South African author and poet Marlene van Niekerk, author of Agaat and Triomf, is one of four African authors among the ten finalists for the Man Booker International Prize 2015.
The international judging panel announced the finalists this morning at UCT, hosts of the event, which represents a first for Africa. UCT's Department of English Language and Literature in the Faculty of Humanities is the primary host.
The Man Booker International Prize is awarded every second year to a living author of any nationality for their contribution to fiction on the world stage in a body of work published in English, or available in English translation.
The winner will be announced on 19 May in London and carries a prize of £60 000.
Welcoming participants to the campus, Dean of Humanities Professor Sakhela Buhlungu said that to celebrate the partnership with Man Booker, UCT had been hosting a series of associated events.
But that Africa has four finalists is a coup for the continent's writers. Van Niekerk is Professor in Afrikaans and Dutch Literature and Creative Writing at neighbouring Stellenbosch University.
Her African counterparts are Mia Couto (Mozambique), Ibrahim al-Koni (Libya), and Alain Mabanckou (Republic of Congo).
Though "utterly different", each is a "blazing voice" in their own right, said Dame Marina Warner, chair of the international juding panel.
"The short list looks back at the writer's corpus and recognises its brilliance, but their work also captures something of what fiction is doing now; the exuberant multiplicity of forms it is taking as writers set about shaping experience into stories, images, characters, reimagining and interrogating history, giving voice to memories and figments, listening to the often harsh, discordant voice of the universe."
"[The announcement] is a great celebration of African writers," added Elleke Boehmer, novelist, critic and professor of English at Oxford University. Her fellow judges are novelist Nadeem Aslam; editorial director of the New York Review Classics series Edwin Frank; and professor of Arabic and comparative literature at SOAS, University of London, Wen-chin Ouyang.
Of note is that South Africa is one of six new nationalities included on the list for the first time, joining Libya, Mozambique, Guadeloupe, Hungary, and Congo. The list also represents seven languages, the highest numbers featured since the prize's inception.
That Africa hosted the event for the first time also honours the greats of African literature, said Boehmer.
"This prize is justly proud that Chinua Achebe, a granddaddy of African literature, was an early prize-winner and that this prize got in where the Nobel Prize didn't. So it's fitting to announce the short list from here."
And that fiction continues to play a vital role in society is apparent in the works represented by the finalists, Warner noted.
"Fiction can enlarge the world for us all and stretch our understanding and our sympathy. The novel today is in fine form, we discovered. For the writers it is a field of enquiry, a tribunal of history, a map of the heart, a probe of the psyche, a stimulus to thought, a well of pleasure, and a laboratory of language."
Probed about the recent protests and debate around the Cecil John Rhodes statue on campus, Warner said: "We have been encountering these debates on campus and in South Africa and Cape Town. It's likely we will see these debates being pushed forward in the finalists lists."
Boehmer added: "All the writers [finalists] represent decolonising consituencies and voices and ask different, tough questions ... The debates around the statue are obviously crucial and it's very interesting to us that this emerged just at this moment ... The one reflection I'd offer is that to take down or to remove a statue does not dismantle the structure of power, power that vested Rhodes and others of his ilk in the first place."
Man Booker International Prize 2015 finalists
César Aira (Argentina)
Story by Helen Swingler. Photo by Michael Hammond.
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