Header image: Jonny Steinberg, Trevor Sacks, Zirk van den Berg, Loftus Marais, Edyth Bulbring, Fanie Viljoen, Theodore Key
The winners of the 2020 Media24 Books Literary Prizes have been announced.
The annual awards recognise the best work published during the previous year by the Media24 Books division, including NB Publishers (through imprints such as Human and Rousseau, Tafelberg, Kwela Books and Queillerie) as well as Jonathan Ball Publishers.
Prizes to a combined value of over R200,000 are awarded in six categories.
Update: The JRB has reached out to Media24 Books for a comment on the distinct lack of diversity in this year’s awards. We will publish a follow-up story addressing this. See here for some writers’ reactions to the awards.
Writer and scholar Jonny Steinberg, debut novelist Trevor Sacks and multi-award-winning Young Adult author Edyth Bulbring are among this year’s recipients.
The winners were announced in a virtual awards ceremony last night.
Eloise Wessels, managing director of Media24 Books, said in her opening remarks: ‘To be in a position to continue rewarding our authors in these straightened and constricting, almost stifling, times is particularly gratifying.’
Jonny Steinberg won the Recht Malan Prize for Nonfiction for One Day in Bethlehem. The book tells the story of Fusi Mofokeng, a man who spent nineteen years in jail for a murder he didn’t commit.
According to the judges:
Steinberg explores difficult questions about the unreliability of memory, the nature of truth and the way in which South Africa’s racist past continues to haunt the present … By excavating—in meticulous detail—the story of one man’s entanglement with, first, the apartheid and, then, the ‘post-apartheid’ criminal justice system, the book also shines a light on the country’s troubled criminal justice system and forces the reader to ask whether it is possible to speak of ‘justice’ in what has become known as post-apartheid South Africa … An unforgettable book that reminds the reader that ‘the past is never dead. It’s not even past.’
The Herman Charles Bosman Prize for English Fiction went to Trevor Sacks for Lucky Packet, a novel about a young Jewish boy growing up in a predominantly Afrikaans community in the Northern Transvaal in the nineteen-eighties.
The judges said:
The book is beautifully written, and though a story about a child, it is careful not to cheat us with sentimentality. Instead it is honest, and handles its heavier moments with a light touch. Lucky Packet is a wonderfully accomplished novel.
Also on the English fiction shortlist were Okay, Okay, Okay by Finuala Dowling and Yellowbone by Ekow Duker.
The WA Hofmeyr Prize for Afrikaans Fiction was awarded to novelist Zirk van den Berg for Ek wens, ek wens, about a mortician who meets a terminally ill child and starts believing in wishes again.
Also shortlisted were Hond se gedagte by Kerneels Breytenbach and Die biblioteek aan die einde van die wêreld by Etienne van Heerden.
Loftus Marais received the Elisabeth Eybers Prize for Afrikaans and English poetry for Jan, Piet, Koos and Jakob. The other shortlisted titles were Chinatown: Gedigte by Ronelda Kamfer, Kryt by Hennie Nortjé and Sikhahlel’ u-OR: A Praise Poem for Oliver Tambo by Mongane Wally Serote.
Edyth Bulbring won her second MER Prize for Youth Novels for The Choice Between Us, the story of two Johannesburg girls and two acts of betrayal, set more than fifty years apart.
The judges called it ‘a beautiful book with a story and characters that fascinate from the very first page’,
The runners-up were Toring van Jasmyn by Derick van der Walt and Brand by Fanie Viljoen.
The MER Prize for Illustrated Children’s Books was shared by author Fanie Viljoen for Die dag toe die draak kom: ’n Boek vir meisies, and illustrator Theodore Key for Die hasie van fluweel. Also shortlisted were authors Mari Grobler for Bella en Sebastiaan and Dihanna Taute for Die legendariese Lua Verwey 2, and illustrators Vian Oelofsen for Liewe Heksie en die pampoene and Tumi K Steyn for Die dag toe die draak kom: ’n Boek vir meisies.
The six judging panels were: For the Recht Malan Prize: Pierre de Vos, Johanna van Eeden and Pauli van Wyk; for the Herman Charles Bosman Prize: Johan Jacobs, Molly Brown and Karl van Wyk; for the WA Hofmeyr Prize: Francois Smith, Sonja Loots and Bibi Slippers; for the Elisabeth Eybers Prize: Rustum Kozain, Charl-Pierre Naudé and Andries Visagie; for the MER Prize for Youth Novels: Naomi Meyer, Henriëtte Linde-Loubser and Magdel Vorster; and for the MER Prize for Illustrated Children’s Books: Jaco Jacobs, Aldré Lategan and Magdel Vorster.
Wessels says: ‘Like with all good things, finding good book reviewers and literary judges is extremely difficult. This year, we have again had the pleasure of the services of an excellent team of judges. I’d like to thank them for their wonderful insight and commentary.’
Watch the 2020 award ceremony here: