The South African writer Mary Watson has been announced as winner of the 2022 Philida Literary Award, which “recognizes a writer with a consistent record of publishing works of excellence and aims to encourage them further in their pursuit of a literary career.”
The prize was established in 2020 by Karina M Szczurek in memory of the author Andre Brink, her late husband. It is named, though, after Philida van de Caab, a woman who once laid an official complaint against her masters, Francois and Cornelius Brink, both distant relatives of Andre Brink’s. She was the inspiration for the protagonist of Philida, Brink’s last published novel, from 2012.
Watson, who was born in Cape Town and currently resides in Ireland, was the 2006 winner of the Caine Prize for African Writing. Her debut book Moss was a collection of short stories and was published in 2004, followed by 2013’s The Cutting Room, and then The Wren Hunt and The Wickerlight, published in 2018 and 2019, respectively. She’s worked in several capacities within the arts, from being a museum guide to a library assistant and even acting in children’s musicals.
Brink, who supervised Watson’s master’s degree in creative writing at the University of Cape Town, had described Moss as a book of “persuasive power and exquisite beauty.”
“I was thinking of Andre a little while earlier,” said Watson upon accepting the award. “How I never dreamed how incredibly supportive he’d be when I summoned up the nerve to pop those pages [of Moss] in his pigeon hole. So thank you so very much. I am truly, truly honoured.”
Each winner receives an award certificate designed by Debbie Minne, and its prize money is determined by royalties gotten from the sales of a book, You Make Me Possible: The Love Letters of Karina M. Szczurek and Andre Brink. The inaugural winner in 2020 was Mohale Mashigo. Last year’s winner was Qarnita Loxton.
Watson’s YA novel Blood to Poison, “a furious and mesmerizing story about discovering magic, historical rage and love in all its guises,” is forthcoming this April.