Phenomenal Poetry Performances at PEN SA Young Writers to Watch Event

13 Oct 2016
Phenomenal Poetry Performances at PEN SA Young Writers to Watch Event

The PEN South Africa Young Writers to Watch event was held at the 2016 Open Book Festival on Wednesday 7 September at the Homecoming Centre in Cape Town’s District Six. This was the culmination of the PEN SA Student Writing Prize and featured Koleka Putuma and Puleng Lange-Stewart, who came first and third respectively. They were joined by one of the judges, writer and publisher Nick Mulgrew, and by writer Karina Szczurek, who chaired the event.

Winner: Koleka Putuma for “Water

Second place: Sithembiso Khalishwayo for “The Forgotten

Third place: Puleng Lange-Stewart for “A love poem to the ‘Problematic’ Black Womxn

Szczurek started the event by asking Lange-Stewart and Putuma to introduce themselves and perform their pieces. Mulgrew read from second-prize winner Sithembiso Khalishwayo’s piece as he was unfortunately unable to be there. Lange-Stewart and Putuma are both incredible performers – their pieces drew murmurs of appreciation and snaps from the crowd and prompted Szczurek to comment that one almost needs a moment of silence after hearing them perform.

Watch snippets of the readings:

Mulgrew then discussed the judging process that he undertook with Panashe Chigumadzi and Masande Ntshanga, chaired by PEN SA Board Member Gabeba Baderoon, mentioning the excitement that they had about the competition and discussing how they all focused on different aspects of the writing, such as emotional content and technicality.

When asked what the competition offered them, Lange-Stewart said that at the time she needed a platform to feel like the voice she has doesn’t need to be an internal one. Putuma answered frankly that it was the R5000 cash prize that drew her to it, but that she was also attracted to the theme and what PEN SA was asking for: “Censorship is still a thing in this country, so it was nice to be asked to say anything you wanted.”

“Your work is valuable and you deserve to be paid for it,” Mulgrew responded. He also commented that he appreciated the lack of censorship of content and expression relative to other writing competitions.

The event wrapped up with a Q&A session and a brief discussion on the exciting news that Mulgrew will be publishing Putuma’s debut collection through his publishing press Uhlanga. It was a fascinating conversation and a wonderful introduction to the work of these two talented young writers.

Watch the full discussion and readings: