PEN SA Award history

A history of PEN South Africa’s literary awards dating back to the 1960s

Since 2005 PEN South Africa has hosted three HSBC/SA PEN Literary Awards and two PEN/Studzinski Literary Awards with Nobel Laureate JM Coetzee serving as final judge for all five awards. 2265 entries were received for these awards and prize monies of US $30 000 and GBP £20 000 respectively were awarded to the winners. At least eighteen of the authors who participated and/or were published in the resulting anthologies (African Compass, African Road, African Pens and New Writing from Africa 2009 and African Pens 2011) have since become published authors in their own right.

PEN SA publications in the 1960s exposed readers to the works of Lionel Abrahams, Guy Butler, Tim Couzens, Sheila Fugard, Jenny Hobbs, Zakes Mda, Oswald Mtshali, Nadine Gordimer, and helped launch other literary careers. In the year 2004 it was decided that the organisation would establish a series of awards in order to raise the profile of PEN SA and to provide a platform for new young African writers to showcase their creative writing skills. In partnership with HSBC Bank and New Africa Books the HSBC/SA PEN Literary Awards were established.

The 2005, 2006 and 2007 HSBC/SA PEN Literary Awards called for short stories from SADC* citizens under the age of 40. A total of 907 (373 for the 2005 award, 231 for the 2006 award, 303 for the 2007 award) entries were received. Prizes totalling $10 000 were sponsored by HSBC Bank plc each year. A confidential coding system was used and at no point was a reader/judge aware of the identity of the author of a story, i.e. entries were judged anonymously. The winning entries, as selected by final judge, Nobel Laureate JM Coetzee, were published by New Africa Books in the anthologies entitled New writing from southern Africa 2005 – African Compass, New writing from southern Africa 2006 – African Road and New writing from southern Africa 2007 – African Pens. The 2007 winner, Henrietta Rose-Innes, went on to win the prestigious Caine Prize for African Writing for her story “Poison”, as published in African Pens, whilst a further two stories from this book were also shortlisted for the Caine Prize.

Further to the success of the HSBC/SA PEN Literary Awards a new series of awards was established, the PEN/Studzinski Literary Awards. Mr John Studzinski, a global investment banker and philanthropist, generously agreed to sponsor prize monies of £10 000,00 each and every year whilst a new boutique publishing house, Johnson & KingJames books agreed to publish the 2009 award anthology. The 2009 award called for submissions of short stories, this time from writers of any age and who were citizens of any African and SADC country. 827 entries were received from a total of 24 countries. The youngest entrant was ten years of age, the oldest was aged 101. Over a period of 15 weeks a team of 38 “sifter readers” rated each entry, with each entry being read by a minimum of two readers. This resulted in a total of 1 446 readings. Entries were again read and judged anonymously. The winners were subsequently announced at the launch of the anthology New Writing from Africa 2009, an event held as part of the Franschhoek Literary Festival. Two of the stories featured in the publication were subsequently shortlisted for the 2010 Caine Prize for African Writing. The winner, Karen Jayes, also went on to win the 2013 Sunday Times Fiction Prize for her debut novel For the Mercy of Water. One of the “honourable mentions”, NoViolet Bulawayo, went on to be longlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Award for her debut novel We Need New Names.

There was no 2010 award. However, 531 entries received from citizens of ten African countries were accepted and processed in 2010 for the 2011 Award. There was no age limit and authors needed to be SADC citizens. Entries were again read and judged anonymously. African Pens 2011, published by Jacana Media, was launched in Cape Town in May 2011, at an event wherein the three prize winners, as selected by JM Coetzee, were awarded a total of £10 000, thanks again to the generosity of Mr John Studzinski.

PEN SA’s role for each award has been to call for and receive all entries, check that they meet with the entry requirements, circulate the stories for reading, convene the Editorial Board, liaise with the final judge, JM Coetzee, liaise with the publisher, and liaise with all authors.

Each award has aimed to encourage new creative writing in Africa and to produce a book of quality short stories, written by citizens of African countries, at the culmination of each award. In turn PEN SA hope that readers of these books will be encouraged to in turn put pen to paper/fingers to keyboard and start writing their own stories. Writing encourages reading and reading encourages writing! Write! Africa Write!

In the past we have found that the stories published in each book have provided a “snapshot” of what African authors are thinking, writing about and experiencing in their lives at that time.

Further to the SA PEN Literary Awards at least eighteen of the authors who participated and/or were published in African Compass, African Road, African Pens and New Writing from Africa 2009 and African Pens 2011 have since become published authors in their own right.

Each publication’s launch event has provided the opportunity for new and existing authors to meet and network.

Past winners of the SA PEN Literary Awards are:

2005 HSBC/SA PEN Award – African Compass

  • 1st place – Elizabeth Pienaar, “Pius”
  • 2nd place – Farhard Khoyratty, “Compass”
  • 3rd place – Fiona Moolla, “Ice with water”
  • Honourable mention – Darrel Bristow-Bovey, “A Joburg story”

2006 HSBC/SA PEN Award – African Road

  • 1st place – Sean O’Toole, “The road to Rephile”
  • 2nd place – Elizabeth Pienaar, “Breaking down the house”
  • 3rd place – Justin Fox, “Big game”
  • Honourable mention – Lee Olivier, “A death too soon”

2007 HSBC/SA PEN Award – African Pens

  • 1st place – Henrietta Rose-Innes, “Poison”
  • 2nd place – Petina Gappah, “At the sound of the Last Post”
  • 3rd place – Stanley Kenani, “For honour”
  • Honourable mention – Gill Schierhout, “The day of the surgical colloquium hosted by the Far East Rand Hospital”
  • Honourable mention – Petina Gappah, “Rotten Row”
  • Honourable mention – Nadia Davids, “Safe home”

2009 PEN/Studzinski Award – New Writing from Africa 2009

  • 1st place – Karen Jayes, “Where he will leave his shoes”
  • 2nd place – Andrew Salomon, “A visit to Dr Mamba”
  • Joint 3rd place – Nadia Davids, “The visit”
  • Joint 3rd place – Ceridwen Dovey, “Survival mechanisms”
  • Honourable mention – NoViolet Mkha Bulawayo, “Snapshots”
  • Honourable mention Naomi Nkealah, “In the name of peace”
  • Honourable mention Isabella Morris, “Bluette”
  • Honourable mention Irene McCartney, “Pauline’s ghost”

2011 PEN/Studzinski Award – African Pens 2011

  • 1st place – James Whyle, “The Story”
  • 2nd place – Beth Hunt, “Heatwave”
  • 3rd place – William Oosthuizen, “The Ticket”
  • Honourable mention – Rosemund J Handler, “Quiver”
  • Honourable mention – Rosamund Kendal, “The Sunday Paper”
  • Honourable mention – Kyne Nislev Bernsorff, “Parking the Guilt”
  • Honourable mention – Bobby Jordan, “Claremont Park”
  • Honourable mention – Joline Young, “July”

1960s publications

P.E.N. 1960 – published in 1960 by the South African P.E.N. Centre
New South African Writing No. 1 – published in 1964 by Purnell & Sons
New South African Writing No. 2 – published in 1965 by Purnell & Sons
New South African Writing No. 3 – published in 1966 by Purnell & Sons
New South African Writing No. 4 – published in 1967 by Purnell & Sons
New South African Writing – published in 1977 by Lorton Publications

2000s publications

African Compass – New writing from southern Africa 2005 by New Africa Books
African Road – New writing from southern Africa 2006 by New Africa Books
African Pens – New writing from southern Africa 2007 by New Africa Books
New Writing from Africa 2009 by Johnson & KingJames Books
African Pens 2011 by Jacana

* SADC countries: Angola, Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.