Hats off to Zoë Wicomb

Posted on September 09, 2016

Renowned South African writer and critic, Prof Zoë Wicomb received an honorary doctorate at the University of Pretoria's spring graduation ceremony on Wednesday, 31 August. As she struggled to keep her mortarboard in place, she commented wryly that her hair was probably fighting back in sympathy with the students at nearby Pretoria High School for Girls.

Prof Wicomb grew up in Namaqualand and gained her first degree from the University of the Western Cape before leaving for England to continue her studies. Since 1994 she has lived in Glasgow, where she was, until her retirement in 2009, Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Strathclyde.

You can't get lost in Cape Town, her debut collection of semi-autobiographical short stories, was an immediate success and has since been followed by another acclaimed volume of short stories, The one that got away, and three novels, David's story (2000), Playing in the light (2006) and October (2015). Although Prof Wicomb's work grapples with global issues of identity and the meaning of home, it is also firmly rooted in local realities. Her taut prose and dry humour speak to the South African experience in ways that vividly evoke the particular, while also illuminating the complexities of our shared history.

Ever aware of irony, Prof Wicomb stated at the ceremony that she would not have been allowed to study at UP in the past and was delighted to see how much the university had changed. In a forthright and lively address, she urged graduates to resist the allure of 'bling' and instead try to preserve both a sense of the importance of knowledge for its own sake and an awareness of how their new skills could be used to benefit those in need.


- Author Faculty of Humanities

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