The winners of the prestigious Sunday Times Literary Awards were announced at a gala dinner held at The Venue, Melrose Arch, on Saturday 23 June. Bongani Ngqulunga received the Alan Paton award for non-fiction for his book, The Man Who Founded the ANC: A Biography of Pixley ka Isaka Seme, while Harry Kalmer was named the recipient of the Barry Ronge Fiction Prize for his book, A Thousand Tales of Johannesburg. Both titles are published by Penguin Books.
The Sunday Times Literary Awards are considered the most prestigious literary accolade in South Africa.
“This year’s judging was tough but what was evident was the recognition of the art of writing. South Africa’s rich history and diverse stories are being rigorously explored, examined and celebrated,” says Jennifer Platt, Sunday Times Books Editor.
Now in its 29th year, the Alan Paton Award recognises exceptional non-fiction writing as displayed by Bongani Ngqulunga’s story The Man Who Founded the ANC: A Biography of Pixley ka Isaka Seme.
The Alan Paton judging panel consisted of Constitutional Court judge Edwin Cameron; journalist Paddi Clay; and award-winning writer, journalist and filmmaker, Sylvia Vollenhoven. They said Ngqulunga’s book was “a revelatory, inspiring study of a man and a movement that reverberates right up to today. It is a scholarly, well-researched book that illuminates our flawed roots and our flawed nationhood, presented through the complex and mercurial character of Seme.”
The Barry Ronge Fiction Prize panel was chaired by popular radio personality, Africa Melane, alongside Love Books owner Kate Rogan and award-winning writer Ken Barris.
“Johannesburg emerges as a fascinating beast of a city, and this is a novel way of celebrating it. The outstanding writing and innovative structure – along with memorable characters – make this an instant classic,” said the fiction prize panel of Harry Kalmer’s A Thousand Tales of Johannesburg.
Kalmer is the 18th recipient of the Sunday Times fiction prize, named for Barry Ronge, arts commentator and one of the founders of the Sunday Times Literary Awards.
Recipients of the 2018 Alan Paton Award and Barry Ronge Fiction Prize each receive R100 000.
Sylvia Vollenhoven – Chair of Alan Paton Award
Vollenhoven is a writer, journalist and filmmaker whose work has won many awards including the 2016 Mbokodo Award for Literature and the Adelaide Tambo Award for Human Rights in the Arts. Vollenhoven was the South African producer for the BBC mini-series Mandela the Living Legend, and is also a Knight Fellow of the Knight Foundation.
Cameron has been a Justice of South Africa’s highest court, the Constitutional Court, since 2009. Previously a human rights lawyer, President Mandela appointed him a Judge of the High Court in 1994 and he went on to be a Judge of the Supreme Court of Appeal. He was a fierce critic of President Mbeki’s AIDS-denialist policies. Cameron’s memoir Witness to AIDS was joint winner of the Alan Paton Prize in 2005 and his second memoir Justice: A Personal Account won a South African Literary Award in 2014. He has received many honours for his legal and human rights work.
Clay has more than 40 years of experience in the media, covering radio, print, and online journalism. She has a BA Degree in English and Drama from UCT and an MA in Journalism Leadership from the University of Central Lancashire, UK. She has reported for the Rand Daily Mail and Capital Radio, and wrote for the FT and US News and World Report. A life-long campaigner for freedom of expression and a free, independent, media, she spent 15 years as head of the Graduate Journalism Training Programme at what is now Tiso Blackstar and retired in January 2017. She continues to coach and lecture.
Africa Melane – Chair of the Barry Ronge Fiction Prize
Melane is the host of the Weekend Breakfast Show on CapeTalk. He is also an ambassador for LeadSA, an initiative of Primedia Broadcasting and Independent Newspapers. Melane studied accounting at the University of Cape Town and did articles at PwC. He then went on to teach a professional development course to first-year students in the faculty of health sciences at the University of Cape Town. Melane is the chairman of MODILA, a trust that offers educational programmes to raise awareness and provides training in design, innovation, entrepreneurship and art studies. He also serves on the board of Cape Town Opera, Africa’s premier opera company.
Rogan is the owner of Love Books, an independent book shop in Johannesburg. Rogan has a degree in English from the University of Cape Town and a post-graduate degree English (Hons) from Stellenbosch University, where she studied under Michiel Heyns. She started her working life as a copywriter at 702, then moved into publishing where she was a commissioning editor at Zebra Press in its early days. She moved back to radio as a producer and for many years produced The Book Show for Jenny Crwys-Williams. In 2009 she started Love Books.
Barris is a writer, book critic, NRF-rated academic, poet and keen photographer. His work has been translated into Turkish, Danish, French, German and Slovenian, and has appeared in about 30 anthologies. He has won various literary awards, including the Ingrid Jonker Prize, the M-Net Book Prize, and most recently, the University of Johannesburg Prize, for his novel Life Underwater. He has published five novels, two collections of poetry, and two collections of short stories. The most recent, The Life of Worm & Other Misconceptions, was released last year.