Extraordinary Professor Gabeba Baderoon from the English Department at Stellenbosch University has been awarded a 2019 Media24 Books Literary prize. The prize recognises the best work published during the previous year by Media24 book publishers.
Baderoon received the Elisabeth Eybers Prize for Afrikaans and English poetry for The History of Intimacy, published by Kwela Books.
The History of Intimacy, which took 12 years to write, was named a Book of 2018 by the Sunday Times. The collection's strange intimacies include what blurred black and white photographs tell us about loving two people at the same time, contemplating a hand-painted “Whites Only" sign thrown away by the side of the railway tracks in 1988, and recalling the doomed love stories of the 1990s.
According to Prof Sally Murray, the Chair of the English Department, the judges were particularly impressed by the controlled lyricism and calm maturity of the poems in The History of Intimacy.
"The work depicts the transitions of Baderoon's world, herself a figure of transit, and does this in a grammar that relies mainly on the strength of its images. It is a book of technical ease and linguistic subtlety of a high order," said the judges.
“Gabeba's most recent literary award attests to her existing renown as a poet, and a scholar. Her creativity and critical acumen are a boon to the English Department, and during her visits to us she is especially generous in mentoring the aspirant writers among our graduate cohort."
Baderoon, who completed a doctorate in English at the University of Cape Town, is an award-winning creative writer whose poems and short stories have been widely publicised. Before the publication of The History of Intimacy in 2018, she hadreleased three collections of poetry – The Dream in the Next Body andThe Museum of Ordinary Lifein 2005, and A hundred silencesin 2006. The Dream in the Next Body,her debut collection, was named a Notable Book of 2005 by the Sunday Independent, while A hundred silenceswas shortlisted for the 2007 University of Johannesburg Prize and the 2007 Olive Schreiner Prize. In 2014, one of her short stories was selected for the "Twenty Best Short Stories of South Africa's Democracy".
Her scholarly work focuses on the representations of Islam, slavery, race and sexuality with some of her articles appearing in journals such as Feminist Studies, Social Dynamics, and the Journal for Islamic Studies.
She has lectured in universities across the world including Europe and the United States as well as locally. At present she is an Associate Professor of Women's Gender and Sexuality Studies and African Studies in the College of Liberal Arts at Penn State University and also teaches Comparative Literature at the institution. She also co-directs the African Feminist Initiative at Penn State with Alicia Decker, and is a member of the Editorial Board of the African Poetry Book Fund.
Baderoon has received a number of other awards and fellowships, among them the Daimler Chrysler Award for South African Poetry in 2005, a Guest Writer Fellowship at the Nordic Africa Institute in Sweden (2005), and in 2008 a Fellowship from the Civitella Ranieri Foundation. She has also received fellowships from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Sainsbury/Linbury Trust, as well as a Writers Residency at the University of the Witwatersrand. She has been awarded a Bellagio artist's residency for 2020.
Her groundbreaking scholarly work, Regarding Muslims: From Slavery to Post-apartheid (Wits UP, 2014), was long-listed for the 2015 Sunday Times Alan Paton Award for Non-fiction and won the National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences' (NIHSS) prize in the category Book: Non-Fiction Monograph in 2017.
Regarding Muslims addresses the invisible history of Islam's impact on modern day South African society and its ties to slavery. The book looks at a range of images that are housed in the South African archive of “Cape Malays" in “travel writing, cartoons, paintings, caricatures and cookbooks" from the 18thcentury onwards, explains Baderoon.
“An extensive record of cartoons, popular paintings and cookbooks has created a familiar repertoire of Muslim figures in the South African imagination, a repertoire infused with larger political meaning," wrote Baderoon.
Baderoon said she felt immensely honoured to receive the Elisabeth Eybers prize. “To me, poetry is an art that connects an otherwise inaccessible interior to the broader world, so for these words to be recognised by fellow writers with this award is very moving to me."
“I am profoundly grateful to the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and particularly the English Department for making the department and university a hospitable and generative space for me. I read versions of this book to the department during the writing process and responses and questions from fellow scholars helped tremendously in shaping the final manuscript, which was completed at STIAS. It holds the imprint of those readings," said Baderoon.
Photo: Prof Gabeba Baderoon doing a reading of another one of her poetry collections, The Dream in the Next Body, during a visit to the English Department at Stellenbosch University in 2017. (Anton Jordaan, SSFD)