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Saturday, September 29, 2012


M-Net has revealed the shortlists for its prestigious M-Net Literary Awards, the only South African book awards that honour well-crafted novels in all South Africa’s official languages. The winners, who will each receive a cash prize of R50,000, will be announced on October 19 in Johannesburg.

“Judging by the number of entries for this year’s M-Net Literary Awards, it would seem that South African readers are spoilt for choice and that the printed word is holding its own in the digital age,” says Hettie Scholtz, convenor of the M-Net Literary Awards.

A total of 85 titles were submitted this year - an indication that the South African publishing industry and in particular the novel, is fit and healthy in spite of severe pressure from economic and electronic spheres.

According to Scholtz, entries spoke of mature authorship, with youthful and daring storylines that both surprised and delighted the judges. “Narrowing down the selection to a long list of 15 was not difficult. However, deciding on the final five in each of the categories proved quite daunting.”

The top novels that finally made it onto the respective shortlists (in alphabetical order according to the author’s surname)

English: Homemaking for the Down-at-heart - Finuala Dowling (Kwela Books); Lost Ground - Michiel Heyns (Jonathan Ball Publishers); The Landscape Painter - Craig Higginson (Picador Africa); Shooting Angels - Christopher Hope (Atlantic Books), and Nineveh - Henrietta Rose-Innes (Umuzi)

Afrikaans: Piekniek by Hangklip - Kerneels Breytenbach (Human & Rousseau); Sirkusboere – Sonja Loots (Tafelberg); 7 Dae - Deon Meyer (Tafelberg); Net ’n lewe - Fransi Phillips (Lapa Uitgewers), and Wals met Matilda - Dan Sleigh (Tafelberg)

African languages: TÅ¡hweu ya ditsebe (A Gentleman with White Ears) Herbert Lentsoane (Maskew Miller Longman); Manong a lapile (The Vultures are Hungry) N. Maake (Ekaam Publishers); Murunzi wa Vhutshilo (The Shadow of Life) Takalani Mbedzi (Bard Publishers), and Liphandlwe Libona (We Learn from Experience) Siphatheleni Kula (Oxford University Press)

The judges of both the Afrikaans and English novels noticed that authors still favour historical fiction in various guises and that a longing for authenticity is apparent in other strong and credible settings. It is specifically apparent in novels situated along the West Coast that convincingly refutes the negative stigma sometimes associated with regional literature; and indicates how this genre deserves pride of place in South African literature.

Other discernible patterns in this year’s submissions were a refreshing engagement with questions of migration, forced or voluntary, and with transnational African identities. There were a number of novels that shone with humour, with plots that provided insight into our various cultures and histories, crafted by authors who respect language. Their storytelling ability renews and enriches our views of life in the suburbs and townships of South Africa, past and present.

Among the African languages entries, there was a strong focus on current social realities: the misuse of power, corruption pervading societies, the scourge of HIV/Aids, alcohol and drug abuse and the inhumanity of man to man. Many of these books also displayed strong narratives around questions of identity and self-realisation, discrimination, gender equality and xenophobia - noticeably the challenges facing young people in South Africa.

Crime writing on the South African literary scene has showed signs of exponential growth in all languages and if a common theme were to be found in this year’s submissions, it would be self-reflection and introspection in a continuous search for the meaning of life.

In addition to the top novels in each language category, the panel of judges also had to identify novels that showed potential to be developed into a screenplay for the film category. All the novels which were submitted for the main awards were automatically considered for this award, with the exception of novels with existing screen rights in place.

While many of the books in the English and Afrikaans language categories displayed strong narratives which could be portrayed vividly on the big screen, the universal appeal of these stories, the practicality of the adaptation, as well as potential buzz and box office success, played a significant role in the final selection for the film award. M-Net will reveal the final shortlist for the Film Awards in due course.