Shortlist for SA’s top literary awards announced

19 May 2014

South Africa’s literary world gathered in the beautiful Franschhoek Valley over the weekend for the annual Franschhoek Literary Festival, the highlight of the local books calendar.

This year, 169 authors entertained thousands of visitors at talks and discussions, readings and workshops leading up to the highlight of the festival, the announcement of the Sunday Times Literary Awards shortlisted nominees.

Taking place at an invitation-only cocktail party at Allora Ristorante Classico on Saturday evening, it was the place to see and be seen. The canapes were good, the wine warming and the guests in fine fettle. The weather was the only Grinch at the party, settling in coldly around the shoulders and ears.

From 50 books on the long-list, just 10 were selected for the shortlist – five in each category. These are the Alan Paton Award and the Sunday Times Fiction Prize.

“The shortlists acknowledge the work of South African authors who have produced outstanding writing,” Sunday Times books editor Ben Williams told the audience. “This year’s non-fiction shortlist features a host of ‘state of the nation books’ in competition with literary biography and investigations into South Africa’s past while the fiction shortlist contains an interesting mix of different genres, including historical fiction, and, in one novel, both speculative fiction and crime.

“It is not going to be an easy task selecting the respective winners.”

This year is the 25th anniversary of the Alan Paton Award, awarded annually to a book that presents, in the words of the criteria, “the illumination of truthfulness, especially those forms of it that are new, delicate, unfashionable and fly in the face of power; compassion, elegance of writing, and intellectual and moral integrity”.

The criteria for the Fiction Prize require that the winning book should be “a novel of rare imagination and style, evocative, textured and a tale so compelling as to become an enduring landmark of contemporary fiction”.

Annari van der Merwe, the chairperson of Fiction Prize judging panel and founding publisher of Kwela Books and Umuzi, said: “The picture of our society that emerges from this year’s submissions for the Sunday Times Fiction Prize is not a cheerful one; however, we feel that there are some exceptional books in the running this year.

“The novels on the long list explore practically every pressing social ill – corruption, greed, violence, drug addiction, alcoholism, the rape and abuse of women and children, the plight of minorities. By and large, the novels were well-designed and we were also struck by the generally high quality of the technical editing. Judging an award of this calibre is no easy task.”

The shortlist

The overall winners of both awards will be announced in Johannesburg on 28 June. The shortlisted books for the Alan Paton Award for non-fiction are:

  • A Rumour of Spring: South Africa after 20 Years of Democracy by Max du Preez
  • My Second Initiation: The Memoir of Vusi Pikoli by Vusi Pikoli and Mandy Wiener
  • Portrait of a Slave Society: The Cape of Good Hope 1717-1795 by Karel Schoeman
  • The Concentration Camps of the Anglo-Boer War: A Social History by Elizabeth van Heyningen
  • Richard Rive: a Partial Biography by Shaun Viljoen

The shortlisted books for the Sunday Times Fiction Prize are:

  • The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes
  • False River by Dominic Botha
  • Penumbra by Songeziwe Mahlangu
  • The Spiral House by Claire Robertson
  • Wolf Wolf by Eben Venter

The first Franschhoek Literary Festival took place in 2007 with two main objectives:

  • To bring together a broad cross-section of mostly South African English-speaking writers and a few distinguished authors from overseas, aiming to present quality events that inspire and inform; and
  • To raise funds for local community and school libraries, for which the FLF Library Fund was established.

The annual festival runs from Friday to Sunday during the third weekend in May, preceded by the Book Week for Young Readers. The events take place in village venues within a few minutes’ walk of each other – helping to create a vibrant ambience in streets buzzing with book-lovers and book sellers. Restaurants are full and there is chatter in the streets and lanes.

The emphasis is on informal discussions and spirited debates between several writers with a chairperson, or one-on-one conversations, and occasional talks, explain the organisers.

Starting at 10am and ending at 5pm, up to eight one-hour events run concurrently with half an hour between each. Fringe events include literary and publishers’ dinners, book launches, writing workshops, a school spelling bee, wine writers’ prizes and classical music concerts.

One of the main reasons for starting the festival in 2007 was to encourage a culture of reading in the Franschhoek valley, add the organisers. Each seat sold makes a contribution “to the great cause of creating confident readers”.

Among other measures, the FLF Library Fund donates books to schools and creches and has a librarian who helps run these libraries. “Weekly visits to the upgraded school libraries by all classes for storytelling and to borrow books, as well as the excitement of author visits during the Book Week for Young Readers, are already improving local reading levels.”