LITTLE SUNS by acclaimed South African writer Zakes Mda has won the country’s Sunday Times Barry Ronge Fiction Prize 2017. The prize seeks to showcase “writing of rare style and imagination, stories that chose the personal over the political, and themes that are fresh and provocative.” This is the second time that Zakes Mda has won this premier national prize, having won the inaugural award in 2001 for HEART OF REDNESS.
The Barry Ronge Fiction Prize was decided by a judging panel consisting of radio personality Africa Melane and Love Books founder Kate Rogan, chaired by journalist and author, Rehana Rossouw. The judges said that LITTLE SUNS was a “novel of rich, magical African imagery.” They applauded Mda for “bringing history to glorious life, in writing that is unique to him.” ‘Zakes Mda is on song with this book,” said one judge, “it brings people from our past gorgeously to life.’
You can read the full text of Zakes’ Mda’s powerful acceptance speech here about the important role of fiction in finding truth and fighting corruption: “The truth of fiction can give context and shed new insights on the stories unearthed by your investigative reporting. It gives them longevity and digestibility. Fiction is even more essential in this age when shamelessness and impunity among the ruling elite and ‘corruption fatigue’ in the populace are leading South Africa to perdition.”
LITTLE SUNS begins in 1903. A lame and frail Malangana – 'Little Suns' – searches for his beloved Mthwakazi after many lonely years spent in exile. Mthwakazi was the young woman he had fallen in love with twenty years earlier, before the assassination of Magistrate Hamilton Hope began a war that ripped the two of them apart.
Intertwined with Malangana's story is the account of Hope – a colonial magistrate who, in the late nineteenth century, was undermining the local kingdoms of the Eastern Cape in order to bring them under the control of the British. It was he who wanted to coerce Malangana’s king and his people, the amaMpondomise, into joining his battle – a scheme Malangana’s conscience could not allow. Based on real historical events – after these frontier wars were quelled, Zakes Mda’s own ancestors were exiled to Lesotho – Mda has drawn on published accounts and the oral stories of family members and local praise poets, woven together with his uniquely vigorous prose, historical insight and humour.
Umuzi published in Southern Africa, and Jacaranda Books will publish on their Global Classics list in 2018.
The Barry Ronge Fiction Prize is awarded as part of the Sunday Times Literary Awards and along with its twin prize, the Alan Paton Award for Non-Fiction, is one of South Africa’s most prestigious prizes. The winner goes home with R100,000. Other shortlisted books included Kopano Matlwa's PERIOD PAIN and Yewande Omotoso's THE WOMAN NEXT DOOR.
Zakes Mda is one of South Africa’s pre-eminent writers, and many of his era-defining plays and novels are hailed as classics of the literary canon. He divides his time between South Africa and the U.S., working as a professor of Creative Writing at Ohio University, director of the Southern African Multimedia AIDS Trust in Sophiatown, and dramaturge at the Market Theatre, Johannesburg. He is a patron of the Etisalat Prize.
Praise for Zakes Mda:
‘The great South African novelist of his generation, a writer rich in both imagination and ironic political attitude.’ The Philadelphia Inquirer
‘A voice for which one should feel not only affection but admiration’ – New York Times
‘It’s a different kind of South African literature, a South African magical realism …I can’t wait to read more’. Barbara Kingsolver on WAYS OF DYING
‘In novel after novel, Zakes Mda seems to have cultivated a mode of writing in which the realistic and the magical co-exist with unruffled ease.’ – Harry Garuba, Independent
'Zakes Mda is among the most acclaimed exponents of a new artistic freedom. His fiction has a beguiling lyricism and humour.' – Maya Jaggi, The Guardian