The Department of English warmly congratulates the most recent cohort of PhD students to have successfully defended their PhD projects. They include Dr. Spemba Spemba, Dr. Joseph Kwanya and Dr. Waghied Misbach.

Dr. Spemba’s dissertation is titled “Representation of Albinism and Persons with Albinism in Narratives from East and Southern Africa” and was supervised by Dr. Tilla Slabbert. Dr Kwanya’s dissertation is titled “Myth and Counterfactuality in Diasporic Women’s Novels” and was supervised by Dr. Nadia Sanger and Prof. Louise Green. Dr. Misbach’s PhD project, titled “Postcolonial Minoritarian Characters: Transformative Strategies for Re-Mediating Raced Marginalisation in South African English Fiction” is a semi-creative thesis with a critical and creative component in the form of a novel. Professor Sally-Ann Murray was Dr. Misbach’s supervisor.

Finally, the Department congratulates Professor Tina Steiner for her recent promotion to full Professor.

Meg Samuelson on Abdulrazak Gurnah: A Storyteller for Our Times

Professor Meg Samuelson, from the School of Humanities at the University of Adelaide and formerly of the Department of English at Stellenbosch University, recently contributed an essay on the work of Abdulrazak Gurnah for the Sydney Review of Books. While at Stellenbosch University, Professor Samuelson was among the English staff members teaching Gurnah’s work. A link to the essay for the Sydney Review of Books may be found here.

“In Search of Our Shrines”

from left: Rose Lim, Stephanie de Villiers, Lobke Minter, Prof. Tina Steiner and Nelia Bester

During the first week of November 2021, a group of our English postgraduates, along with Prof. Tina Steiner, attended the African Feminisms (Afems) 2021 Conference, “In Search of Our Shrines: Feminist Healing and the Politics of Love”.

This was the fourth Afems installment, hosted in 2021 as a hybrid physical and online event by the University of Cape Town (UCT) in collaboration with the African Gender Institute, the Department of Literary Studies in English, Rhodes University and the Department of Fine Arts, Wits. University.

As per the Afems website, the 2021 conference had a core focus on addressing “alternative modes of knowledge production, ongoing implications of the divide between feminist theory and praxis, as well as intellectual and creative feminist strategies.”

The Department of English celebrates Abdulrazak Gurnah

Abdulrazak Gurnah’s ten novels

This past week, on 7 October 2021, Zanzibar-born novelist and Emeritus Professor of English and Postcolonial Literatures at the University of Kent, Abdulrazak Gurnah was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Alongside the official Nobel recognition for Professor Gurnah’s body of work as an “uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fates of the refugee in the gulf between cultures and continents”, many around the world are celebrating and reflecting on Professor Gurnah’s achievement. Novelist Maaza Mengiste adds that, for three decades, Professor Gurnah has been “writing with a quiet and unwavering conviction about those relegated to the forgotten corners of history.”

Professor Gurnah’s achievement is received with great excitement by the Department. Our connection to both the author and his work dates back to 2008, when Professor Tina Steiner first taught undergraduate and postgraduate classes on his novels, and over the years other colleagues in the Department have also presented on Gurnah’s texts.

Prof. Steiner with Prof. Gurnah, Canterbury, 2012

Gurnah has visited the Department a number of times, in addition to his residency at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study (STIAS). In April 2010, he gave the keynote address at the Zoë Wicombe conference, the first of two illustrious, major international conferences hosted by Stellenbosch at which Gurnah would partake. The second such occasion was in July 2016 at the Conference for the Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies (ACLALS). In 2018, Gurnah joined STIAS as a research fellow and ran a reading group for English postgraduates, affording students and colleagues a rare opportunity to get to know an author whose work is an important fixture in the department’s undergraduate and postgraduate teaching. For some Honours students, having read Gurnah’s By The Sea in their final undergraduate year, it was the chance to meet an author some of them had recently become familiar with, and the experience may not have been any less exciting for colleagues who had taught or written about his work.

In “Nobel winner Abdulrazak Gurnah’s fiction traces small lives with wit and tenderness,” a piece published on news24 immediately after the news of Professor Gurnah’s Nobel Prize win, Professor Steiner reflects that

Gurnah, the storyteller, probes the efficacy of stories to connect people and geographies. Yet at the same time he is acutely attentive to the divisive nature of stories of certainty: of colonial domination, of patriarchal scripts, of racism, of xenophobia towards strangers from elsewhere. His work points to the way in which such certainties furnish people with a belief in the rightness of the violence they wreak on others, in the destruction of other people’s lives which they deem to matter less than their own.

In the same piece, Steiner discusses the empathy that is evident in Gurnah’s prose across his ten novels and also within his short stories. She observes that the settings of his novels, almost exclusively African (more precisely, settings along the Eastern African Swahili Coast or in Zanzibar) but for one exception, illuminate the “common occurrences” of migration and displacement faced by many in Africa and across the globe. With intermingling along the East African shores of the Indian Ocean, Gurnah’s characters often suggest “the cultural and linguistic heterogeneity of East African coastal regions and their place within the continent, the Indian Ocean world, and the globe in order to stress a common humanity.”

Considering Professor Steiner’s points, we may note that Gurnah’s work is so pivotal to the Department’s vision that he has, indeed, been recognized in our mission statement since the early 2010s:

We envisage the discipline as a series of transformative encounters between worlds and texts, a process of reading, thinking, debate and writing which is well-placed to contribute not only to our students’ critical and creative knowledge of ‘English’ as a discipline, but also to the possibilities for change in Stellenbosch, a site still marked by racial and economic disparity… novels by Chimamanda Adichie and Abdulrazak Gurnah, poetry from the Caribbean, and articles by Njabulo S. Ndebele can prompt revised recognitions of racial, cultural and gendered identities…

Finally, another observation in Professor Steiner’s piece, one that is also found in views expressed by other avid Gurnah readers like Mengiste, is Gurnah’s great sense of care for his characters, ensuring that they are documented through literature even as his other work strives towards more immediate forms of recognition for those often left unarchived. The ability to weave humour into his narratives, despite some of their harrowing aspects, is one of the many reasons Gurnah’s work remains both enjoyable as well immanently teachable. Steiner’s piece acknowledges “the subtle humour which suffuses his writing that give his stories a lightness of touch”, a skill no doubt familiar to readers and, now, to the Nobel Committee for Literature.

PhD Congratulations

Dr. Wesley Macheso

The Department warmly congratulates Dr. Wesley Macheso on the successful examination of his PhD thesis entitled, “Vulnerability and Agency: Queer Representations in Contemporary Literary and Cultural Texts from Sub-Saharan Africa”. Dr. Macheso’s study, supervised by Professor Shaun Viljoen and Dr. Tilla Slabbert, was met with unanimous praise by its examiners in September 2021.

Postgraduate English Studies Conference, 16 September

The Department will present its annual Postgraduate Conference on Thursday, 16 September. Postgraduates from the Honours, Masters and PhD cohorts will present on their work and the day’s proceedings will also include a research seminar discussion by Dr Ranka Primorac. The summary of the conference programme is below.

Session 1: Chair, Prof. Tina Steiner

10:00-10:20 The Posthuman Imperative in Dystopian and Post-

Apocalyptic Literatures

Presenter: Andre Kershaw

Discussant: Megan Jones

10:20-10:50 Mental Distress and Diasporic Experience in Porochista

Khakpour’s Sick: A Memoir and Brown Album: Essays on

Exile and Identity

Presenter: Stephanie de Villiers

Discussant: Nhlanhla Dube

10:50-11:10 On words and sounds: Intergenerational Trauma and

Identity in Selected Shoah and Apartheid Memoirs

Presenter: Lara Alhadeff

Discussant: Lobke Minter

11:10-11:30 A Dream in which Silence is Golden

Presenter: Sarah Uheida

Discussant: Tilla Slabbert

12:00-13:00 Keynote: Dr Ranka Primorac

Session 2: Chair, Prof. Louise Green

14:30-14:50 Depictions of Victorian Masculinity in Jane Eyre and

North and South

Presenter: Josephine Troost

Discussant: Treesa Marshall

14:50-15:20 Between the Lines: Writing With, Against and Beyond

Prescribed Models of “Colouredness”

Presenter: Cleo Biscombe

Discussant: Riaan Oppelt

15:20-15:50 Freud and Laubscher: A Haunting

Presenter: Penny Busetto

Discussant: Louise Green

Home Is Where The Music Is–presented by Uhuru Phalafala

A creative reimagining of archives built over years of interviews, Home Is Where The Music Is is the latest output from Dr Uhuru Phalafala in 2021. In the listening experience is a blend of music and interviews through which Dr Phalafala presents a sonic documentary that is a companion piece to a booklet that is published by Chimurenga, which was launched on 2nd September

Into the Second Half of 2021

With South Africa still in the grip of a third wave of the Covid 19 pandemic and under national lockdown, the Department of English continues to operate online under current national guidelines and protocols. A lengthy, extended first semester, impacted in June by the onset of the third wave and the ensuing Lockdown Level 4, saw all assessments and tests occur online. With little break for faculties across Stellenbosch University and at other universities across the country, the second semester is in full swing.

Through the intense teaching and administrative activity of the first semester, the Department’s research activities endured, as will be seen in this report. The Department’s fortnightly research seminar series, curated and arranged by Dr Uhuru Phalafala, continued with exciting speakers like Professor Barbara Boswell (UCT) and Dr. Philip Aghoghovwia (UFS), while a new PhD was awarded in June.


The Department congratulates Professor Tina Steiner on the publication of her newest book, Convivial Worlds: Writing Relation from Africa, with Routledge.

With a focus on the everyday, the book explores forms of conviviality in Eastern and Southern African literature, both in narrative fiction and in life writing. According to Routledge, there is an emphasis on

“…ordinary moments of recognition, of hospitality, of humour and kindness in everyday life to illuminate the significance of repertoires of repair in a world broken by relations of power. Putting current research on conviviality in conversation with the literary texts, the book demonstrates how conviviality emerges as an enabling ethical practice, as critique and survival strategy and as embodied lived experience.”

The volume is a rich addition to Professor Steiner’s body of work and also a contribution to Postcolonial Literature, African Studies and Indian Ocean Studies. The Department welcomes this new publication with great excitement and enthusiasm.

Prof. Tina Steiner
Dr. Wamuwi Mbao

Dr Wamuwi Mbao deserves overdue congratulations for his editing of the publication of Years of Fire and Ash: South African Poems of Decolonisation with Jonathan Ball, earlier in 2021. In the collection, selected and collated by Dr Mbao, five decades of protest poetry are represented by a range of historic and contemporary South African poets. The selections speak to vital questions of decolonisation and the struggle radical social transformation, positioning many of these poems both in their own historic moments and in the continued discussion around decolonisation.

Dr. Tyrone August

The Department also congratulates former PhD and Research Associate Dr Tyrone August, whose monograph Dennis Brutus: The South African Years (BestRed/HSRC Press 2020) made the shortlist for the 2021 Humanities and Social Sciences Awards from the Johannesburg Review of Books in the category ‘Best Non-fiction Monograph’.

PhD Congratulations

The Department also offers its excited congratulations to Dr. Eva Wühr for the successful defence, in June, of her PhD thesis, titled “Rethinking Past and Future: Identity and Trauma in Contemporary Afrodiasporic Women’s Speculative Fiction,” with supervisors Dr. Nadia Sanger and Professor Ute Berns (Hamburg).

Moving on From Year Zero

January 2021

Quietly, perhaps with cautiously optimistic tones, 2021 took over from 2020. The jokes about 2020 never ending are well worn, along with suspicions that 2021 would merely be its predecessor in disguise. Much remains to be seen but here we are, at the start of a new year with plenty to reflect on and look ahead to in the first months of 2021. In the Department of English at Stellenbosch University (SU), there were reasons to celebrate as 2020 wound down and a recap is in order before we move on to the new year’s business at hand.


The department warmly congratulates Dr Jacky Kosgei on her successful viva in September, and Dr Cleo Theron, who successfully defended her thesis in December. Dr Kosgei’s thesis, titled “Imaginaries of Oceanic Histories in Oral and Written Texts from the Kenyan Coast,” was written under the supervision of Professor Tina Steiner and Dr Uhuru Phalafala. Dr Theron’s thesis, titled “Appraising the Counterpoint: Bifocal Readings of Literary Landscapes in the American Renaissance and Post-Apartheid South Africa,” was written under the supervision of Dr Megan Jones and Dr Dawid De Villiers.


Dr. Uhuru Phalafala
Dr. Uhuru Phalafala

In December 2020, Dr Uhuru Phalafala was notified by Dr Blade Nzimande that she had been selected by the Department of Higher Education and Training as a participant in the 2021 cohort of the nationally competitive Future Professors Programme. This initiative aims to support the career development of notable young South African scholars who have already made their mark as academics, and whose CVs suggest they are likely to go on to make significant contributions in the tertiary environment. (At SU, the FPP is managed by Professor Jonathan Jansen and his team.)

Congratulations to our colleague Dr Phalafala on yet another inspiring achievement. Her selection for the FPP signals her excellence.

Prof. Sally-Ann Murray

Professor Sally-Ann Murray’s 2019 collection Otherwise Occupied (Dryad Press)has been nominated for a 2020 South African Literary Award (SALA) in the poetry category. Already a winner of the 1991 Sanlam Prize for her first collection, Shifting, as well as the 2009 M-Net Prize for English Fiction and the 2010 Herman Charles Bosman Prize for her debut novel, Small Moving Parts, Professor Murray is now once again in the running for a top award in 2021. Professor Murray’s 2020 publications include “Queerying examples of contemporary South African short fiction” in Journal of Commonwealth Literature 2020; 55(1):77-95.


Prof. Annie Gagiano

In this first newsletter for 2021, there is a special focus on the force of nature that is Professor Emerita Annie Gagiano, a member of the Department since 1969 until her official retirement in 2008; thereafter, she continued her tireless productivity as emeritus professor. In the years before Covid19-influenced Lockdowns, Professor Gagiano was unfailingly the first person to arrive to her office in the department and the last to leave. This short summary, taken from the Faculty of Arts page, is but a quick reminder of Professor Gagiano’s astounding career:

Gagiano obtained her DLitt (English Studies) in 2003 and is a Professor Emeritus in the English Department where she continues to supervise doctoral students and pursue her research in contemporary African English fiction, focusing on issues of representation of the postcolonial present with emphasis on evocations of power (including war), gender concerns and aspects of childhood. In 2002 she was co-recipient of the Rector’s Award for Excellence in Research and she serves as reader for a number of academic journals. Her two books, viz. Achebe, Head, Marechera: On Power and Change in Africa (2002) and Dealing with Evils: Essays on Writing from Africa (2008) were published respectively in the USA and Germany. Gagiano has produced numerous articles and book chapters on African texts – sometimes read in conjunction with classic texts like Shakespeare’s or in comparison with postcolonial writing from other regions. She is a member of several academic bodies such as the International Comparative Literature Association; the African Literature Association and the Association for Commonwealth Languages and Literature.

Professor Gagiano has had a busy 2020, as the following list of publications reveals:

1) Her article “Recovering and recovering from an African past: four women’s quest narratives” was published online in the Journal of Transatlantic Studies The print issue is in Journal of Transatlantic Studies 17.3: 269-289. DOI: 10.1057/542738-019-00025

2) A paper she gave at the Penang conference (the International Conference on Literature debating the present state and possible future of Postcolonial and Diasporic Studies) has been published in The Wenshan Review of Literature and Culture 12.2 as an article titled “Postcolonial Illuminations of Past Betrayals in Tan’s The Gift of Rain and Owuor’s Dust.” The Print ISSN is 2077-1282 and the Online issue ISSN 2077-1290.

3) Her article for a special issue of the Tydskrif vir Letterkunde on Nuruddin Farah’s writing (edited by Fiona Fatima Moolla), titled “Male ‘Somaliness’ in diasporic contexts: Somali authors’ evaluative evocations”, has been published in this journal, vol.57 no. 1 (2020): 77- 87.   ISSN: 0041-476x and DOI: 10.17159/2309-9070/tvl.v.1i

4) A commissioned article titled “Complicating Apartheid Resistance Histories by Means of South African Autobiographies” has been published in the journal a/b: Auto/Biography Studies for a special guest-edited issue; a/b vol. 35 no. 3 (2020): 667-689. DOI:10/1080/08989575.2020.1762996

5) Her article “Precarity, protectedness and power in Emmanuel Jal’s WARchild: a boy soldier’s story” will be published during early 2021 in a themed issue on ‘Precarity in African Literature’ (guest edited by Cheryl Stobie) of the journal Current Writing: Text and Reception in Southern Africa, as soon as it is assigned to an issue.  DOI: 10.1080/1013929X.2020.1795352

In addition, her article on three African short stories titled “War-affected children in three African short stories: finding sanctuary within the space of placelessness” (submitted late 2019) had been accepted for publication in Commonwealth Essays & Studies in a special issue [eds Pascale Tollance & Claire Omhovère] on ‘Place & Placelessness in the Postcolonial Short Story.’


English 3 student Sarah Uheida (the class representative, and the Dryad Press Intern, and subsequently also the Dryad Social Media Manager), has recently won two major prizes.

Firstly, she has won the Dan Veach Prize for Younger Writers, awarded by the United States poetry journal, Atlanta Review. Named after an influential editor of the journal, the prize is for an exceptional piece of work by a college student between the ages of 18 – 23. On their Facebook page, the editors announce: “Sarah Uheida is 22 years old and was born in Tripoli, Libya. She is a poet and experimental memoirist currently completing her undergraduate degree in English Studies and Psychology at Stellenbosch University, South Africa. Her work features in the literary journals New Contrast, Blindeye, Eunoia Review, The Shore,

Secondly, out of almost 1000 applicants, Sarah is one of four recipients selected as a 2020 Miles Morland Writing Scholar. “The awards are based on submissions which include a book proposal and an excerpt of published writing.” The Miles Morland Foundation “is particularly interested in supporting African writing and African literature” (, and the prize will support Sarah’s writing of a memoir, already underway, and likely to be the focus of her Honours independent project in 2021. As the Miles Morland announcement puts it, Uheida’s “proposed non-linear fictionalised memoir will centre her lived experience as a Muslim child survivor of her country’s disintegration into the Libyan Civil War, and the challenges of living as a refugee in South Africa. This is an ambitious project by a new and powerful voice” (

An extract from Sarah’s memoir was published in the special ‘SU’ issue of New Contrast that was edited by Professor Sally-Ann Murray in 2019, with the support of the Mellon 30th Anniversary Artists’ in Residence Grant. Sarah also has poems in the 2020 special issue of this journal, which features notable student writers from UWC and SU, which was co-edited by Professor Sally-Anne Murray and Professor Kobus Moolman, again published with Mellon assistance.

The department also extends excited congratulations to doctoral student Wesley Macheso on the publication of his poetry collection, A Masquerade of Spirits.

In undergraduate news for the final term of class in 2020, third year undergraduate English Studies students, who enrolled for the Olive Schreiner elective course (first time offered) under Dr Tilla Slabbert, were asked to conduct independent research to construct a Schreiner network, inspired by Franco Moretti’s graph “A Tangled Mesh of Modernists”.

Their research topics invited them to:

1) Source correspondence between Schreiner and another historical subject (e.g. acquaintance, friend, foe, writer, politician, family member); to conduct a close reading of the (selected) sourced material; and to discuss what the communication reveals of each subjectivity and their individual views of socio-political issues of the time. 


2) Source a writer (of fiction or non-fiction) or artist who has acknowledged Schreiner’s influence on their work and sensibilities.  In a close analysis of the selected writer/artist’s work, or a particular text from their oeuvre, explore how Schreiner inspired the writer’s/artist’s thematic concerns and creative expression.

The group produced a truly impressive range of research essays, and the respective subjects sourced were brought together in this poster designed by student, Jodi Prinsloo.


Prof. Stephanie Newell

In November, SU Professor Extraordinaire Stephanie Newell, based at Yale, hosted a book proposal-writing workshop, offering her expert advice and guidance and providing feedback on the projects of participating staff members. Follow-up sessions will be arranged in 2021 and Professor Newell, working alongside Professor Louise Green, will continue to facilitate these.


Dr. Rob Gaylard

In November 2020, universities around the country said farewell to the late Dr Robin Gaylard. Dr Gaylard was a beloved colleague in the Department of English at SU, where he worked from the late 1970s until his retirement at the end of 2009, and his loss resonates in our department and in English Departments around South Africa.

As of January 2021, the Department of English at SU also mourns the recent losses of friends who have played important roles in the story of the department, as well as losses suffered by friends, relatives and colleagues, and we pay our deepest respects to them.