The shortlists for the 2023 Sunday Times Literary Awards have just been announced. This year’s books are all brilliant and gripping, making the judges’ forthcoming decision very difficult.

Founded in 1989 and 2001, the Sunday Times Literary Awards include nonfiction and fiction, and are awarded annually to writers who are South African citizens or residents. In partnership with Exclusive Books, the two awards aim to recognize the best of South African fiction and nonfiction from the previous year. Both winners receive R100,000 each.

The 2022 award winners were Tshidiso Moletsane, who won the Fiction Prize for his novel Junx, and Mignonne Breier, who won the Nonfiction Award for Bloody Sunday: The Nun, the Defiance Campaign and South Africa’s Secret Massacre.

This year’s judges for the Fiction Prize are Ekow Duker (chair), Kevin Ritchie, and Nomboniso Gasa. According to the Sunday Times, the judges are looking for “rare imagination and style … a tale so compelling as to become an enduring landmark of contemporary fiction.”

The judges for the Nonfiction Award this year are Duma Gqubule (chair), Judy Dlamini and Julian Rademeyer. They deem that the winner should “demonstrate the illumination of truthfulness, especially those forms of it that are new, delicate, unfashionable and fly in the face of power; compassion; elegance of writing; and intellectual and moral integrity.”

Check out the shortlist and the judges’ comments for each submission below.

Fiction Prize Shortlist

The Heist Men by Andrew Brown
“This isn’t an everyday cops and robbers story. Brown’s personal history, skill and intimate knowledge of South Africa’s troubled past and present elevate this book above the usual crime literature. Well researched, absorbing and timely.”

How to Be a Revolutionary by CA Davids
“Masterful. A fascinating book made up of three different stories, to create a whole that is increasingly relevant in a multi-polar world where people’s pasts have to be grappled with to be made sense of.”

The Quality of Mercy by Siphiwe Gloria Ndlovu
“Powerful and thought-provoking, the book effortlessly captures the different classes and customs, prejudices and fears as Rhodesia morphs into Zimbabwe.”

An Unusual Grief by Yewande Omotoso
“A brave and vivid story of a mother’s grief and attempts to uncover who her daughter was and what happened to her. Omotoso’s writing about trauma, loss and imperfection is outstanding.”

The Errors of Dr Browne by Mark Winkler
“An interesting story drawn from an obscure witchcraft case that would later have a bearing on the Salem trials, which leads to loud echoes of what has happened and is still happening here. Well researched and masterfully written.”

Nonfiction Award Shortlist

My Land Obsession: A Memoir by Bulelwa Mabasa
“An engaging memoir. It’s inspirational, factual and relevant with many angles that define our past going back generations.”

Unforgiven: Face to Face with my Father’s Killer by Liz McGregor
“A powerfully told story of the consequences of a terrible crime, unimaginable grief and a quest to confront a killer. This resonates deeply, particularly in a country where the vast majority of murders go unsolved.”

Dear Comrade President: Oliver Tambo and the Foundations of South Africa’s Constitution by André Odendaal
“A rich, refreshing, methodical, easy-to-read book that has particular relevance today amid deepening political cynicism.”

The Blinded City: Ten Years In Inner-City Johannesburg by Matthew Wilhelm-Solomon
“An extraordinary book shedding light on inner-city life in Johannesburg. This is particularly relevant now.”

Manifesto: A New Vision for South Africa by Songezo Zibi
“Well researched, argued and written. This is a fierce, timely, beautifully written assessment of South Africa today, what needs to be done to fix it and a call to action in the face of betrayal.”

Congrats to the shortlisted writers!