Witty Heyns wins award
Michiel Heyns won the fiction prize and venerated author and journalist Hugh Lewin the Alan Paton award for non-fiction at the Sunday Times Literary Awards ceremony on Thursday night.
The literati turned out at Summer Place in Johannesburg to watch second-time winner Heyns accept the fiction award from The Times editor Phylicia Oppelt for his novel Lost Ground.
Heyns, a retired English professor at Stellenbosch University, beat Yewande Omotoso's Bom Boy, Adam Schwartzman's Eddie Signwriter, Henrietta Rose-Innes's Nineveh, and Hawa Jande Golakai's The Lazarus Effect.
Professor Sarah Nuttall, head judge for the fiction prize, said Lost Ground was "clever, fast and funny" and its characters were "authentic and profound as they unravel the deep threads of what is holding them together".
Heyns's previous win, in 2007, was for his translation of Marlene van Niekerk's acclaimed Afrikaans novel, Agaat.
But the evening undoubtedly belonged to Lewin, who accepted the 24th Alan Paton prize for non-fiction for his book Stones Against the Mirror from Sunday Times editor Ray Hartley.
Lewin's work chronicles his journey to meet former comrade Adrian Leftwich, who had sold him out to the security police in 1964, which resulted in a lengthy jail sentence for the author.
Prishani Naidoo, who chaired the Alan Paton judging panel, described Lewin's memoir: "This is not a story of reconciliation, it speaks in very moving ways to the truth of the character of experiences of friendship, politics and life in apartheid South Africa."
Kenyan author Professor Ngugi wa Thiong'o, the guest speaker, said: "I must commend the Sunday Times for what it's doing in encouraging reading, especially now with its isiZulu edition ... To know other languages and not one's own is enslavement.
"We have to stop the madness of promoting African writers on condition they write in European languages. African languages are equally legitimate."
In accepting his award, Heyns said: "My mother used to say: 'When in doubt, say thank you', so thank you. I love the Sunday Times. My father used to hate its politics, and my mother the back page. Thank you to my publishers who stuck with me during very unpromising material, and I hope this is as satisfying to you as me, although I'm getting the cheque ... Thank you very much."
Lewin thanked his former Pretoria local prison cellmates, his publishers as well as his partner, Fiona, who knew "the weight of every stone".