Dr Alfred Schaffer, a lecturer at Stellenbosch University (SU), recently became the youngest recipient of the PC Hooft prize, the most prestigious Dutch literary award, when he was announced the 2021 laureate.
Schaffer, who is known as one of the most talented Dutch poets of his generation, received the prize for his poetry oeuvre.
“The prize is a huge, huge honour and recognition, as well as something that feels totally unreal. It is the highest accolade one can receive as a writer, poet, or essayist in the Netherlands," says Schaffer.
The prize, which is named after the 17th century Dutch poet Pieter Corneliszoon Hooft, is awarded alternately each year to a Dutch writer of narrative prose, contemplative prose and poetry. The PC Hooft Prize is worth 60,000 euros, and will be awarded in May 2021.
Over the years, Schaffer has published numerous poetry and prose collections. These include Zijn opkomst in de voorstad (His Rise in the Suburbs; 2000); Dwaalgasten (Vagrants; 2002), which was nominated for the prestigious VSB poetry prize; Geen hand voor ogen (No Hands Before Your Eyes), Schuim (Foam; 2006); and Kooi (Cage; 2008). Over the years, his work has also been translated into Afrikaans, English, French, German, Macedonian, Turkish, Indonesian and Swedish.
He has also received the prestigious Jo Peters poetry prize, Hugues C Pernath prize, the Ida Gerhardt poetry prize and the Jan Campert prize for his work.
According to Schaffer, writing poetry means he has “absolute freedom" to express himself and sees it as a way to “creatively understand the world" around him.
“I am triggered by language, like every writer, but what inspires me as well, is the fact that there are so many things that I do not understand until I have creatively written about it. To write a poem is so wonderful because I do not know what the result will be. Poetry has no hypothesis, like life," says Schaffer.
Schaffer grew up in The Hague, Netherlands - the son of an Aruban mother and a Dutch father. He studied Dutch Language and Literature, as well as Film and Theater Sciences in Leiden, Netherlands. In 1996, he moved to Cape Town to continue his postgraduate studies at the University of Cape Town.
He returned to the Netherlands in 2005 where he worked as an editor in Dutch publishing before moving back to South Africa in 2011. He currently works as a lecturer in the Department of Afrikaans and Dutch at SU.
Apart from producing his own poetry and prose, Schaffer has also made an important contribution to South African literature over the years by bringing local poetry to a broader audience through the translation into Dutch of, amongst other, Antjie Krog, Ronelda Kamfer and Koleka Putuma's work.
“Translation is everything. So many South African poets tell urgent stories of an intense life, right in the middle of the big issues of our time: migration, neo-colonialism, racism, guilt. I hope that readers see that there are many different stories, experiences and perspectives out there, formulated in wonderful and confronting poetry," says Schaffer.
Apart from his lecturing duties at SU, Schaffer is also currently working together with fellow academics in Belgium and the Netherlands on a book about lyrical activism and he is busy with the Dutch translation of Kamfer’s
latest volume of poetry, Chinatown.
The last time someone with a strong South African connection won the PC Hooft prize was in 1991 when it was awarded to Elisabeth Eybers for her oeuvre of Afrikaans poetry.