IN PICS | Revolution in the air as fact meets fiction
A real revolutionary, Albie Sachs, was among those at the Sunday Times literary awards — where ‘How to be a revolutionary’ was named best novel of the year
If you had any doubts about the worth of books, look no further than Britney Spears whose memoir this week raked in a cool 1.1-million sales in the US alone.
And, while the finalists for the country’s most coveted literary gongs might not have come near the troubled pop princess’s record sales figures, collectively they’re proof of the written word’s power to open our eyes while holding our attention a lot longer than the social media scroll.
The 2023 Sunday Times Literary Awards, in partnership with Exclusive Books, were held on Wednesday evening at The Empire conference and events venue in Joburg’s Parktown.
That this was a more pared-down affair than previous iterations wouldn’t have been lost on long-time attendees such as Albie Sachs and his elegant wife Vanessa September.
The former Constitutional Court judge has twice won the nonfiction prize, previously known as the Alan Paton award, in 1991 for The Soft Vengeance of a Freedom Fighter and in 2010 for The Strange Alchemy of Life and Law.
The struggle veteran provided contributions to one of the books on the nonfiction shortlist this year, Dear Comrade President: Oliver Tambo and the Foundations of South Africa’s Constitution (Penguin), by André Odendaal.
“I brought many of the documents back from Lusaka,” explained Albie. “I was the scribe for Oliver Tambo’s constitutional committee. André proved to be a prodigious researcher and found things that I’d written that I’d forgotten about.”
As waiters offered canapés such as tempura prawns with sweet chilli and coriander; Moroccan-style roasted butternut and halloumi skewers; and Greek meatballs with mint and tzatziki, fiction finalist Carol-Ann Davids — or CA Davids, as her name appears on the cover of her book, How to be a Revolutionary (Umuzi), sought advice on a wardrobe issue.
Were the white heels she’d paired with her black and white ensemble not a tad too dressy?
Noticing that both Matthew Wilhelm-Solomon (nonfiction finalist for The Blinded City; Ten Years in Inner-City Johannesburg) and I had opted for sneakers with our formal jackets, Carol-Ann exited stage left to slip into more comfy footwear.
The now sneaker-wearing writer returns to the fray to catch up with another fiction finalist, Yewande Omotoso, shortlisted for An Unusual Grief.
Onto the formal proceedings and books editor Jennifer Platt has the daunting task of holding the fort. We hear from Sunday Times deputy editor Mike Siluma and Exclusive Books CEO Grattan Kirk who says we shouldn’t believe all the gloom and doom about books.
“I want to share with you that we are anything but [a twilight industry]. Books have shown growth since 2019 of 20% in rand terms — year-to-date book sales are at R1.2bn… Since Covid we [Exclusive Books] have opened five stores — we are investing as a business into the South African book industry, and I am very happy to be part of it.”
After Grattan’s upbeat words, we dig into bowled mains, including grilled beef with red wine reduction and roast veg on parmesan mash, gnocchi with sundried tomatoes, and slivers of duck breast on stir-fried vegetable noodles before listening to three panel discussions.
One is with top publishers, another features the nonfiction finalists — André and Matthew join Songezo Zibi of RISE Mzansi who penned Manifesto: A New Vision for South Africa, and Bulelwa Mabasa, who wrote My Land Obsession: A Memoir (Picador Africa) — while Carol-Ann and Yewande join Siphiwe Gloria Ndlovu, author of The Quality of Mercy, who sweetly brought along her mother.
Who walked away with the top prizes?
Carol-Ann is awarded the fiction prize for her book, which the judges described as “masterful”, while Bulelwa, who earlier told me she sees land reform “as a tool for nation building” is announced the winner in the nonfiction category.
While “BookTok” (a sub-community on TikTok in which content creators go viral over their take on their literary faves) cropped up as a topic at the awards, I wonder what the bookish types might have thought if they strolled past the EL&N café at Mall of Africa on Thursday afternoon.
That was the location for hair-straightening brand GHD’s launch of its limited-edition Dreamland collection of styling irons, dryers and hot brushes.
Who showed up?
TikTokkers and Instagrammers of the glam kind, including celebrity makeup artist Gina Myers, actress Mbali Nkosi, digital creator Missy Roberts and yummy mummy Jo Judnick-Wilson.
Everywhere you turned was either a content creator snapping selfies or posing for their own personal photographer as they pouted in photo booths, sipped nonalcoholic cocktails and checked out the brand’s swag.
Overwhelmed by sensory overload, I make a quick getaway, heading down to Keyes Art Mile in Rosebank for the opening of a hot new dining spot called Kanpai, which proved to be a better fit for my taste.
On the street level of the Trumpet building, this is the latest culinary venture by serial entrepreneur Monwabisi Thethe of The Prawnery fame who, along with his wife Cheslyn and business partner Shaniel Mjekevu, have opened a buzzy establishment that draws its name from the Japanese word for “cheers”.
The opening drew the city’s movers and shakers including brand guru Nathan Reddy, Raphael Benza of music and artist services agency Vth Season, Papama Mtwisha of Africa Your Time is Now (the fashion brand that’s more like a movement), businessman Menzi Mbatha, realtor Tsepang Molisana, business strategist Enver Groenewald, restaurateur Desmond Mabuza and his interior designer wife Bilala, and actresses Shanon Esra and Kate Liquorish.
The nosh? With the menu teeming with flavoursome items such as Korean lamb chops with tzatziki, prawn linguine and a creamy panna cotta, this is the sort of food you won’t want to write a bestseller about or snap for your ’gram but savour in your mouth…
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