AMHERST, Mass. - Stephen Clingman, chair of the English department at the University of Massachusetts, has won South Africa''s premier prize for non-fiction, the Sunday Times Alan Paton Award. The award, the South African equivalent of a Pulitzer Prize, was given to Clingman for his biography, "Bram Fischer: Afrikaner Revolutionary" (University of Massachusetts Press). Clingman was given the prize together with Antjie Krog, author of "Country of My Skull," marking the first time the award has been granted jointly. The announcement was made at a banquet in Johannesburg on June 18. Clingman was flown to South Africa especially for the event.
Covering more than 100 years of South African history, Clingman''s book focuses on Bram Fischer, a child of Afrikaner nationalists who identified with the struggle for freedom. In his capacity as a lawyer, Fischer led the defense of Nelson Mandela in the infamous Rivonia Trial of 1964. Ultimately, like Mandela, Fischer was named a traitor and sentenced to life imprisonment. He was released from jail in 1975 only as he was dying of cancer.
The Alan Paton Award, which is named after the world-famous author of "Cry, The Beloved Country," is given based on the following criteria, according to its sponsors: "Compassion; elegance of writing; intelligence; moral integrity; and the illumination of truthfulness, especially those forms of it which are new, delicate, unfashionable, and fly in the face of power." In bestowing the award, the judges called Clingman''s book "a glorious piece of research, yet easy to read." The book "covers personal and emotional subjects and events without over dramatizing them," the judges said, pointing out that it is "academically disciplined" yet "contains poetry in its story."
Clingman, who is himself from South Africa, said he was "thrilled and delighted" to receive the award. "It is tremendously meaningful," he said, "to have this sort of recognition in the country of my birth." Commenting on the subject of the biography in his acceptance speech, Clingman said that Fischer was something of a prototype in South Africa: "He realized what it would take to be a South African: what sacrifices and what fulfillment."
The judges for the award were Albie Sachs, a judge on the Constitutional Court of South Africa; Nhlanhla Maake, head of the African languages department at the University of the Witwatersrand; and Peter Wilhelm, editor-at-large of the Financial Mail, in Johannesburg. The judges commented on the particularly high standard of this year''s finalists for the award.