Winner of Jan H Marais Prize announced


Prof. Louise Viljoen from Stellenbosch was named this year as the recipient of the prestigious Jan H Marais prize.

Viljoen is recognized for her contribution to Afrikaans literature. The award will be presented to her later this year during a function in Stellenbosch.

Dr. Johan van Zyl, former rector of the University of Pretoria and also former chief executive and chairman of Sanlam, who is chairman of the selection committee for the prize, announced the decision on Friday.

“Her research provides excellent evidence of her capacity to constantly stay up to date with the latest international developments in the science of literature, and she invariably conveys this content in pure, but always clear Afrikaans to Afrikaans-speaking colleagues and students,” says the South African Academy of Science and Art (SA Academy) according to a statement.

“In this way, theoretical concepts are established and circulated in Afrikaans. Few academics within Afrikaans literature can emulate her.”

This prize, which has been awarded annually by the SA Academy since 2015, is awarded for an outstanding contribution to Afrikaans as a scientific language through scientific work and publications at a high level and of high quality in Afrikaans. The prize money amounts to R750 000.

The Jan H Marais Prize was created in 2015 by a decision of the Het Jan Marais Nationale Fonds, Media24 and Stellenbosch University.

All three of these institutions came into being thanks to the far-sighted support of Johannes Henoch Marais (1860-1915) from Stellenbosch who, together with his brothers, made their fortune on the Kimberley diamond field in the 1870s. Jannie Marais was a great supporter of Afrikaans as an academic and literary language.

The prize for an outstanding contribution to academic Afrikaans is administered by the SA Academy.

The selection committee of distinguished academics from different disciplines this year consisted of prof. Albert Grundlingh (Stellenbosch), Gerhard Lubbe (Stellenbosch), Ena Jansen (Amsterdam and Johannesburg), Ian Dubery (Johannesburg), Ilse Feinauer (Stellenbosch) and Dr. Johan van Zyl (formerly of Pretoria and also Sanlam).

More about prof. Louise Viljoen

Viljoen was born in 1954. She studied at Stellenbosch University (SU) and successively obtained the degrees BA (1975), BA Hons (cum laude, 1976), MA (cum laude, 1979) and D. Litt. (1988) in Afrikaans and Dutch.

Her career went as follows: She was appointed in 1978 as a lecturer in the Department of Afrikaans and Dutch at SU. In 1999 she was promoted to professor and from 2014 until her retirement at the end of 2019, she held the position of distinguished professor.

She acts as a guest lecturer at several universities in South Africa and the Low Countries (Amsterdam, Leiden, Groningen, Leuven, Diepenbeek (Hasselt) and Ghent). For part of 2019, she is professor in the chair South Africa: Languages, literatures, culture and society at Ghent University in Belgium.

From 1996 to 2013 she served in the Literature Commission of the SA Academy (as chairperson from 2007-2013), and in addition to this also in various other national and international committees and councils.

She also serves on the editorial committees of several Afrikaans literary journals such as Stylet, Journal of Literature and LitNet Academics. Her research oeuvre covers all three traditional areas of the study of literature, namely literary criticism, literary history and literary theory and comprehensive topics such as postcolonialism, gender, identity and transnationalism.

She publishes around 60 articles in specialist journals, 30 chapters in books and three books. Students who studied under her also published more than 40 articles from their master’s theses and doctoral dissertations under their own name.

Furthermore, she delivers more than 50 papers at national and international congresses (many as keynote speaker), and performs at dozens of other events. What undeniably shows her stature as a literary scholar is that she is invited to make contributions about Afrikaans literature in international publications.

Her contributions to SA Lit. Beyond 2000 and The Cambridge History of Literature moreover, has been singled out and praised in international reviews of these two books.

Another important contribution to the larger Afrikaans literary system is that over the years a large number of reviews of her have appeared in newspapers, magazines and online publications, several of which since her retirement. So Louise plays a key role in this system: Her reviews make people read, but also teach them how to read. She reviews all genres: prose, poetry, dramas and even non-fiction.

Recognition for her scholarly contributions in Afrikaans is evident from her receipt of various scholarships, prizes and awards, which include the Gustav Preller Prize for Literary Science and Literary Criticism from the SA Academy (2016), and the ATKV-SA Academy prize for the best scientific article in Afrikaans (in 2012 and again in 2019).