Mary Watson has been announced as the winner of the 2022 Philida Literary Award.
The prize, established by Karina M Szczurek in 2020, in memory of her late husband, the renowned author André Brink, is awarded to a writer mid-career for ‘an oeuvre of literary excellence’.
The award ‘recognises a writer with a consistent record of publishing works of excellence and aims to encourage them further in their pursuit of a literary career’.
Mary Watson, a writer from Cape Town who now lives on the west coast of Ireland, has worked as an art museum guide, library assistant, theatre duty manager, and an actor in children’s musicals. She has a PhD from the University of Cape Town, where she taught for many years, and won the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2006. She writes short stories, contemporary fiction and young adult fantasy. Her debut Moss, a collection of short stories, was published in 2004. This was followed by The Cutting Room (2013), The Wren Hunt (2018), which was shortlisted for the Irish Book Awards, The Wickerlight (2019) and her latest, Blood to Poison, which will be published in April 2022.
Brink, who supervised Watson’s master’s degree in creative writing at the University of Cape Town, said of Moss at the time of its publication:
‘I can honestly say that I have seldom, in South African literature, come across short stories of such suggestive power as these … Our literature will be the richer for accommodating a voice of this calibre, persuasive power and exquisite beauty.’
On accepting the award, Watson said:
‘I was thinking of André a little while earlier … How I never dreamed how incredibly supportive he’d be when I summoned up the nerve to pop those pages [of Moss] in his pigeon hole. So thank you so very much. I am truly, truly honoured.’
The Philida Literary Award is named after the slave woman Philida van de Caab, who entered South Africa’s archival records because of laying an official complaint against her masters, Francois and Cornelius Brink, distant relatives of André Brink’s. She became the protagonist of his last published novel, Philida (2012). The prize recognises her courage and resilience.
Each winner receives an award certificate designed by Debbie Minné and a prize money amount that was first determined by the royalties earned from the sales of the book You Make Me Possible: The Love Letters of Karina M. Szczurek and André Brink.
The prize announcement was made on 6 February, the seventh anniversary of Brink’s death.
The 2022 judging panel was Sally Partridge, Karina M Szczurek, Lester Walbrugh and Christy Weyer.
Partridge commented on The Wren Hunt:
‘This novel is the work of someone who really knows what they’re doing, who knows how to use words to draw in and enchant her readers, and who has proven herself time and time again as a master storyteller.’