Publisher and poet HM ‘Gus’ Ferguson was honoured by the SA English Academy yesterday, which bestowed upon him its highest accolade, the gold medal for services to English, at an evening ceremony at the Baxter Theatre, Cape Town.
Academy representative Barbara Basel opened the proceedings with a summary of the organisation’s history and mission – it was founded in 1961 – then read the citation that accompanies the award. “A distinguished poet and cartoonist in his own right,” it began, “a Scottish-born naturalised South African, nominated on the grounds of conspicuous service to English over many years…” The citation mentioned most of Ferguson’s many publishing projects, including the journals Slug News and Carapace and the imprints Snailpress, Firfield Press, Carapace Poets and the Unpublished Manuscript Press – all run from his home in Plumstead (a fact that garnered his wife, Nicky, a strong round of applause) – as well as a number of imprints that Ferguson has collaborated with over the years, including Kwela, Umuzi, Hippogryph and many others.
Basel pointed out that more than 80 poets have been published through Snailpress alone, and countless others through Carapace and Ferguson’s other projects. Publishing poetry is not a lucrative business, she said: Ferguson serves for reasons “other than the hope of gain”. Without his “inspirational contribution, South African poetry in English and South African poets would not be where they are today”. Hear, hear.
The three poets who nominated Ferguson for the award then took the podium by turns to read in his honour. Hugh Hodge read selections from his favourite Snailpress books, including the recently-published Imprendehora by Yvette Christiansë (co-published with Kwela); Geoffrey Haresnape read several poems centred on a slug/snail trope; and Ken Barris read a few of his own poems that were published by Ferguson.
The guest of honour then rose to receive his award. Ferguson gave a touching speech that opened with a joke with characteristically self-deprecatory undertones: “When Robert Graves was asked whether there was any money in poetry, he replied, ‘No, but there’s not much poetry in money either,’” he began.
Here’s Gus Ferguson on receiving the English Academy’s gold medal:
Video: Gus Ferguson’s acceptance speech
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Heartiest congratulations to Gus: truly, no one deserves it more. Here he is with a sizeable number of Ferguson-clan representatives, who came, along with many others, to cheer him on:
Following Ferguson’s speech, the Academy awarded its Percy FitzPatrick prize for youth literature to Darrel Bristow-Bovey: click here for the coverage.
- See also: BOOK SA’s mini-tribute to Gus Ferguson