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Nthikeng Mohlele (R) and Mohale Mashigo (L). Image source: James Murua’s Literature Blog.

The 2017 University of Johannesburg Prizes have been awarded to Nthikeng Mohlele and Mohale Mashigo. Mohlele, who made the Africa39 list, won in the R75 000 Main Prize category for his fourth book, Pleasure; and Mashingo took home the R35 000 Debut Prize for her novel, The Yearning, which was longlisted for the 2016 Etisalat Prize.

Founded in 2006, the University of Johannesburg Prize, also known as the UJ Prize, is given annually for “the best original creative work in English published in the previous calendar year.” It comprises a main prize and a debut prize. The judges are drawn from the Department of English at the University of Johannesburg, to whom are added “two academics from other universities and one member of the media or publishing industry.” The prizes do not separate genres: fiction, nonfiction, poetry and biography are shortlisted alongside each other.

Alongside Mohlele on the Main Prize shortlist were Yewande Omotoso’s The Woman Next Door and Bongani Madondo’s Sigh, the Beloved Country. Here is a description of Pleasure by The Magunga Bookstore.

The notion of pleasure in all its guises is one of the oldest and most enduring grand themes of literature, presented here through the eyes and thoughts of writer and dreamer Milton Mohlele. Thoughtful, eccentric and besieged by the erotic and the sensual, the profane and the redemptive, Milton thinks and writes on pleasure as it is both experienced and imagined. Drawn against the canvas of wartime Europe and modern-day Cape Town, South Africa, Milton sacrifices all for glimpses into the secrets and deceptions of pleasure – and how powerless those apparent insights are in the vast scale of life in its glory and absurdity.

With Mashigo on the Debut Prize shortlist were Sindiswa Busuku-Mathese’s Loud and Yellow Laughter, Jolyn Philips’ Tjieng Tjang Tjerries and Other Stories, and Sylvia Vollenhoven’s The Keeper of the Kumm. Here is a description of The Yearning from Pan Macmillan South Africa.

How long does it take for scars to heal? How long does it take for a scarred memory to fester and rise to the surface? For Marubini, the question is whether scars ever heal when you forget they are there to begin with.

Marubini is a young woman who has an enviable life in Cape Town, working at a wine farm and spending idyllic days with her friends … until her past starts spilling into her present. Something dark has been lurking in the shadows of Marubini’s life from as far back as she can remember. It’s only a matter of time before it reaches out and grabs at her.

The Yearning is a memorable exploration of the ripple effects of the past, of personal strength and courage, and of the shadowy intersections of traditional and modern worlds.

The judging panel comprised: Sikumbuzo Mngadi, Ronit Frenkel, Danyela Demir, and Nyasha Mboti, from the University of Johannesburg; Michael Titlestad from the University of Witwatersrand; and Rebecca Fasselt from the University of Pretoria.

Congratulations to Nthikeng Mohlele and Mohale Mashigo.

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Otosirieze Nnaemekaram is a writer, an academic, and Deputy Editor of Brittle Paper. His fiction has appeared in The Threepenny Review ("Mulumba," 2016), Transition ("A Tenderer Blessing," 2015), and in an anthology of the Gerald Kraak Award for which he was shortlisted ("You Sing of a Longing," 2017). His work has further been shortlisted for the Miles Morland Writing Scholarship in 2016 and a Pushcart Prize in 2015. He attended the 2018 Miles Morland Foundation Creative Writing Workshop facilitated by Giles Foden. He is the curator of the ART NAIJA SERIES, a sequence of themed e-anthologies of writing and visual art exploring different aspects of Nigerianness. The first, ENTER NAIJA: THE BOOK OF PLACES (October, 2016), focuses on cities in Nigeria. The second, WORK NAIJA: THE BOOK OF VOCATIONS (June, 2017), focuses on professions in Nigeria. He studied History and Literature at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, is currently completing a postgraduate programme in African Studies and Pop Culture, and teaches English at Godfrey Okoye University, Enugu. He has completed a collection of short stories and is working on a 600-page novel. When bored, he just Googles Rihanna.

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

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