Alert! Today, Books LIVE unveils the final list of short stories for the Twenty in 20 project, a Twenty Years of Freedom initiative whose aim is to identify the best South African short fiction published in English during the past two decades of democracy.
The project comprises a collaboration between Books LIVE, Short Story Day Africa and the Department of Arts and Culture.
Earlier this month, the four Twenty in 20 judges met to debate the longlist of fifty stories – generated by over 200 submissions from Books LIVE readers – and whittle it down to the final list of the twenty works of fiction that will stand as South Africa’s best since 1994. Over three hours, there was robust conversation and a bit of horsetrading, but it never came to fisticuffs (although at one point Queensbury rules were invoked!).
The result is a list that will serve as a baseline for future writers to aspire to; that will provide pleasure to readers for generations to come; and that will serve as a longstanding reference for South African literary posterity.
The chair of the judges, Mandla Langa, said, “This collection of short stories reflects the diversity that enriches our young democracy. It’s a smorgasbord of ideas to cater for any appetite.”
The Minister for Arts and Culture, Nathi Mthethwa, sent the following statement on the Twenty in 20 project to Books LIVE:
The Twenty in 20 project is one of our efforts to ensure that all sectors of our society are part of the celebration of the twentieth anniversary of our freedom and democracy.
We are making this announcement shortly after the passing of one of the most prolific short story writers who ever lived — Nadine Gordimer, South Africa’s first Nobel laureate in Literature. When the news of her passing started spreading like wildfire, I was reminded of the famous saying that, “When a big tree falls, the earth shakes.” Indeed, the sound of this giant’s fall reverberated across the globe.
South Africa has a rich tradition of short story writing. Over the years, we produced some of the most outstanding short story writers, including the likes of Gordimer, Bloke Modisane, Casey Motsisi, Bessie Head, Njabulo Ndebele, and many other notable literary voices. These are the giants on whose shoulders aspiring writers should stand. As we celebrate the solid foundation that these pathfinders have laid, we simultaneously try to cultivate a new generation of writers to continue with this glorious tradition while confronting the new challenges of our society.
The wide-ranging Twenty in 20 stories explore varied themes but have one thing in common: they are truly South African stories. Each one makes a unique contribution to our literary landscape.
Here then, without further ado, are the top twenty English short stories of South Africa’s democracy (note you can scroll within the document – also available here – to see the complete list details), organised alphabetically by the author’s surname:
Congratulations to the judges on creating a fine, final Twenty in 20 list.
As project convener, Your Correspondent would like to extend heartfelt thanks to Short Story Day Africa for its untiring work in creating the formal longlist, which has already caused an appropriate degree of literary commotion. I’d also like to thank Mandla Langa for his steady chairmanship during the awards process; and to doubly thank him, Karabo Kgoleng, Mtutuzeli Matshoba and Fiona Snyckers for paying such considered attention to such a diverse body of work.
Project process and timeline
Here is the remaining key date of the Twenty in 20 short story project:
September: The Twenty in 20 compilation of short stories is launched as a new compilation at National Book Week.
About the Twenty in 20 judges
Mandla Langa (Chair) was born in Durban and studied at the University of Fort Hare in Alice, Eastern Cape province. He left Fort Hare after playing an active role in student uprisings in 1972. He went into exile in 1976, and lived in countries such as Lesotho, Mozambique, Angola, Zambia, Hungary and the United Kingdom. In 1980 he won the Pan African DRUM Magazine story contest and in 1991 he was awarded the Arts Council of England bursary. His latest book, The Lost Colours of the Chameleon (2010) was shortlisted for the prestigious Sunday Times Fiction Prize and won the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book – Africa Region. In 2007 he was awarded the Order of Ikhamanga in Silver.
Karabo Kgoleng is a South African arts journalist and broadcaster with a decade’s experience in the fields of print and radio. She is currently producing a television documentary on post revolution identities while expanding into multimedia arts journalism and community arts. She is a recipient of the South African Literary Award for journalism, previously featured in the Mail & Guardian Book of South African Women for promoting the arts in the media and is a former Mail & Guardian 200 Young South Africans honoree. Karabo is on the board of the Trevor Huddleston Memorial Centre. She is based in Johannesburg.
Mtutuzeli Matshoba is a founder member of the Staffrider literary and arts journal, short story writer, film script writer and script editor. Matshoba is among South Africa’s select literary activists who through their writing – and despite the draconian censorship system of the 70 and 80s – were able to address social problems caused by racial discrimination in all areas of South African life. His collection of short stories on urban black experiences in the 70s, Call Me Not A Man was published in 1978 and followed by Seeds of War, a novella on forced removals that won the Southern African English Academy Award for Creative Writing in 1980.
Fiona Snyckers studied English Literature at Rhodes University and the University of the Witwatersrand. She is the author of the Trinity series of novels, and the Sisterz series of mobile novels. She has published numerous short stories in magazines and collections. She reviews books for The Times and blogs on the Mail & Guardian‘s Thought Leader and Women platforms. She lives in Johannesburg with her family.
About the project partners
The Department of Arts and Culture was established to support, develop and protect the arts, culture and heritage of South Africa. It is a key driver of the South Africa government’s Twenty Years of Freedom programme of activities.
Books LIVE was founded in 2006 and has grown into South Africa’s top web portal for local book and publishing news. It is part of the Times Media LIVE group of websites, which comprise a division of Times Media (Pty) Ltd.
Short Story Day Africa is a non-profit organisation dedicated to bringing together writers, readers, booksellers, publishers, teachers and school children to write, read, workshop and discuss stories – and foster the love of reading and writing African fiction. Its debut publication of short stories, Feast, Famine or Potluck saw two stories shortlisted for the prestigious Caine Prize for African Literature.
Earlier this month Tshifhiwa Given Mukwevho’s debut novel, The Violent Gestures of Life, was published by UKZN Press. In 2011 Mukwevho published a collection of short stories titled A Traumatic Revenge, from which Ground Up have shared an excerpt.
Brent Meersman explains that Mukwevho spent 11 years in prison and that it was during this time that he developed his writing skills and wrote the stories in the collection. “These are highly readable, clearly told stories. They are also moral tales with a deep sense of irony and the occasional sardonic twist,” Meersman writes.
Read the excerpt from A Traumatic Revenge:
The moment we bumped from the main road onto the rutted, dusty village one everywhere looked deserted. The air, slipping in through the wound-down windows, felt cool and pleasant. At the end of the first column of fenced yards, we turned left. Right in front of us in the middle of the road, two women were brawling and struggling against each other over a package. When we drew closer we stopped.
“It’s mine!” “No. It’s, is mine!”
“You promised we will share – go half and half?” yelled the other, tugging the package. “What’s up with you?”
Okwiri Oduor spoke to Books LIVE about winning the 2014 Caine Prize for African Writing for her story “My Father’s Head”.
Joining Oduor on the shortlist were Billy Kahora (Kenya), Efemia Chela (Ghana, Zambia), Tendai Huchu (Zimbabwe) and our very own Diane Awerbuck.
“My Father’s Head” originally appeared in Short Story Day Africa‘s collection, Feast, Famine and Potluck, as did Chela’s shortlisted story “Chicken”.
Oduor, the third Kenyan to take the prize, after Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor in 2003 and Binyavanga Wainaina in 2002, receives £10 000 prize money, as well as the opportunity to take up a month’s residency at Georgetown University, as a Writer-in-Residence at the Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Practice.
Oduor spoke to Books LIVE about her favourite authors, the best part about being a writer, and where the inspiration for “My Father’s Head” came from.
Congratulations on winning the Caine Prize! How does it feel to join that illustrious list?
Okwiri Oduor: Thank you. It is such an honour to have been recognised in this manner, to be given this incredible gift.
Are you going to take up the residency at Georgetown University?
Yes. I look forward to the experience.
The Caine Prize is affectionately known as “the African Booker”. What aspects of your writing – if any – do you see as specifically African?
There is no checklist. I am not too keen to take part in the clamour for categorisation. What I want to do is to tell a good story, that is all.
How did the idea for “My Father’s Head” hit you?
I left home and felt deeply sad and lonely when I realised I was an adult. I was grieving my childhood.
How long did it take you to write the story? Did you feel unusually inspired, or was it more challenging than usual to complete?
I cannot remember how long it took. My average is usually a couple of weeks. Each story is unique and has its own peculiar set of challenges. In that way, I cannot compare it to anything.
What’s your favourite part of writing?
Getting lost in another world. Embodying my characters. Forgetting myself, feeling, seeing, tasting things as my characters do.
Who are your literary influences?
Well, I always found that a difficult question. I will tell you who my favourite writers are, and then perhaps you can make up your mind about whether or not they influence me: Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison, Jamaica Kincaid, and Edwidge Danticat.
What are you working on at the moment?
I am working on a novel.
Image courtesy of David Fleming
The 2014 Caine Prize for African Writing ceremony was held on Monday evening, with Okwiri Oduor winning for her short story, “My Father’s Head”, which was first featured in Feast, Famine and Potluck after winning Short Story Day Africa’s short story competition.
Tendai Huchu, author of The Hairdresser of Harare, was shortlisted alongside Oduor for his short story “The Intervention”. Following Monday night’s ceremony Huchu has written about the experience for amaBooks.
Huchu writes that it was “super-dope” and that the shortlisted authors, which included Efemia Chela (shortlisted for “Chicken“) and Billy Kahora (shortlisted for “The Gorilla’s Apprentice“) bonded quickly. He shares an anecdote from one of his conversations with Diane Awerbuck (shortlisted for “Phosphorescence”, from Cabin Fever): “I remember how on telling Diane that ‘fingers-crossed’ I would not have kids any time soon, she remarked drily, ‘It’s not your fingers you have to worry about, mate.’”
He also tackled some hard questions surrounding the prize: “The Caine takes a bit of flak ranging from contempt for the stories themselves to its very right to exist as a literary prize. I asked Lizzy Attree if she was an imperialist, hell bent on subverting African Literature so that we are forever mentally colonised. She said she wasn’t. In any case, with her easy smile and wit, she would make a third-rate villain.”
“So the circus comes to an end with a worthy winner. No one can doubt that Okwiri Oduor will hit us with something wicked in the future, and I am sure Billy, Efemia and Diane also have new shit planned that we will enjoy in time,” Huchu concludes.
The circus is over, the gorilla is returned to his pen, the tents are folded and the pool bulldozed, drunk poets feast on chicken and a disembodied head crowns the queen of the fair. I really should stop here, but I have more to say, coz this Caine thing was super-dope.
In The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish, our hero arrives to what he assumes to be a hotel, ignores the cues and checks in, only to realise he has unwittingly been incarcerated in a nursing home. That’s how I felt arriving at the Royal Over-Seas League Club, seeing the old biddies tottering about on the maroon carpet and the grand wooden staircases with stairlifts for the infirm. Surreal doesn’t quite describe it.
In no time at all I’d met up with the other shortlistees and we bonded with the genuine, heartfelt sentiment you feel when there is a couple of grand between you.
Image courtesy amaBooks
Nick Mulgrew holding Adults Only
Congratulations to the Short.Sharp.Stories. Awards winners:
Nick Mulgrew is the Judges’ Choice Winner for Best Story for Turning, “a story of youthful love that was handled with a deft touch, elevated by its clever linguistic insertions and a lovely sense of place.”
Sean Mayne receives the second Judges’ Choice Award for his comedic story Bring On The Clowns, “a feel good read which offers the luxury of laughing out loud.”
Tiffany Kagure Mugo receives the Publisher’s Choice Award, for Best New Voice, for her story Coming Into Self-Awareness, “an exuberant, enthusiastic tale which hit the brief perfectly, overflowing with sex and sensuality.”
Donvé Lee is the recipient of the Editor’s Choice Award, for her story The Mirror. “So human and tender, bringing the eternal questions of body-image to the fore.”
Nick Mulgrew has won R20 000 while Sean Mayne, Tiffany Kagure Mugo and Donvé Lee each received R5 000.
From Sarah Kingon, of Cue:
Adults Only was officially launched on 9 July at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown at a discussion panel which featured Rhodes journalism lecturer and contributor Gillian Rennie; Alexander Matthews, editor of online publication Aerodrome; and Nick Mulgrew, Associate Editor of Prufrock literary magazine, whose story Turning wins this year’s R20 000 prize sponsored by the National Arts Festival. “As a writer,” said Mulgrew, “I never feel completely self-assured so this is a form of writing vindication.” His unique contribution to the anthology tells the story of a linguistics student at Rhodes, whose girlfriend realises she is lesbian. The beauty of the story lies in the way that linguistics weaves through this narrative about sex and homophobia.
Adults Only is the second Short.Sharp.Stories collection to be released and the topic of sex and sensuality was chosen this year because of its popularity in contemporary literature. “The collection explores the experiences of real human beings clashing around relationships,” said Hichens.
The 22 stories, selected from more than 150 entries, range in theme and style as well as the writing experience of the authors. Contributors include accomplished writers such as Christine Coates, Carla Lever and Bobby Jordan, as well as a number of new, young writers including Tiffany Kagure Mugo. Tales range from those of the bored housewife to gay marriage and on-off student relationships, while one of the more hard-hitting stories features a sado-masochistic ‘partnership’.
The discussion was not only about the book, but the purpose of such a book in a South African Context. Hichens believes that Adults Only, alongside last year’s anthology Bloody Satisfied (a crime thriller collection), offers a unique South African voice to the reader. The project gives South African writers a platform to be published, and the opportunity to be read.
“And short stories are great for those of us with ADD,” laughed contributor Alexander Matthews. “With new technology, the way we read has changed. We now read in short sharp bursts.”
Festival CEO Tony Lankester said he was proud to continue to fund this literary venture. “Festival is about good stories, and part of that is good quality writing.”
Next year’s title was announced as Incredible Journey – a broad theme, “so stories can range from science fiction to road trips or even journeys of the mind,” said Hichens. The call for entries will be made on www.shortsharpstories.com.
Lauren Beukes was in studio at 5FM last week to discuss her new novel, Broken Monsters with Nick Hamman and Kim Schulze.
Hamman and Schulze took reader suggestions for characters and locations and gave Beukes 10 minutes to write a short story using these. “The zombie outbreak happened in parliament. It was the best thing which ever happened to the country,” the story starts.
Listen to the “zombie politician/ preggers teenager/cult/zoo keeper murder story”: