisively bested Gary Player in South Africa’s premier annual event, but was given his prize money and trophy on the steps of the Durban City Hall — in pouring rain. “Non- whites” (Sewgolum was of Indian descent) were not allowed inside.

To compound the injury, Player had demanded to see and check Sewgolum’s scorecard. So much for the conventional wisdom surrounding Player as a sportsman; but Player is, after all, the golfer who designed courses in Myanmar when it was among the world’s prime polecats for human rights abuses.

The Ronge panel was chaired by poet Rustum Kozain, a two-time winner of the Olive Schreiner Prize. Together with novelist Angela Makholwa Moabelo and former publisher Stephen Johnson, he nominated the following books: Boy on the Wire by Alastair Bruce (Umuzi); The Dream House by Craig Higginson (Picador Africa); The Magistrate of Gower by Claire Robertson (Umuzi); Green Lion by Henrietta Rose-Innes (Umuzi); and Hunger Eats a Man by Nkosinathi Sithole (Penguin).

Kozain notes in the media release that the writers are “in control of the mechanics of storytelling and so the storytellers that emerge, and the stories they tell, compel us. And they compel us — seducing us with- out revealing the seduction — into fictional worlds that are credible because of the quality of the storytelling.”