C.A. Davids and Pulane Mlilo Mpondo.

The University of Johannesburg Prize for South African Writing (UJ Prize) in English has announced the winners for its 2023 edition. The Main Prize winner is C.A Davids for How to Be a Revolutionary and the Debut Prize winner is Pulane Mlilo Mpondo for Things My Mother Left Me.

The UJ Prize is annually awarded by the University of Johannesburg for the best creative works in each of five categories: English, Afrikaans, Zulu, Northern Sotho, and Literary Translation. The winner of the Main Prize  receives prize money of R75,000 and the Debut Prize winner receives R35,000. All the top three nominees in the respective categories are awarded certificates of recognition.

The winners were selected through a rigorous adjudication process, where the seven judges evaluated over 100 books published in 2022.

How to Be a Revolutionary by C.A. Davids connects contemporary Shanghai, late Apartheid-era South Africa, and China during the Great Leap Forward and the Tiananmen uprising, by depicting the shared love for the poet Langston Hughes between a South African diplomat and a Shanghainese citizen. It was featured on our 100 Notable African Books of 2022.

Prof. Ronit Frenkel, Head of the English Department at the University of Johannesburg and Chair of the UJ Prize judging panel, remarked that the winning entry was an ambitious and expansive novel:

How to be a Revolutionary by C.A. Davids is an extraordinary book that grapples with the failures of a revolution only partly realised. Davids’ novel links three narratives – that of Beth, a South African former anti-apartheid activist and current diplomat in China, her neighbour Zhao, a former communist party adherent and the fictionalised letters of Langston Hughes in the 1950s. This is a novel of important questions, lived ambiguities and a finely crafted novel that reflects an author at her peak.

Things My Mother Left Me by Pulane Mlilo Mpondo is an anthology of three short stories and two novellas, which explore the ways in which the traumas of our mothers are inherited by and transferred through their daughters.

Prof. Nedine Moonsamy, one of the judges of the UJ Prize, was impressed by the experimental and unique nature of both the form and content of the work:

Both stylistically experimental and lyrically punctuated, Pulane Mlilo Mpondo’s debut novel, Things My Mother Left Me, is a poetic force. Mpondo weaves women’s lives together, marking the existential horror and the communal enfolding of their contemporary existence. In this novel, South African life breaks open on various planes; the spiritual, the visual, the poetic and the humorous all reach us as a gratifying and seamless narrative flow.

The prizes will be awarded on Thursday, September 14, in a ceremony held at the Sun International Auditorium, Kerzner Building, Bunting Road Campus, University of Johannesburg. The ceremony will be addressed by distinguished writer and former Chancellor of the University of Johannesburg, Prof. Njabulo S. Ndebele.

Congratulations to the winners!