The Sunday Times Literary Awards 2010 shortlists
Writings from the modern South African psyche, about memory and relationships, journeys past and present, exile, institutions and democracy, the shortlist has it all, writes Tymon Smith
It's never an easy process to choose a shortlist for a literary award. Like asking a parent to pick their favourite child, the decision of which titles to shortlist for this year's Alan Paton Award for Non-Fiction was a difficult one for the judging panel.
This difficulty is reflected in the panel's commendation of three titles, which they were moved and impressed by, but which they felt did not meet all the criteria for shortlist selection. Clive Chipkin's book on the architecture of Johannesburg impressed the judges with its erudition, research and passion for a subject, which the author has made his own. Alf Kumalo's beautiful photographs told the moving and humorous story of his amazing journey from Alexandra in the '50s to the US and beyond. Leonie Joubert presented a compelling and important look at the environmental challenges facing the country, which the judges commended as much for its impressive presentation as for its message and quality of writing.
While the deliberations for this year's shortlist were difficult and heated, the panelists arrived at a shortlist which was agreeable to all. The books present a range of personal expressions and investigations of South Africa's history and the complexities of the struggle to form identities in a democratic landscape.
Kevin Bloom used the traumatic death of his cousin as a starting point for his brave and beautifully written attempt to come to terms with the heart of the modern South African psyche in his first book, Ways of Staying. Andre Brink grappled with the memories of his transient childhood, their effect on his literary and political development, and the painful memories of his relationship with the poet Ingrid Jonker in his expertly crafted memoir A Fork in the Road. The poetry and intensity of Antjie Krog's battle to find a place in a post-apartheid South Africa in the journeys both past and present that make up her third book of non-fiction, Begging to be Black, earned her a deserved place on the shortlist. In presenting the memories of his time as a member of MK in exile, James Ngculu put forth a personal account of an important and too rarely explored facet of South African history that was admired by all. Lastly, veteran lawyer, judge and activist Albie Sach's account of his time as a constitutional court judge and the importance of this institution to our democracy proved his formidable writing talents to be no less than they were when he won the Paton Award in 1991 for The Soft Vengeance of a Freedom Fighter.
The 2010 shortlist reflects the dedication of local authors to exploring new directions in personal ways that lead readers to reflect on where we are and where we are going. It's now up to the judges to reconsider the five titles before reaching a final decision. The winner will be announced on July 24.
- Ways of Staying by Kevin Bloom, Picador Africa
- A Fork in the Road by Andre Brink, Harvill Secker
- Begging to be Black by Antjie Krog, Random House Struik
- The Honour to Serve by James Ngculu, David Philip
- The Strange Alchemy of Life and Law by Albie Sachs, Oxford University Press
What the judges said:
Ari Sitas: Chairman of the judging panel
"Each year gets harder as the range of themes published breaks the mind; even a multi-talented panel like ours felt its limitations deeply. Often we had to return to Paton's wisdom and the prize's narrow mandate to look for the sustained narrative written by a South African that allowed for a profound insight into the society we have lived through, are living through or will be living through, thorns and all. Sadly, there were fantastic texts that were outside our mandate and there were specialist books of refined scholarship that spoke to too few. In a country in its noisy teens, where the fence between fiction and non-fiction or the real and the surreal is often rather frayed, the task of selection becomes difficult. We had our disagreements as a panel but there was sufficient consensus on five texts. The panel is to now revisit the five after a thorough re-read of each text."