As many of you would have seen when the original press release about the University of Johannesburg Prize for Creative Writing shortlists went out on 15 September, our A Hibiscus Coast by Nick Mulgrew was included — troublingly, however, for the debut prize.
But the novel is the author’s fourth book, a fact clearly stated both inside the book and on its cover.
We were thrilled nevertheless, because we thought that the inclusion of the novel might have been a simple administrative mix-up, and that the novel belonged on the main category’s shortlist.
When we asked for clarification before making an official announcement on our side, however, the response was:
“Unfortunately, the UJ literary prize panel erroneously shortlisted Nick Mulgrew’s The [sic] Hibiscus Coast as a debut publication. As his publisher pointed out that he had published creative writing previously, we have removed this wonderful book from the debut shortlist. Apologies for any inconvenience caused.”
With considerable disappointment, therefore, the book has been withdrawn entirely from consideration for the University of Johannesburg Prizes.
Thank you to all who congratulated Nick and Karavan Press after the initial press release. We are celebrating this exceptional novel (shortlist or no shortlist) and continue to congratulate the shortlisted authors.
Here is the updated, correct (sadly for us), press release: JRB.
The longlists for SA’s most prestigious annual literary awards for non-fiction and fiction – the Sunday Times Literary Awards – have been announced in partnership with Exclusive Books. Karavan Press has two titles on each list. Congratulations to all longlisted authors, and extra literary hugs to Karavan Press authors: Karen Jennings, Nick Mulgrew, Nancy Richards and Cathy Park Kelly!
This is the 21st year of the Sunday Times fiction prize. The criteria stipulate that the winning novel should be one of “rare imagination and style … a tale so compelling as to become an enduring landmark of contemporary fiction”.
EKOW DUKER — CHAIR Oil-field engineer turned banker turned writer, Ekow Duker grew up in Ghana, studied in the UK, the US and France and now lives and works in Joburg. His debut novels, White Wahala and Dying in New York, were published in 2014 and were followed in 2016 by The God Who Made Mistakes, and in 2019 by his fourth and most ambitious novel, Yellowbone.
KEVIN RITCHIE Ritchie spent 27 years at what is today Independent Media, including editing the company’s smallest daily newspaper, the Diamond Fields Advertiser in Kimberley, and its flagship, The Star, in Joburg. He received several journalism awards during his career and wrote the two-volume Reporting the Courts – A Handbook for South African Journalists. He also co-authored The A-Z of South African Politics (Jacana 2019). After leaving journalism in 2018, Ritchie founded a media consultancy which provides communication services, training for journalists and communicators and coaching for editors and CEOs. He writes a syndicated weekly opinion column in the Saturday Star.
NOMBONISO GASA Writer and political analyst, Gasa is a research fellow at the Centre for Law and Society and Adjunct Professor at the School of Public Law at the University of Cape Town. In the early ’90s, Gasa was part of the ANC’s Commission for the Women’s Emancipation of Women. Gasa has been published widely in newspapers and academic journals, including Women in South African History (HSRC), which she edited in 2007. She has sat in several public positions, including the Commission for Gender Equality, Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) and Development Bank of Southern Africa. Gasa has a long history in politics, feminism and women’s rights activism extending to her teenage years which saw her arrested several times by the apartheid government.
The award will be bestowed on a book that presents “the illumination of truthfulness, especially those forms of it that are new, delicate, unfashionable and fly in the face of power”, and that demonstrates “compassion, elegance of writing, and intellectual and moral integrity”.
GRIFFIN SHEA — CHAIR Shea is the founder of Bridge Books, an independent bookstore in downtown Johannesburg, and the author of a young adult novel, The Golden Rhino. Bridge Books focuses on African literature and on finding new ways of getting books to readers. The store’s non-profit African Book Trust is the lead partner in the Literary District project, a collaboration among booksellers, city agencies, businesses and other volunteers. Before opening Bridge Books, Griffin worked as a journalist for 15 years, mostly with the international news agency Agence France-Press (AFP).
NOMAVENDA MATHIANE Mathiane has been a journalist for over 35 years. Her writing career began in 1975 as a reporter at the World Newspapers and she later joined Frontline magazine, where she specialised in writing about life in South African townships. Since then she has worked for most of the major South African newspapers. Her last journalist job was writing for Business Day as the legislature reporter. Mathiane has written three books: Beyond the Headlines,South Africa: Diary of Troubled Times and Eyes in the Night: An Untold Zulu Story. She currently teaches isiZulu at a private primary school.
BONGANI NGQULUNGA Ngqulunga is with the University of Johannesburg where he currently serves as director of the Johannesburg Institute for Advanced Study (JIAS). He is the author of The Man Who Founded the ANC: A Biography of Pixley ka IsakaSeme, which won multiple awards, including the Sunday Times Non-Fiction Award in 2018. Ngqulunga was educated at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and at Brown University in the US, where he obtained a doctoral degree.
A Hibiscus Coast does not simplify anything, does not try to redeem nor condemn—it complicates. It shows how much we lose when we close ourselves off to that which is strange, Other and new—whether it is at home or somewhere else. Although it resists a linear path of character growth and healing for Mary (or any of the other characters) it does offer hope; hope in connection and relation, and in the expansive power of opening oneself up to that which is unknown and outside.
To say that I was moved would be the understatement of the last two years. Our first post-lockdown book launch at THE BOOK LOUNGE again – after more than seven hundred loss-filled days! Fittingly, it was of Nick Mulgrew’s debut novel A Hibiscus Coast, and he was interviewed by Bongani Kona. Nick is as much of a literary institutions in his own right as is The Book Lounge. So is Bongani. Between the three of them – Mervyn (and his Book Lounge team!), Bongani and Nick – they connect most of the local literary community around us in ways that are difficult to capture in a few words. I would just like to say that I do not want to imagine a world without them. They make what I do at Karavan Press possible. They give me hope when little else does. Thank you!
And thank you to all the writers and readers who showed up at The Book Lounge tonight – I cannot tell you what it meant to me to sit among you during this evening of celebration.
Dear Cape Town,
Nick Mulgrew will be in town and we would love to celebrate his debut novel with you.
Please join us on the 26th of April for the Cape Town launch of A Hibiscus Coast. Nick will be in conversation with Bongani Kona.
Limited seats, so please book early to avoid disappointment!
Hope to see you there.
In my opinion, Nick Mulgrew is the most extraordinary young man of words. Quick bio run down: In 2014, in his early twenties, he founded uHlanga, a magazine of poetry from KwaZulu-Natal – the now award-winning uHlanga Press publishes poets more widely. Personally, he’s had the support of the German Sylt Foundation, the Swedish Literature Exchange, amongst others, and was a Mandela-Rhodes scholar. His work, mainly short fiction and features, has won lots of awards and accolades, including a Thomas Pringle and Nadine Gordimer Award. He’s written four books, was born in South Africa in 1990, raised both in Durban and Orewa, New Zealand, is currently doing his PhD at Dundee University and is based in Edinburgh. This is not to over-brag on his behalf, just to expand on his background which again, in my opinion, throws light on why this, his fourth book and first novel is also completely extraordinary. And absolutely original.
The story starts in South Africa – the opening line, ‘The neighbours were murdered at Christmas.’ lays the cards on the table, and then, through the person of 19-year-old Mary, makes its way across oceans to New Zealand. It’s no coincidence that there is a Hibiscus Coast in both countries.
On the imprint page, it says ‘This book is a work of fiction. Any descriptions…of actual persons, places, events or organisations are fictitious.’ I’m sure this is quite true, but the persons, places, events and organisations here are so meticulously described as to ring peels of bells – both in what a reader may have experienced or imagined. Whilst I’ve never been to New Zealand, the images, and dialogues especially, appear to have been born from close and processed observation. And research. Mulgrew acknowledges, together with the South Coast Herald archives, the National Library of New Zealand, the Auckland City Library, Takupuna Library and UCT Library as some of his sources. Interestingly, something of a graphic artist, young Mary spends a bit of time in libraries too. He was also helped tremendously by ‘komiti members of Te Herenga Waka of Orewa’ – so those who know little of the indigenous culture of NZ are in for some lessons. Now I know what a ‘hangi’ is, and that it needs to get laid. In fact I think I learnt quite a bit about South African culture too – for better and worse.
But aside from the extraordinary insight that’s gone into this book, as well as lived experience and research, what I found to be so absolutely original is its construction. The text is ‘illustrated’ with what you might call ‘supporting documentation’ – affidavits, newsletters, newspaper cuttings, posters, flyers, even hand-written notes. It’s been conceived and laid out with such care, that it commands respect – as well as a place in the timeline of both countries. I’m sorry not to have given any details of the plot itself, but oty to discover. Finally, they say you can’t tell a book by its cover, but what you can tell from this one, is that it really IS absolutely original.