[The JRB Daily] Saaleha Idrees Bamjee wins 2020 Ingrid Jonker Prize for debut poetry for Zikr, a poignant collection of longing and loss

Saaleha Idrees Bamjee has been announced as the winner of this year’s Ingrid Jonker Prize for English Poetry for her collection, Zikr.

The prize, one of South Africa’s most prestigious literary awards, is alternately awarded on an annual basis to a debut volume of poetry in Afrikaans or English, the two languages in which Ingrid Jonker herself wrote. This year’s award is for volumes published in English in 2018 and 2019. 

Bamjee will receive R10,000 prize money, donated by the Pirogue Collective. 

According to the rules of the prize the judges have to be published poets, since it is a prize from poets to poets. This year the judges were Vonani Bila, Wendy Woodward and Sindiswa Busuku.

‘Bamjee writes poignantly of longing and loss. She figures the female body—her own and that of others–and explores the difficulties of being Muslim while also celebrating her reverence for her religion and the Arabic language.’—2020 Ingrid Jonker Prize judge

Nick Mulgrew, founder of uHlanga Press, Zikr’s publisher, says: ‘I’m very proud of Saaleha. Her collection came to me during uHlanga’s open submissions period in 2017, and I was immediately impressed by the texture of her poems, her photographer’s instinct for image, and her composure in writing about heart-wrenching experiences. 

Zikr is a testament to poetic restraint, steady hands, and gentle eyes – three rare and powerful things in these times.’

Eleven entries were received by the committee for this year’s award. Zikr was shortlisted along with All the Places by Musawenkosi Khanyile, Everything is a Deathly Flower by Maneo Mohale and Skeptical Erections by Mxolisi Dolla Sapeta. 

The winner of the 2018 edition of the prize was Sindiswa Busuku, for her 2016 collection Loud and Yellow Laughter.

Ronel de Goede convenes the Ingrid Jonker Committee. Finuala Dowling is the convenor of the English prize. The other committee members are Vincent Oliphant, Kobus Moolman and Marius Crous. Former chairperson Danie Marais acts as advisor to the committee.

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