Prof Leon de Kock wins South African Literary Award

Prof Leon de Kock from the English Department at Stellenbosch University (SU) has won a South African Literary Award in the category Literary Translation. He received the award for his English rendition of a cycle of poems by Cas Vos, entitled Intimately Absent (in Afrikaans, Intieme Afwesige), based on the Abelard and Heloise saga.

Leon de Kock

“I feel acknowledged. This is a big, national award. I have worked very, very hard on my writing projects over the past few years, but one never gets much affirmation from one’s immediate colleagues and associates, so it’s wonderful to get this kind of shot in the arm. As a writer, you badly need it. It’s like a message that says: ‘Carry on! Ignore the nay-sayers and the academic assassins! Carry on! You’re doing good work,” says an enthusiastic De Kock.

De Kock will receive a trophy and certificate at the official South African Literary Awards (SALA) ceremony on 8 December as well as a cash prize of R30 000.

According to the SALA press release, the award was founded by The wRite Associates in partnership with the national Ministry of Arts and Culture. The award is an “endeavour to pay long overdue homage and honour to” South Africa’s “literary practitioners and legends while [encouraging] the advancement of [the country’s] literary heritage and practice”.

“Our primary aim is to take South Africa’s literary heritage to greater heights. Through SALA, we contribute to the nourishment of the minds of the South African society. The celebration of our rich and diverse literary culture is crucial to the fundamental transformation project of the country’s socio-economic, political and cultural landscape,” said Raks Morakabe Seakhoa, the SALA Project Director.

De Kock has won many awards over the years for his literary translation, critical and creative writing. In 2010, De Kock received the Thomas Pringle award for the best literary article published in a South African journal.  The article was entitled Cracking the Code: Translation as Transgression in Triomf and was published in the Journal of Literary Studies (25:3, 2009). This was the second time he had been awarded this prestigious prize – in 1995 he won the Thomas Pringle award for poems which appeared in his debut volume, Bloodsong. For his translation of Triomf, he won the SA Translators’ Institute Award for Outstanding Translation in 2000.

He is the author of three volumes of poetry – Bloodsong (1997), gone to the edges (2006) and Bodyhood (2010) – and several works of literary translation, including Triomf (1999) and In Stede van die Liefde / In Love’s Place (forthcoming).  In 1996 De Kock published a monograph, Civilising Barbarians. He is the compiler and editor of several collections of South African writing and criticism, including South Africa in the Global Imaginary (2004). His first novel, Bad Sex, appeared this year.

He has written over 40 scholarly articles on topics as diverse as literary translation, postcoloniality, literary historiography, South African literature, mind-body ecology, and whiteness studies, among others.

His passion for writing has seen him venture beyond the academic world in the past, working as a full-time arts writer, books writer and reporter for Beeld, a journalist for Die Burger, and a chief sub-editor for The Star. Over the years, he has written as a freelancer for, among others, The Mail & Guardian, the Sunday Times and the Sunday Independent.

De Kock joined SU in August 2010 after he served as Head of the School of Literature and Language Studies at Witwatersrand University (Wits), where he convened the Creative Writing programme and extended it to honours, masters and doctoral levels.