UCT Great Minds: 18 of the best local contemporary writers

26 March 2015 | Story by Newsroom

Whether as students, teachers or fellows, some of South Africa's top contemporary novelists, playwrights and satirists have found a home at UCT. Here are just a few.

Ellen Banda-Aaku

In 2004 Zambian writer Ellen Banda-Aaku's first book, a children's book titled Wandi's Little Voice, won the Macmillan Writer's Prize for Africa; and her first novel, Patchwork, won the 2010 Penguin Prize for African Writing. She is a graduate of UCT's creative writing programme.

Etienne van Heerden

Etienne van Heerden's books, such as Toornberg and 30 Nagte in Amsterdam, have won numerous literary prizes, and he has to honour of being one of only two writers to win the WA Hofmeyr prize twice. He's also the Hofmeyr Professor in the School of Languages and Literatures at UCT.

Ceridwen Dovey

Dovey is both a writer and a social anthropologist. Her first work of fiction, Blood Kin, was the product of her creative writing MA, which she completed at UCT. Her second book, Only the Animals, is a collection of short stories about the souls of ten animals caught up in human conflict over the course of the last century.

Damon Galgut

Galgut both studied and has taught at UCT. His first book, A Sinless Season, was published when he was 17 and still a student. Subsequent novels have dealt with his experience of childhood cancer (Small Circle of Beings) and the relationship between two very different characters working in a rural hospital setting in the critically lauded The Good Doctor.

Diane Awerbuck

Awerbuck's debut novel, Gardening at Night (2003), is a coming-of-age tale set in Kimberley. It won the 2004 Commonwealth Writers prize. Her second novel, Home Remedies, was published in 2012. She holds an MA in creative writing from UCT.

Femi Terry

Another graduate of creative writing at UCT, Olufemi Terry (known as Femi Terry) won the 2010 Caine Prize for African Fiction for his short story Stickfighting Boys. Terry hails from Sierra Leone, but now calls Cape Town home.

HJ Golakai

Hawa Jande Golokai is a Liberian-born crime novelist who published her first novel, the thriller The Lazarus Effect, in 2011, for which she won the 2012 Sunday Times Award for fiction. She completed her undergraduate degree in molecular and cell biology in 2005 at UCT.

Henrietta Rose-Innes

Rose-Innes was the 2012 fellow at UCT's Gordon Institute for Creative and Performing Arts (GIPCA). She has published numerous short stories and essays, and three novels: Nineveh (2011), The Rock Alphabet (2011) and Shark's Egg (2000).

Imraan Coovadia

Coovadia has published seven novels, including Green-eyed Thieves (2006), The Institute of Taxi Poetry (2012), and most recently Tales of the Metric System (2013). Coovadia is also a professor of English at UCT.

Lauren Beukes

A UCT creative writing programme graduate, Beukes is the author of the bestsellers The Shining Girls, Broken Monsters, and Zoo City, a sci-fi novel set in an alternative-reality Johannesburg of the future (which went on to win the 2011 Arthur C Clarke Award).

Mary Watson

Author of Moss, a collection of interlinking stories, literary thriller The Cutting Room and the 2006 Caine Prize winner for her short story Jungfrau, Watson was recently named in the Hay Festival's Africa39 project as one of 39 writers from sub-Saharan Africa aged under 40 with potential and talent to define trends in African literature. Watson first completed her MA in creative writing under André Brink, then went on to teach film studies at UCT while studying toward her PhD, until 2008, when she moved to Galway, Ireland.

Masande Ntshanga

Ntshanga hit the local literary scene when he won the 2013 PEN International New Voices award with his short story, Space. His debut novel The Reactive, which follows an HIV-positive young man reeling from the trauma of his brother's death, formed part of his submission toward an MA in creative writing at UCT in 2013.

Mike Nicol

Nicol is most well-known for his crime writing, and has won international renown for books such as Black Heart and Killer Country. He has also written a number of general fiction books, as well as publishing extensively in non-fiction and as a journalist. He is also a UCT creative writing fellow.

Nadia Davids

Davids is an alumna of the UCT Drama Department. Her plays, At Her Feet (2003) and Cissie(2008), have been performed around the world and earned her the 2003 Rosalie Gucht Prize for new directors and three Fleur du Cap award nominations. Her novel, An Imperfect Blessing, was published in 2014.

Penny Busetto

Busetto won the 2013 EU Literary Award for her debut novel, The Story of Anna P, as Told by Herself – a story of a woman living on an island off the coast of Italy, who cannot remember how she got there. A graduate of the MA in creative writing, Busetto is now completing her PhD in English at UCT.

Rayda Jacobs

Jacobs was born in Cape Town but lived in Canada for 30 years, from 1968 until returning to Cape Town in 1995. Also in 1995, her first novel Eyes on the Sky was awarded the Herman Charles Bosman Prize for Fiction. She later graduated from UCT's creative writing programme and published two further novels, which together with Eyes on the Sky form a trilogy. Her next work of fiction, Confessions of a Gambler, was a bestseller, and was later adapted for film.

Tom Eaton

Eaton earned both a bachelor's degree and an MA degree in creative writing from UCT. In addition to his non-fiction and journalistic work, he has published three books: The De Villiers Code, Texas, and The Wading (which Eaton wrote for his creative writing MA under the supervision of JM Coetzee).

Yewande Omotoso

Omotoso was born in Barbados but grew up in Nigeria before moving to South Africa as a teen. She qualified as an architect before dedicating herself to writing. She submitted her first novel, Bomboy, to a publisher at the same time that she completed her MA in creative writing at UCT in 2011.

This list is, of course, in addition to the greats like Njabulo Ndebele, André Brink, JM Coetzee and Athol Fugard. For some of the poets who've called UCT home, tune in to this series on UCT's great minds of literature on Friday 27 March 2015.

To be in the company of more great writers, don't forget to attend the public panel discussion with the 2015 Man Booker International judging panel on Thursday 26 March 2015 at Jameson Hall. RSVP here.


Story by Ambre Nicolson. Photo by Michael Hammond.

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Please view the republishing articles page for more information.