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Breyten Breytenbach

Breytenbach’s work includes poetry, novels, plays and essays, most of which are in Afrikaans and a number originally published in English. Most of his books are translated into several languages. He is also known for his art-work. Exhibitions of his paintings and prints have been held in various cities, including Amsterdam, Stockholm, Paris, Edinburgh and New York.

Breyten Breytenbach is considered one of the greatest living poets in Afrikaans. He was born in Bonnievale in the Western Cape on 16 September 1939, matric- ulated at the Huguenot High School in Wellington in 1957 and studied Art at the University of Cape Town. His first poems appeared in the student newspaper Groote Schuur in 1959. In the 1960s he left South Africa for Paris. 

Breytenbach made his debut with the innovative volume Die ysterkoei moet sweet in 1964. A work of prose, Katastrofes, appeared in the same year.

After his marriage to Yolande Ngo Thi Hoang Lien (the name meaning “Yellow Lotus”), a French woman of Vietnamese origin, he was not allowed to return to South Africa, in terms of the Mixed Marriages Act. In 1973 a special visa was granted to him and Yolande and they returned, amid extensive media coverage, to South Africa for a writers’ congress held at the University of Cape Town. During a visit to South Africa in 1975, under a false passport, Breytenbach was arrested on a charge of terrorism and sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment. After seven years, though, he was released. He was presented with the Hertzog Prize for Poetry in 1984 for Yk , but refused to accept it. 

Breytenbach’s work includes poetry, novels, plays and essays, most of which are in Afrikaans and a number originally published in English. Most of his books are translated into several languages. He is also known for his art-work. Exhibitions of his paintings and prints have been held in various cities, including Amsterdam, Stockholm, Paris, Edinburgh and New York.

 

Other awards

APB Prize in 1965 for Die ysterkoei moet sweet and Katastrofes

CNA Prize five times for: Die huis van die dowe also awarded with the Reina Prinsen Geerling-prijs voor Zuid-Afrika in 1968; Kouevuur (1969); Lotus (1970), which also received the Lucy B and C.W. van der Hoogt-prijs in 1972; YK (1983) and for Memory of snow and dust (1989) Perskor Prize in 1977 for Voetskrif

Hertzog Prize for Oorblyfsels: ‘n roudig and Papierblom in 1999

His poem, Die windvanger (2007), received the University of Johannesburg Prize for Creative Writing, the Hertzog Prize, as well as the W.A. Hofmeyr Prize.

In 2010 he received the Mahmoud Darwish Prize and Max Jacob Prize for Outre Voix/Voice Over, the French translation of Oorblyfsel/Voice Over: ‘n roudig.

 

Publications - Poetry 

28 volumes between 1964, Die ysterkoei moet sweet, and 2011, Die beginsel van stof.

 

Publications - Prose

From the short story Katastrofes in 1964 to
A Veil of Footsteps in 2008, a total of 18 works.

 

CD’s

Mondmusiek (2001) and Lady One (2002)

 

Translations

The debut volume of 1964, Die ysterkoei moet sweetwas translated into English as The Iron Cow Must Sweat . In the years to follow, 21 other works were translated into various languages, including English, Dutch, German, French, Arabic, Polish, Danish, Basque, Swedish, Portuguese, Spanish and Italian.

“Breyten Breytenbach durf in ‘n bundel verse aan wat volgens baie kenners slegs die prosa beskore is. Hy probeer naamlik om soos ‘n skilder in groot en kleiner doeke ‘n steeds wisselende landskap vas te le ; bestek te neem van ‘n lewensreis as ‘n reeks metamorfoses. Nostalgies word in elegiese toon ‘n klaagsang aangehef oor wat verby is en aan verval toe is: veral miskien die liggaam en sy vreugdes. Tog klink ook ‘n lied van vreugde op juis oor daardie dinge wat – paradoksaal – steeds voortleef in die herinnering, ook as kunsproduk.

Nege landskappe van ons tye bemaak aan ‘n beminde is dedicated to Hoang Lien, the dark loved one. She is a given by being the female aspect of the cosmos, the dark Isis that can cure and heal; Kali where creation and destruction coincide; the bride in the alchemy. But she also represents death, described as dark and lovely in Canticles. ‘Lovely’, because death precedes rebirth. In the volume it is, in fact, death that is present as the eternal beloved which, paradoxically, lets life and earthly pleasures make sense. In a strange way, death is converted into the muse of the artist during his search for wholeness and insight during his journey.” (Commendatio 1996)

Nege landskappe van ons tye bemaak aan ’n beminde was translated into Dutch by A. van Dis in 1995.