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SA lecturer becomes youngest recipient of prestigious Dutch literary award

Dr Alfred Schaffer has been awarded the coveted PC Hooft award, the youngest recipient ever of the accolade. File photo: Stellenbosch University

Dr Alfred Schaffer has been awarded the coveted PC Hooft award, the youngest recipient ever of the accolade. File photo: Stellenbosch University

Published Jan 21, 2021


Cape Town – A lecturer at Stellenbosch University (SU) has become the youngest ever recipient of the PC Hooft prize, after being announced as the 2021 laureate of the prestigious Dutch literary award.

The language literary lifetime achievement award is named after 17th century Dutch poet and playwright Pieter Corneliszoon Hooft.

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Established in 1948, initially as an award of the state, winners are selected from alternating categories: prose, essays and poetry.

Dr Alfred Schaffer received the prize for his poetry, with SU describing him as one of the most talented Dutch poets of his generation.

Schaffer said the prize was a huge honour and the highest accolade one could receive as a writer, poet or essayist in the Netherlands.

The son of an Aruban mother and Dutch father, Schaffer grew up in The Hague and studied the Dutch language and literature as well as film and theatre science in Leiden.

In 1996, he moved to South Africa where he continued his postgraduate studies at UCT.

In 2005, he returned to the Netherlands where he worked in Dutch publishing as an editor before moving back to South Africa in 2011.

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Schaffer is a lecturer at SU’s department of Afrikaans and Dutch.

Afrikaans poet Elisabeth Eybers also won the PC Hooft award in 1991, the last South African to do so.

The prize, which comes with a 60,000 euro payout, will be awarded to Schaffer in May.

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He is no stranger to accolades, having previously received the Jo Peters poetry prize, the Hugues C Pernath prize, the Ida Gerhardt poetry prize and the Jan Campert prize for his work.

Schaffer says writing poetry gives him absolute freedom to express himself and is a way of creatively understanding the world around him.

“I am triggered by language, like every writer, but what inspires me as well, is the fact that there are so many things that I do not understand until I have creatively written about it,” he says.

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“To write a poem is so wonderful because I do not know what the result will be.

“Poetry has no hypothesis, like life.”

According to SU, Schaffer has made important contributions to South African literature over the years by bringing local poetry to a broader audience through translation into Dutch.

Poems he has translated include the works of Antjie Krog, Ronelda Kamfer and Koleka Putuma.

“Translation is everything.

“So many South African poets tell urgent stories of an intense life, right in the middle of the big issues of our time: migration, neo-colonialism, racism, guilt,” said Schaffer.

“I hope that readers see that there are many different stories, experiences and perspectives out there, formulated in wonderful and confronting poetry.”

He is working alongside fellow academics in Belgium and the Netherlands on a book about lyrical activism, in addition to translating Kamfer’s latest volume of poetry entitled Chinatown.

African News Agency (ANA)

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