2020 has been a rather interesting year for the English Academy and the majority of our event were cancelled due to the Covid 19 lock-down, however we still continued to present our awards.
The 2020 English Academy Commemorative Lecture
This was the only live event that we had this year and was presented by Council member, Professor Rajendra Chetty in February. This lecture is intended to honour persons who have contributed massively to the growth of English and its literatures throughout their lifetime. Ahmed Essop (1931-2019) was chosen as a suitable candidate for commemoration in this year’s lecture. Essop was a South African Indian writer of outstanding note, with 13 published works, including the famous The Hajji and Other Stories which won the Academy’s Olive Schreiner Prize for Prose in 1979.
Professor Chetty presented the commemorative lecture on the theme “The Janus-faced ambivalence of Indianness in Ahmed Essop’s The Hajji and Other Stories”. Professor Chetty’s lecture was both entertaining and informative. He explored the ambivalence of Indian identity as represented in Essop’s very popular collection of stories, published in 1978 and later adapted into film. He discussed the work within the context of postcolonial theories of nation and narration, specifically the authenticity and context of cultural location and representation. After the lecture, Yousuf Cajee (a relative of Ahmed Essop) spoke on behalf of the family, providing more insight into Essop’s life and thanking Professor Chetty for his lecture. As is customary, the full lecture will be published in the English Academy Review.
Fellowship award presented at the Memorial lecture in February
The EASA Fellowship Award was awarded posthumously to Dr Mark Lloyd. Sadly, Dr Lloyd had passed on a week before this event and so the award was presented. The citation was given by Professor Rosemary Gray who acknowledged all the good work that Dr Lloyd had done for the Academy
The Gold Medal Award for a lifetime achievement presented at the Memorial lecture in February
The EASA awarded the Gold Medal awards to Professor Michael Williams. The citation was read by Professor Rajendra Chetty and it commended Professor Williams for his role as the editor of the English Academy Review over a number of years and his contributions to the EASA as both a Council member and member of the Executive Committee.
Professor Williams has conspicuously served the cause of English over a long period, serving as editor of the English Academy Review for nine years (2010-2018) and contributing to Academy business as both a Council member and member of the Executive Committee.
Michael Williams was born in Durban, and went to school there. He completed his Bachelor and Master’s degrees at the Durban branch of what was then the University of Natal (now the University of KwaZulu-Natal).
In 1976 he completed his Master’s dissertation which was entitled “The Individual and Society: The Problem of Identity in the late novels of Charles Dickens”. While working on this project, he taught in the Department of English at the University of Durban-Westville, and after that in the Department of English at the University of Natal. Later, he spent time as a research student in the Department of English and Related Literature at the University of York in the United Kingdom. He completed his D.Phil in that department in 1982; the work was entitled “Jane Austen: The Novels as Six Fictional Methods”.
While he was a research student, he did some teaching in his department at the University of York – giving lectures, and conducting seminars and tutorials. A revised version of the text of his doctorate was published in 1986 by MacMillan Press in Basingstoke and London, and St Martin’s Press in New York. The work was entitled Jane Austen: Six Novels and Their Methods. Between 1982 and 2014 he taught in the Department of English Studies at the University of South Africa. In addition to the regular and routine teaching, his job involved extensive revisions of existing modules and the planning, implementation and overseeing of new modules.
During his time at Unisa, he also undertook the task of editing some of the prescribed texts. An annotated edition of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey (Ad Donker, 1987) was one of such. He also edited and annotated texts of poetry by John Milton and Alexander Pope, which were designed to be included in the study package sent to every student. And, together with four colleagues from the department, he worked on the selection and editing of a collection of 45 short stories (Cross-Currents: An Anthology of Short Stories, Acacia, 1989).
Some of the subject areas in which he worked are modern poetry and fiction (including South African modern poetry and fiction), literary theory, nineteenth century fiction, the literature of the Romantic period, eighteenth century studies, and Milton and Shakespeare.
While he was in the department, a number of Master’s and doctoral students successfully completed their studies under his supervision. Topics included Shakespeare, Jane Austen, nineteenth-century fiction, Katherine Mansfield, and Elizabeth Bowen. He has also been an external examiner of Master’s dissertations and doctoral theses at six South African universities.
Professor Williams has read papers at international conferences, including an AUETSA conference, the International Milton Conference, the Language of Poetry Conference at the University of the Witwatersrand, a Congress of the Shakespeare Society of Southern Africa, a conference of the English Academy of Southern Africa, and the North-East MLA conferences.
His research interests include British Romanticism, with a particular focus on Byron and Austen. He has also explored some of the interrelations between literature, history and politics, and expressions of political and religious scepticism. In addition, he has explored connections between Romantics and writers from other periods, including J.M. Coetzee, Alexander Pope, John Milton, and William Shakespeare.
During the period that he was Editor-in-Chief of The English Academy Review, he wrote twelve substantial editorials for the journal. The editorial for each issue drew attention to some key points in each of the articles included in that issue and also noted common grounds among the articles, as well as contrasting elements.
The period of his editorship of the journal covered three terms, from 2010 to 2018. Two issues of The English Academy Review were published each year under his editorship. He was responsible for liaising with potential authors and for overseeing the blind peer-reviewing process. He advised authors on ways of revising their articles in the light of comments made by the reviewers, edited the revised articles, and checked the page proofs. He was also the sole author of the editorials for each issue. He truly rendered distinguished service to the Academy.
Rajendra Chetty and Rosemary Gray
ACCEPTANCE SPEECH: MICHAEL WILLIAMS
I must begin with the expression of sincere thanks to Rajendra Chetty for his kind and generous remarks in introducing me. And I want to extend my thanks beyond the immediate and present moment. Both in his former capacity as President of the Academy and in our subsequent dealings, his conduct has combined the best of the professional with warmest of the personal and the friendly.
There is always a degree of invisibility that attaches to the function of editing: something should also be said about the variability of the process. It would perhaps be no exaggeration to claim that no two editors are likely to agree on exactly what the function involves. In my dealings with Guest Editors and with the Editors of other journals, I have encountered an impressive range of possibilities.
At one extreme there is the notion that once one has obtained favourable reports from peer-reviewers all one has to do, as editor, is to choose the order in which the articles will appear. At the other extreme there can be a minutely particular scrutiny of each sentence in an article for real or imagined grammatical infelicities. I must hasten to add that I have never been in favour of ungrammatical sentences. But I have also always felt that an author has the right to the expression of a particular and characteristic voice. In the end, of course, it is a matter of striking a balance. Perhaps Alexander Pope, in his An Essay on Criticism, puts it best. (As his title makes clear, Pope was addressing critics rather than editors; but it is fair to claim a degree of overlapping between the two roles.) Pope wrote:
A perfect Judge will read each Work of Wit
With the same Spirit that its Author writ… (ll. 233-234)
It is necessary to add that reading in this way does not automatically and always produce a favourable impression of the author: try reading one of Donald Trump’s utterances with this in mind.
A few lines later, Pope elaborates on his point by comparing literary beauties with the beauty of the human form, and by suggesting that it is the wholeness of the picture that should count, rather than individual and specific details:
’Tis not a Lip, or Eye, we Beauty call
But the joint Force and full Result of all…(ll. 245-246)
Pope’s term “a perfect Judge” warns us that he is invoking an ideal – but it is one of the ideals that is perhaps worth seeking.
A word of thanks, in this regard, is due to the peer reviewers of EAR’s articles. Their efforts can never be properly acknowledged, but they do so much to help ensure that the process of editing is balanced and fair. I began by thanking Rajendra for his always cordial and professional conduct. I should like to end by thanking our President. He too has been uniformly courteous and friendly in matters pertaining to the journal, as he has also in general in his dealings with the Academy and its business.
Unfortunately, due to the current Covid-19 pandemic, it has not been possible to present any of the 2019 awards at the usual Academy Awards Ceremonies. However, the winners will receive their certificates and prize monies and the adjudicators’ citations. The English Academy of Southern Africa is pleased to announce the winners of its annual prizes and awards adjudicated in 2019 and presented in 2020
ENGLISH ACADEMY OF SOUTHERN AFRICA SOL PLAATJE PRIZE FOR TRANSLATION 2019
Awarded to: Michiel Heyns for his translation from Afrikaans into English of The Shallows by Ingrid Winterbach, published by Human & Rousseau.
The Sol Plaatje Prize for Translation 2019 is awarded to Michiel Heyns for his translation of this ‘fantastical, absurd, yet haunting’ novel. Heyns manages to capture the Winterbach-style, and the manner in which this parallel narrative interlinks the novel’s characters and events with masterful storytelling. This was done in a manner that was not lost in its English translation and proves that Heyns is truly a Winterbach veteran.
Michiel Heyns is an academic, a writer, a reviewer and a translator of award-winning novels for which he has won many accolades. This is the second time Heyns has won this particular award, the first being for his translation of Marlene van Niekerk’s Agaat into The Way of the Women in 2008, while his translation of Willem Anker’s Red Dog won the SALA Prize for Literary Translation in 2018.
Judges: Dr Candice Livingston, Dr Amanda Swart, Prof. Louise Viljoen
Response to the award from Michiel Heyns
I am very grateful to the English Academy for this unexpected honour. Translation tends to be the Cinderella of the literary arts, at its most useful when least visible. A translation that draws attention to itself is by that token a bad translation. It is thus gratifying when a translation does receive some recognition, and can for a moment share the limelight with the real star, who is of course the author of the original text. I have been privileged to translate any number of wonderful novels, and I remain grateful to their authors for giving me access to their creations. In this instance, I am particularly indebted to Ingrid Winterbach for her wry, laconic glimpse into a wholly unexpected face of suburban existence. As always with Winterbach, the subtle shifts of tone and the deadpan humour were a challenge and a delight.
Umberto Eco, multilingual author and translator, has called translation ‘a negotiation between cultures’, and it is in this respect that the existence of this award is so heartening: as a contribution to that negotiation which can only be beneficial to both cultures. I feel privileged to have been part of such a negotiation, and thank the English Academy for recognising its role in the cultural life of our country.
ENGLISH ACADEMY OF SOUTHERN AFRICA OLIVE SCHREINER PRIZE FOR A POETRY ANTHOLOGY 2020 (This prize is offered triennially, alternating with the Olive Schreiner Prize for prose and drama).
- Over-all winner awarded to: Allan Kolski Horwitz for his anthology The Colours of Our Flag. (Botsotso, 2016)
- Highly Commended Angifi Dladla – Lament for Kofifi Macu (Deep South, 2017
- Highly Commended Naomi Nkealah – And They Call Themselves Feminists (The Poets’ Printery, 2017)
The 2019 Olive Schreiner Prize for Poetry panel reviewed individual poetry anthologies (not edited volumes) published in 2016-2018. Reviewing poetry is seldom a task to be taken lightly, nor is it something that can be done hastily without thought or pondering. Poetry is that beast that lives in the realms of literature, colouring the landscape with its metaphors, metres, rhythms, rhymes and forms – a beast that many admire but few dare to approach. What is it about poetry that is simultaneously alienating and alluring? What is it that draws us towards it only to have us resist the connection like two positive poles of a magnet? Could it be that in those strangely arranged words that dance on the page, a choreography transcribed through spaces, dots, lines, swirls… ‘silences’, we are faced with images of life, lived experience that require of us a deeper connection with ourselves and others? Perhaps this need for a deeper connection with the other and ‘Other’ is something that has caused the gradual decline of poetry’s interrogation in graduate and postgraduate literature programmes. Academia has a great love of interrogating, discussing, pondering, ruminating over the concept of ‘Other’, as long as the other stays on the page, remains a theory, a ‘something’ to be analysed, dissected, catalogued through the safe lens of the microscope that is theory. Poetry, on the other hand, demands of us an engagement not only of the mind by also of the spirit, the metres, rhythms and rhymes stirring up something primordial in the reader, a connection, dare one say, to the Jungian manifestation of the Shadow – that part of our lived experience that has no place in a fast-paced, rational, clinical existence where time-is-money and emotional rather than e-motional engagement is ‘pointless’ and ‘wasteful’. A double-edged sword some might say, because in the same way that poetry challenges ‘ego’ in the reader, does it not amplify ego in the poet? A not so innocent question, but a question that needs asking and may in itself reflect the disconnect between today’s world of profit and gain, and the appreciation of the artist / wordsmith / creator as prophet, storyteller, observer and interrogator of ‘life’ and raw ‘lived-experience’. It is in this environment of disconnectedness that awards, such as the Olive Schreiner Prize for Poetry, become vital to sustaining the importance of this genre that reflects, in its alienating forms, our need to be reminded of what it means to be human. This year’s selection of anthologies has presented a kaleidoscopic view of ‘humanity’. From experiences that touch the personal ‘lived-experience’, to elegiac journeys through landscapes and emotions – each body of work is testament, to a greater or lesser degree, to the role of the poet / wordsmith as prophet, storyteller, observer of humanity. That said, as in every adjudication, a result needs to be reached, and as such, certain criteria needed to be met. Our point of departure was that we were looking at anthologies. Thus, the individual publications needed to reflect the poets’ ability to comfortably navigate different forms within the genre whilst still maintaining a narrative flow that pushed the boundaries of linguistic mastery and expressive imagery symphonically.
Although recognized as a literary activist among aspirant creative writers, Allan Kolski Horwitz has not himself been recognized for his own literary expertise. This is his fourth anthology. It is commendable for its wide range of techniques, poetic timbre, polyphonic and contemporary vision, and historical reach. He experiments with various styles of versification, the mood shifting from tender to angry. The topics are wide ranging. Although somewhat spoilt by not too subtle sexual innuendos, the linguistic mastery and imagery manage to sustain a narrative flow that takes the reader on a guided psychedelic yet grounded journey of lived and living ‘Africanness’. The opening poem, “How Far” serves as both an introduction to the anthology and a challenge to the reader: “How far can I go with you / How far (ll.1-2) … I will show you / Once our horizons meet” (ll. 5-6). Gritty but tender; aggrieved but optimistic; remote but intimate: from within an oxymoronic aesthetic, Allan Kolski Horwitz finds solace – and, perhaps, absolution – in the controlled cadences of poetry. The poems are both boisterous and graceful, quarried from detailed observation of human frailty as well as a yearning for an ever-elusive companionship. “Bo Tree”, for example, is a wonderfully understated meditation on the balm of reciprocity, “when minerals in deep earth rise slowly” and “the Bo bends to offer its medicine”. In “Stoned over Louis Botha”, the imagery is stretched, wrenched, and enlarged in a Dylanesque ballad of urban torment, demonstrating the poet’s desire to transcend the limitations of graphemic utterance. And in “Seven Minutes Past Three” – perhaps the centrepiece of the volume – Horwitz dares to confront the unspeakable. There is conflict, fear, outrage, and prophecy, animated by the poet’s refusal to yield to superfluities of diction. In poem after poem, the poet chronicles an outlaw space on the edge of civilization – bullet-riddled, untouchable, lawless, polluted, and sullied by craven ideologies. Yet, in poem after poem, too, Horwitz allows the Bo tree to offer its vivifying fragrance, giving lyrical authority to experience
Angifi Dladla in his work, Lament for Kofifi Macu presents himself as a voice that will certainly warrant even greater attention in the future. His second anthology in English, Lament for Kofifi Macu presents images that speak of ‘lived-experience’, an uncomfortable reconciliation of that which is seen and heard outside with the reality of a fading ‘new dawn’. There is an uneasiness in the poems, a resignation of fermented disillusionment with glittering promises and yearning to return to honest simplicity – emotions that come through in the poem, ‘When I’m Gone’. Although the expression and flow in the poems is ‘raw’ and the imagery at times jarring, his work imparts a passionate intensity that renders the poems ‘real’. We look forward to reading and experiencing more of his works in English in the future.
Similar to Dladla’s collection of poems, Naomi Nkealah’s poems are awash with unfettered passion – they shout out at the reader asking of him/her to closely question their ‘feminist’ leanings. Her poems are a ‘moral challenge’ to all who read them to re-evaluate what it means to be ‘woman’. By presenting this collection, Nkealah lays bare the inconsistencies in feminism’s claims of ‘liberation’ – the poem “MBA” in which she explores three words so often associated with the women ‘unseen’: “Molested … Battered … Abandoned”, and which concludes with the lines, “MBA – is what we called her / a woman free by law / but chained by marriage” (ll. 16-18), is just one example of poems which explore these contradictions. Her work comes highly commended as a voice of the unspoken.
Judges: Ms Claudia Fratini (convener), Professor Rosemary Gray and Professor Ivan Rabinowitz
THOUGHTS ON OLIVE SCHREINER AND MY POETRY
Allan Kolski Horwitz
Let me first express my appreciation for this award, particularly as it carries the name, and as confirmed by the panel’s citation, the spirit of Olive Schreiner. The citation is very carefully and yet boisterously worded, and makes impassioned claims for the importance of poetry in the face of a totally commodified world which is pushing us, and probably the vast majority of species on this planet, on a path to extinction. And if poetry is this irrepressible expression of the life force that moves us to seek ‘truth and beauty’, then I felt it would be appropriate to look at Olive Schreiner’s writing and discern where we intersect; and happily I found her mystical appreciations as well as her commitment to social change coinciding with my own.
I was in my early twenties and sitting in small room in a flat; the open balcony looked down onto a courtyard in which stood a great multi-branched tree that reminded me of a baobab but wasn’t; and the writhing branches were turned upwards to the sun. And those seemingly blind tendrils embracing the source of life were fused into the tendrils of my own brain that were struggling to contain a situation of anguish regarding the sister of my lover who was in the throes of a breakdown: all systems down in the continuity of meaningful living. And as I sat imbibing the tangled yet vital force within the tree, the (dis)condition of a person I loved called out for healing but could not be healed; and so, to revive and balance myself, I began to order language and write my first poem.
Now I was not alone in being ‘pushed’ into poetry which was as much a consequence, like most children, of my own imagination being fired by stories. But Olive Schreiner was also placed under great stress – her childhood poverty, chronic asthma, the very early death of a sister and later the death of her own child, miscarriages, sexuality that remained unfulfilled, marriages that were inconclusive – so it is not difficult to see what shaped this, her best known poem:
I saw a woman sleeping. In her
sleep she dreamt Life stood
before her, and held in each
hand a gift–in the one Love,
in the other Freedom. And she
said to the woman, ‘Choose!’
And the woman waited long:
and she said, ‘Freedom!’
And life said, ‘Thou hast
well chosen. If thou hadst said,
“Love,” I would have given
thee that thou didst ask for;
and I would have gone from thee no
more. Now, the day will come
when I shall return. In that
day I shall bear both gifts in
I heard the woman laugh in
In this parable the dreamer chooses Freedom before Love for a reason: the shackles so many of us have to carry for reasons of class, colour, gender, ethnicity as well as the ‘chance’ incidents and accidents of living, work against the possibility of enduring Love. And so only when Freedom is won, can that critical aspect of our lives be established. Given the imperial, Victorian circumstances of her time, Olive chose Freedom to express herself as a woman, as an internationalist and as anti-racist, and, as a result, seemingly sacrificed truly fulfilling Love relationships. And so the poem’s climax is disturbingly ambiguous: is the sleeper’s laugh at the news that one day she will receive both, one of joy that this desired harmony is possible – or one of derision at the very notion?
I, on the other hand, born a century later, come from a middle class White South African generation shaped by an historical current that, as well as the privileges bestowed upon us by the System, included a New Left opposed to and presenting alternatives to capitalism and to Stalinist communism, the anti-Apartheid and anti-colonial struggles that made this a global necessity and rising feminist and gay rights movements. It was a time of revolt against the stultifying materialism, inequalities and sexual prudery of bourgeois/ bureaucratic societies in all their guises. However, as we know, this New Left soon foundered against a neo-liberal capitalist order that has perpetuated these divisions and oppressions, and, in some instances, made them even more acute. And so the Freedom Schreiner advocated is still unrealised for a vast proportion of humanity.
But having said this, my personal attempt to synthesize these two lodes of living has, in many ways, had to deal with far fewer obstacles. Specifically with regard to composing poetry, I soon realized that this vocation offered immense range and historically had filled many social and religious functions so that there is no contradiction in the individual voice singing solo, in duets, or in a choir with millions. On the other hand, I also realised that our particular history, as a colonised territory, showed that art making is shaped by definite material circumstances and contexts and that these can cloud such knowledge. One example is the misperception that afflicted many White South African artists/poets who saw the monstrous nature of our segregationist, extractive society as an imposition on their desire to write about issues/themes outside of the moral imperative to participate in the political struggles that dominated colonial life.
In this regard I am reminded of a lament expressed by Patrick Cullinan (quoted in an interview in New Contrast in1992) in which he says that “the fanatical belief that politics is more important than art” was slowing the process of South African poetry becoming “more sophisticated” and “less provincial“. But how could a society dominated by racism and exploitation produce art that would respond to the deepest human needs unless it openly opposed these evils? And in any event this is a false dichotomy for the making of art is not one-dimensional. The poet can have many voices in the same way that any individual has different faces. There should never be conformity, rigidities in terms of theme or style. Freedom means precisely that.
And so, as we live at the beginning of a very new period in South Africa’s evolution, potentially the most transformative in terms of the values that Olive Schreiner believed in but tragically one still mired in moral and ideological corruption, myopia and superficiality, we have to be more honest about the legacies of the past and the nature of our current responses. We are struggling to re-align ourselves as Africans, and this struggle to redefine our ‘national’ culture (in all senses, not just with regard to art making) is reflected in our consciousnesses and in our public institutions and social patterns.
What then of poetry– its composing, its reading, its performance – and the future?
Surely this ancient ‘solace and absolution’, this stirrer of emotion and ideas, will only play a ‘sophisticated’, ‘non-provincial ‘ part if we, as poets, stay true to the legacy of Olive Schreiner.
For my family
Of blood and of the spirit
The living and the dead
“The nature of a poem is analogous to that of a Fiesta, which, besides being a date in the
calendar, is also a break in the sequence of time and the irruption of a present which
periodically returns without yesterday or tomorrow. Every poem is a Fiesta, a precipitate
of pure time.”
First of all, do it; then once you’ve done it (let the words spin out
a whirlpool, dart in from the fringes) let the flow
of ragged cataracts straighten into
deep channels so that a state of swirl
becomes clear as the foaming vision of prophets
truthful fantasy of voices in rhythm
machinery of the intellect
in hand with the rolling tongue telling drama
an ancient space one to honour
shape and re-shape
read the neighbour’s palms
then love your fresh page
all this as you make your own
script/scrawl of the living
island and mainland visited in
daylight and darkness
delivering merciful judgement recording
you do this because you need to follow and leave
traces in the sand beside the raging river
ENGLISH ACADEMY OF SOUTHERN AFRICA THOMAS PRINGLE AWARD FOR LITERARY ARTICLE 2019
Awarded jointly to: Rosemary Gray for her literary article “Recovering our true state of Being: Ben Okri’s fable, ‘The Comic Destiny’
and to: Jacomien van Niekerk for her literary article “The National Question in Antjie Krog’s Transformation Trilogy”.
Rosemary Gray’s article, “Recovering our true state of Being: Ben Okri’s fable, ‘The Comic Destiny’”, is one of the two First Prize winners because it speaks to the plight of the people (as represented in Ben Okri’s work) in an incisive manner, breathing currency and topicality into a mode of subject matter choice most audiences could have otherwise classified as somewhat anachronistic. It highlights the numerous challenges that the 21st century African society is still battling with. Gray’s assertion that “The fable creatively dramatizes the human condition” (p. 36) bespeaks the essay’s feat not only in demonstrating the timeless relevance of the fable, but also the mutable dynamism of ‘the human condition.’ This article is impressively well researched and detailed. Its arguments, clad in lucid language and technical mastery, are quite refined.
Jacomien van Niekerk’s article, “The National Question in Antjie Krog’s Transformation Trilogy” equally deserves the First Prize on many critical fronts. These include its germane argument, clarity of focus, recency and apt theoretical lenses from which it articulates its insights. This article boldly and cogently discusses issues of identity and the ‘national Question’ in South Africa, within the contentious frame of race and non-racialism. In its analysis of Antjie Krog’s Country of My Skull (1998), A Change of Tongue (2003) and Begging to Be Black (2009), Van Niekerk’s article confronts the explosive question: ‘to whom does South Africa belong?’ It is a well-researched article that frames its arguments within a solid historical account. At the end, the author reaches the well argued conclusion that a white person cannot claim an unproblematic belonging to South Africa – because of the vexed history of apartheid.
The two articles, selected from many excellent ones published in a wide range of journals, undoubtedly take literary research to much higher levels.
Judges Professor L.J. Rafapa, Professor Hove, Muchativugwa, Dr Lento, Mzukisi, Dr Musvoto, Rangarirai
ENGLISH ACADEMY OF SOUTHERN AFRICA THOMAS PRINGLE AWARD FOR REVIEWS 2019
Awarded to Sue de Groot for a portfolio of reviews published in Sunday Times.
The year 2020 has been no ordinary year, with the whole world under siege from the corona virus. One of the possible benefits this ill wind has blown us has been a renewed interest in books and more time spent on reading, as lockdown confined us to our homes. And who better to guide us in our choice of reading matter at such a time than a reviewer of the calibre of Sue de Groot. Now, more than ever, her book reviews − always informative, perceptive and lively − make her a valuable national asset.
What is the purpose of the book reviewer? Her role is to broaden our reading horizons by making us aware of newly published books; to give us an idea of their subject matter, context and plot; to pique our curiosity; and to help us decide whether we would like to read a book by providing substantiated opinions of its strengths or weaknesses. De Groot’s reviews achieve all of these requirements. However, it is the tone and style of her reviews that give them real panache. Reviewing Hilary Mantel’s historical novel The Mirror and the Light, De Groot writes: Hilary Mantel does not write snacks. She writes banquets. Some might call Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy a three-course meal, but the concluding volume, The Mirror and the Light, is a standalone feast.
We see her effective use of figurative language again in the same review: Mantel’s impeccable research yields the straw she weaves into fictive gold.
The style of writing is striking and vivid, her precisely chosen words and images rich with implication. When providing a concise plot summary, she is able to strike the balance between giving us a sense of what each book is about, without giving too much of it away.
She also succeeds in going beyond the particularities of individual books by linking their themes to more general trends and concerns, thus enhancing their relevance.
For example, in the novel My Dark Vanessa, a Lolita-like scenario in which a 15-year-old girl has a sexual relationship with her 42-year-old teacher, she links this to the #metoo era, and writes with deep psychological insight:
‘Grooming’ is what we now call it when an adult sets out to seduce a child ….It is a pathetically inadequate word for the conscious and deliberate shattering of innocence. It fails utterly to capture what all the Stranes have done to all the Vanessas. Having sex with supposedly willing minors is almost the least of it – the twisting of their perceptions and the erosion of their selfhood leave far deeper scars.
De Groot is adept at critiquing a wide variety of literary genres. Discussing Sarah Lotz’s thriller Missing Person, she suggests a comparison with that master of the menacing and sinister, Stephen King, when she describes Lotz’s “relentless build up of anticipation” as “entirely Kingian” and dares to state that the author “has out-Kinged King”.
In her evaluation of books, her response is both analytical and emotional. We see this in her review of Shuggie Bain, a novel set in “the bleakest reaches of Glasgow in the 1980s”. Of this book she writes: …
the characters that pop and crackle and snap in Scottish dialect from its pages are people we know: people with fatal flaws and lovable eccentricities; people trying by whatever means possible to crawl through to the end of each grinding day; people fed and fuelled by the illu sion of a better tomorrow. They are us.
The conclusion of this review demonstrates De Groot’s gift for using language that is simple to express thoughts that are profound:
Everything in the novel … tells us that no matter how “normal” it might be in anyone’s world to be destitute, addicted, lonely, hungry, hated, afraid, unhappy and beaten, still there is hope that a different normality exists, and can be attained.
She guides us towards recognizing global significance in the most mundane of local contexts, showing how scenes of “skin-crawling awfulness” can demonstrate deep-rooted truths – not all negative − about human experience.
De Groot’s steady output of highly readable, accessible reviews has made her a trusted reviewer. We are fortunate that we can rely on her judgement to direct us to worthwhile new reads. We applaud her for her work which has done so much to encourage reading and which makes her so worthy a recipient of the Thomas Pringle Award for Reviews for 2020.
Judges: Dr Felicity Horne and Dr Verna Brown
ENGLISH ACADEMY OF SOUTHERN AFRICA GWEN KNOWLES-WILLIAMS EDUCATIONAL BURSARY
Awarded to Carly Twaddle from the University of Pretoria
Ms Carly Twaddle is the recipient of the 2020 Gwen Knowles-Williams Bursary awarded to an English teacher pursuing further education. She came to the University of Pretoria in 2016 and soon proved herself to be an outstanding student. She completed her BA degree with distinction at the end of 2018 after triple majoring in English, History and Latin.
She went on to do an English Honours degree and again graduated with distinction, earning class medals in several modules. In recognition of her academic achievements, she became a Golden Key Society member in 2017. She is currently registered for a PGCE and as of June this year, her cumulative weighted average for this postgraduate education qualification was an extraordinary 94%. This is not altogether surprising to those who know Ms Twaddle.
She is a dedicated teacher who soon showed herself to be a reliable and well organised colleague as well as an empathetic yet effective supporter of students struggling with their modules. In addition to all of this, Ms Twaddle is a lively and energetic young woman, who has served as a section editor and entertainment journalist on the UP student newspaper.
She is also an accomplished debater and has worked part-time throughout her studies as a debating coach at Beaulieu College. The English Academy of Southern Africa’s Gwen Knowles-William’s Bursary award could not go to a more deserving candidate or to a more promising trainee teacher.
CARLY TWADDLE’S RESPONSE TO HER AWARD
Literature is the child’s first experience of another world – one painted by words and endless possibilities. While our imagination, indeed the time to imagine impossible things, dwindles as we age, literature prevails and allows us to seek refuge into the world of the extraordinary. English literature has played a pivotal role in my life since I could read Dr Seuss and Enid Blyton by myself. Nearly two decades on, I still feel the same passion and thrill.
I was fortunate enough to pursue both an undergraduate and an Honours degree in English literature: I got to look behind the curtain. Here I discovered a whole other dimension in the world of literature. I was Lucy discovering Narnia, Harry opening his Hogwarts letter. My English lecturers at the University of Pretoria allowed me to explore this world and uncover precisely why literature matters in young people’s lives. My lecturers’ passion fed my own. Most importantly, they taught me how to feed others through the process of enjoyment, dissection and discovery. For this, I will always be grateful for them.
I am now embarking on a journey which allows me to spread my knowledge and my passion for literature. Being an English Home Language teacher is no easy task, but I hope to take it on bravely. This bursary (which I could not have been deserving of were it not for the support and guidance from my family and my mentor, Professor Molly Brown) is going to make a monumental difference in my life. In a time where instant gratification diminishes the passion for reading, I get to contribute to the fight for a while longer. I get to pursue my passions even further. So I would like to thank Professor Brown for my nomination and the English Academy of Southern Africa for this kind and honourable award.
English Academy of Southern Africa 2020 International Conference “‘Africa Hurrah’: Into Africa, Out of Africa, English in the World Interrogated”
Due to the global health crisis, we have decided to postpone the EASA conference. A new date is still under discussion and we will let you know as soon as it has been finalised.
We thank those who have submitted abstracts for the conference. If you would like to convert your conference paper in to an article we would be happy to consider it for our journal (English Academy Review).
1 October 2019
AWARDS PRESENTED IN 2019
4 May 2019, Northwards Parktown Johannesburg.
14 March 2019, The National English Literary Museum Grahamstown .
Sol Plaatjie Award for Translation
Leon De Kock and Karin Schimke
For their translation from Afrikaans into English, of Flame in the Snow: The love letters of Andre Brink and Ingrid Jonker.
13th March 2019, English Department, Stellenbosch.
Olive Schreiner Prize for Drama (2015-2017 publication or performance)
For Tin Bucket Drum
22 May 2019, Ike’s Books and Collectables, 48a, Florida Road Durban.
Olive Schreiner Award for Prose (2015-2017)
For The Printmaker
For The Shouting in the dark.
7 September 2019, Wits University Johannesburg.
Thomas Pringle Award for ad hoc Reviews 2019
7 September 2019, Wits University Johannesburg.
Percy Fitzpatrick Prize for Youth Literature (2016 and 2017)
Joanne MacGregor – Fault Lines
7 September 2019, Wits University Johannesburg.
Gwen Knowles Bursary
Student at the Institute for the Study of Englishes in Africa at Rhodes University.
14 March 2019, The National English Literary Museum Grahamstown.
20 August 2018
Africa Live at The Little Theatre – 6 September 2018 The English Academy of Southern Africa in collaboration with Unisa’s Institute for African Renaissance Studies (IARS) invites you to join us at the English Academy Percy Baneshik Lecture
Project Manager: Professor Rosemary Gray (EASA)
Programme Director: Professor Rajendra Chetty (UWC & EASA)
Public Lecture: Professor Achille Mbembe (acclaimed Cameroonian philosopher – WITS)
Welcome: Professor Esther Kibuka-Sebitosi (Hod, IARS)
Introduction: Professor Rajendra Chetty (EASA President)
Dramatic interlude: Dr Owen Seda
Lecture: RETHINKING BABYLON: THE LANGUAGE DILEMMA AND THE SEARCH FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE IN AFRICA
5 June 2018
Conference For English Home Language Teachers Prof Chris Thurman, Keynote Address
9 April 2018
Africa Live at The Little Theatre – 3 May 2018 The English Academy of Southern Africa in collaboration with Unisa’s Institute for African Renaissance Studies invites you to join us in celebrating Africa Month and the English Academy Percy Baneshik Lecture
Project Manager: Professor Rosemary Gray (EASA)
Programme Director: Professor Esther Kibuka- Sebitosi (IARS)
Public Lecture: Professor Achille Mbembe (acclaimed Cameroonian philosopher – WITS)
Welcome & introduction: Professor Rajendra Chetty (EASA President)
Dramatic interlude: Dr Owen Seda
Lecture: WHY DO WE BELIEVE DIFFERENCE IS A PROBLEM?
13 March 2018
The English Academy Review Language Education and Literacy Issues: Principles underlying Policies, Politics and Practices
This will be the topic for EAR 36 (1), due out in May 2019. Submissions from last year’s Academy Conference will be included for consideration, and do not need to be re-submitted. Non-conference submissions will also be most welcome.
The guest-editor will be Rajendra Chetty. He is currently Research Chair in the Literacy and Poverty Unit at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology. Later this year he will be moving to the University of the Western Cape.
Articles to be considered for this themed issue should reach the Academy Office by 03 September 2018.
Academy Office address: EnglishAcademy@societies.wits.ac.za
The English Academy Review