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Zachariah Rapola Wins the 2008 Noma Award

Zacharia Rapola

Beginnings of a DreamAlert! Zachariah Rapola has won the 2008 Noma Award for his “phantasmagoric” book of stories, Beginnings of a Dream, published last year by Jacana. The prize is worth $10 000.

The jury was chaired by Walter Bgoya of Tanzania; its citation reads:

“A strikingly original collection, the first story “Beginnings of a Dream” is a gem, absorbing, imaginative, and simply stunning. Whilst rooted in the township, it connects heavily in the private and inner lives of the characters and their preoccupations with the invisible experiences of their lives, thoughts and dreams. The story derives its power and authority not from the invocation of reality but its focus on that which is unreal but persistently imaginable. The notion of the dream and its significance, steeped in a compelling sense of unreality, is developed through the collection, with extraordinarily atmospheric writing, and remarkable simulation of women’s voices. The surreal landscape is at the same time firmly rooted in African belief systems. This location of most of the stories in the interior world of its characters makes thoughts and memories central to an understanding of the cultural geography of the township.”


Video: Zachariah Rapola reads from Beginnings of a Dream
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Rapola was is a freelance writer and filmmaker born and raised in Alexandra, Johannesburg. He was awarded a fellowship to the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program in 2000, and in 2001 he published an acclaimed youth novel, Stanza on the Edge.

The jury also gave several Special Commendations and Honourable Mentions, which included two further South African books: Breyten Breytenbach’s Die Windvanger (NB – Human & Rousseau) and Judith Garfield Todd’s Through the Darkness: A life in Zimbabwe (Zebra Press).

The last South African to win the award was Lebo Mashile, who was the 2006-7 winner. Zimbabwe’s Shimmer Chinyoda won last year’s award.

Rapola will be presented with his award “at a special ceremony details of which will be announced later”. It will be given “under the auspices of UNESCO”, says the press release – though one is not quite sure what that means.

Congratulations to Rapola!

Here’s what author Zakes Mda had to say about Beginnings of a Dream:

Now here is a writer after my heart. Zachariah Rapola first captivates me with his simple and lucid yet rhythmic diction. And then he seasons his stories with the ancient wisdom of proverbs and other idiomatic expressions. He portrays generational and cultural contradictions with empathy and humor. He paints for us a fabulous world where the supernatural and the strange exist comfortably in the same context as objective reality. These very modern stories are therefore a conversation between the living and the fourth dimension – the world of the dead and the unborn. Rapola is a true fabulist whose stories go beyond the documentary realism of most of South African fiction to a hyper-realistic plane of African orature.

Beginnings of a Dream

And here’s the complete list of the 2008-9 Noma Award Special Commendations and Honourable Mentions:

Special Commendation

(alphabetical by publisher)

The Role of the Supreme Court in the Development of Constitutional Law in Ghana by Seth Y. Bimpong-Buta
Accra: Advanced Legal Publications, 2007
An outstanding contribution to the legal literature on Africa, filling a void. The 1992 Constitution represented a watershed in Ghana, with the Supreme Court the key institution. This examination of the contribution of the Supreme Court is both important, and a work of considerable scholarship, giving a critical analysis of judicial decisions with rigorous examination of a wide range of cases.

Die Windvanger [The Windcatcher] by Breyten Breytenbach
Cape Town: Human & Rousseau, 2007
A very fine collection of poetry from a master of Afrikaans. Dealing with the power of love and a strong theme of human mortality, he makes supreme use of existing texts, such as the Bible. Through his use of metaphor, he makes a new language in which words are associated in a totally fresh way.

Through the Darkness: A Life in Zimbabwe by Judith Garfield Todd
Rivonia: Zebra Press, 2007
A brave, committed and emotionally engaged personal account of the years of Mugabe’s rule in Zimbabwe since 1980. The author, a liberal from Matabeleland, imprisoned in 1972, was and is a participant in opposition to Mugabe’s leadership. This eye-witness account of Zimbabwe’s politics is an illuminating chronicle of Zimbabwe’s tragedy.

Honourable Mention

(alphabetical by publisher):

Une flamme dans le noir [A Flame in the Dark] by Ansomwin Hien
Ouagadougou: Editions Découvertes du Burkina, 2007
A subtle literary novel, the complex story reflects a multifaceted world of conflict: tradition and modernity, the intellect and the spiritual, individualism and community, and between the African and other experience. The story of the complicated life of a creative young woman is an imaginative literary composition written in fine style.

Le loup du petit chaperon rouge en Afrique [The Wolf from Little Red Riding Hood, in Africa]
by Fatou Keita
Illustrated by Les Studios Zohoré
Abidjan: Nouvelles Editions Ivoiriennes/Centre d’Edition et de Diffusion Africaines (CEDA), 2007
The big bad wolf of Little Red Riding Hood fame is in hiding in Europe. So he decided to travel and find pastures new for his wicked ways – in Africa. There a young African girl transforms his character with her kindness. Very well-written and original in the concept of taking a well-known story to the next stage in a new setting.

Retold, Retouched: Three Tales of the Tortoise by Segun Sofowote
Lagos: Pyramind Unit Publishers, 2007
Three well-known stories from the African oral tradition. The writer, a true-story teller, creatively reaches out to the audience in an interactive mode which he calls “dramalogue”. Exciting and a unique device, the instrument of communication is a narrator and the evocation of the sounds of a drum and their interpretation into languages.

Book Details


Recent comments:

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Richard de Nooy</a>
    Richard de Nooy
    November 3rd, 2008 @10:43 #

    Congratulations, Zack! And to everyone at Jacana. Glad to see this fine book getting the credit it deserves!

    Zack's book was also one of the first milestones in my voyage of rediscovery. Review below.

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    November 3rd, 2008 @10:48 #

    Fantastic! Well done all!

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Colleen</a>
    November 3rd, 2008 @11:31 #

    Fantastic Zachariah. I'm so proud of you.

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Liesl</a>
    November 3rd, 2008 @12:38 #

    Wonderful news! Congratulations Zacharaia and Jacana.

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Lauren Beukes</a>
    Lauren Beukes
    November 3rd, 2008 @14:07 #

    Congratulations, it looks like a wonderful book.

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Megan</a>
    November 3rd, 2008 @14:33 #

    Zachariah -- congratulations! I'm thrilled and honoured to have met you :). More strength to your pen!


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