If the purpose of a literary award is to expose and market the winners to a wider audience, the South African literary awards are doing a terrible job.
Somehow I ended up on the Wikipedia page for the Exclusive Books Boeke Prize.
The page was missing the 2008 winner, so I followed the link to the awards page on the Exclusive Books site. This page did have the 2008 winner, but not the 2007 winner. It also mis-spelled the author’s name, and had no context on the awards at all – how they’re judged, what criteria they use, and so on.
But that was one of the better ones.
I updated the Wikipedia page, and, as tends to happen, found myself adding links to and from the winning authors and their books.
One of the authors had also won another local award, but there was no Wikilink, so I searched to see if the article existed, and found a category listing of South African literary awards.
Visiting these Wikipedia pages I found most of them in a serious state of disrepair. Not updated for years, incomplete and poorly-referenced. As a good Wikipedian, I dived in to help. Only to find that getting information online about any of these awards was extremely difficult. I found myself on US university student’s pages listing award winners until 2006, newspaper articles mentioning a particular year’s winner, and countless author sites trumpeting their victory, but do you think I could find anything approaching a comprehensive list of winners on an awards website hosted by the people responsible for the awards?
You would think that the M-Net Literary awards, the richest literary awards in Africa – would actually have a website listing the winners.
Perhaps it’s forgiveable that the English Academy awards pages (at least they have one) would only list winners up until 2007. It must be hard work administering the Olive Schreiner, Thomas Pringle, Percy Fitzpatrick and the Sol Plaatjie awards. And fighting to get lotto money at the same time.
It would be nice to know the winners while there’s still a chance the work is still in print though.
In the absence of any serious attempt by the awards administrators to expose the winners to a circle beyond the judges and the winner’s mother, the Wikipedia pages have been tackled.
About three or four years ago, I was involved in a project to build an SA literary portal. It never got off the ground. There are one or two reasonable sites around now, but Wikipedia is still the best source for tying the strands of South African literature together. And, for now, that’s not saying much.
At least the awards pages – until next year – have reasonable, up to date overviews.