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SU academics receive coveted literary prizes
Author: Daniel Bugan
Published: 17/09/2021

Two Creative Writing lecturers in the Department of Afrikaans and Dutch at Stellenbosch University (SU) recently received coveted awards in recognition of their extraordinary literary contributions. Dr Alfred Schaffer was awarded the Dutch PC Hooft prize, and Dr Willem Anker the kykNET-Rapport prize for fiction as well as the ATKV prose prize.

Alfred Schaffer

Schaffer, regarded as one of the most talented Dutch poets of his generation, was announced the winner of the prestigious PC Hooft prize on 14 December 2020 for an oeuvre already comprising nine poetry volumes. The PC Hooft prize is one of the highest literary awards in the Netherlands. It was last awarded to someone with a South African connection in 1991, when Elisabeth Eybers won the prize for her oeuvre of Afrikaans poetry.

On 9 September 2021, Schaffer was finally able to receive the award in person during a hybrid ceremony in The Hague. As part of the programme, a number of poets, including South Africans Antjie Krog and Ronelda S Kamfer, read extracts from his and their own work and shared their thoughts on what makes his poetry so exceptional.

“The honour is huge," says Schaffer. “I have received fantastic literary prizes before, but I guess the impact of this one is on another level. In a way, it is lifechanging. Because I was lucky enough to be there and receive the prize in person, I experienced first-hand how the award is seen in the Netherlands and Belgium.

“My collected work to date was published as well − a book of 720 pages, encompassing a bit more than 20 years of my life. It feels like the closing of one chapter, and the start of a new one."

Of Krog and Kamfer's presence at the prizegiving, he says: “It feels only right that they were there, and their presence really meant a lot to me. I am a great admirer of them both. Ronelda said the kindest things about me and my work, and Antjie's Afrikaans translations of two of my poems about my deceased parents almost brought me to tears.

“It was important to me that not only the Dutch language was involved, but also South Africa through Antjie and Ronelda, as well as Papiamentu, my other language, the language of my mother, who was born on the Caribbean island Aruba."

On 22 and 23 October, Schaffer will be honoured at the Breytenbach Centre's annual Tuin van Digters (“Poets' Garden") in Wellington as well.

In April 2021, Schaffer also won the prestigious Herman de Coninck prize for his collection of poetry Wie was ik (“Who was I"). His list of accolades further include the Jo Peters poetry prize, Hugues C Pernath prize, the Ida Gerhardt poetry prize and the Jan Campert prize.

Over the years, Schaffer has published numerous poetry and prose collections, such as Zijn opkomst in de voorstad (His Rise in the Suburbs, 2000), Dwaalgasten (Vagrants, 2002), which was nominated for the VSB poetry prize, Geen hand voor ogen (No Hands Before Your Eyes, 2004), Schuim (Foam, 2006), and Kooi (Cage, 2008). His work has been translated into Afrikaans, English, French, German, Macedonian, Turkish, Indonesian and Swedish.

Willem Anker

In an online ceremony on 11 September, Anker was awarded the kykNET-Rapport prize for the second time – this time for his third novel, Skepsel. In 2015, he received the same accolade for his novel Buys, which appeared in English as Red Dog, courtesy of translator Michiel Heyns. The national kykNET-Rapport award recognises and rewards excellence in Afrikaans writing.

“I am very honoured to win this prestigious prize," says Anker. “It means a lot to me. It is an affirmation of the work done, and an incentive to keep going."

The kykNET-Rapport prize is not the first award he has received for Skepsel, however. The novel also scooped the 2021 UJ prize on 31 March 2021.

And on 17 September it was announced that Skepsel has earned Anker the ATKV prose prize. It goes to the author of the best popular Afrikaans prose work that appeared in the previous calendar year.

“I am very glad about the response to the book, and honoured that people like the book and find it of a certain quality," says Anker.

Anker is certainly no stranger to award ceremony stages. With Buys, he also won the coveted Hertzog prize, the highest honour in the Afrikaans literary world, in 2016. The prize recognises original literary work in Afrikaans and is awarded annually for poetry, drama and prose respectively.

Buys earned Anker the 2015 UJ prize as well. In 2016, Anker received a Fleur du Cap award for his play Samsa-masjien in the category “Best new South African script", and, in 2008, he won the UJ debut prize with the novel Siegfried.

SU's Department of Afrikaans and Dutch is proud of these two author-lecturers' achievements, and delighted that their work is receiving such acclaim. “Our undergraduate and postgraduate students are privileged to be able to learn from such talented writers. This definitely gives them an advantage when it comes to Afrikaans and Dutch literature and creative writing," the Department said.