Playwright Neil Coppen wins prominent award

Neil Coppen’s play Tin Bucket Drum, published by Wits University Press, won the English Academy of Southern Africa Olive Schreiner Prize for Prose on Friday, February 15.

The play, published in 2016, tells the story of a young widow, Nandi, who is carrying a child that is spiritual. The play is set in the mythical drought-stricken Tin Town where Nandi is taken in by Umkhulu. The birth of Nandi’s daughter, Nomvula, could end the drought but at an enormous personal cost.

Coppen, a celebrated writer and director, told Wits Vuvuzela that he wasn’t aware the book was up for consideration for the prize but was nonetheless thrilled about the win.

“Tin Bucket Drum was really the work that kick-started my career in the theatre world and took me to cities like New York where it was performed. This story opened me up to so many exciting opportunities and collaborations.

“It’s really been a gift that seems to keep on giving over the course of my career,” the playwright said. “I salute and admire publishers like Wits Press and Junkets Publishers who treat this craft with the respect it deserves and disseminate our stories beyond their telling on the stage,” Coppen added.

Wits Press commissioning editor Roshan Cader told Wits Vuvuzela that although publishing plays appeals to a minor segment of the South African market, the publisher feels it is necessary to raise the profile of quality plays and playwrights.

“We’re building an archive of theatre and theatre studies, which is important to our knowledge production for South Africa,” Cader said.

She added, “It’s very exciting and rewarding [for Tin Bucket Drum] to have won the prize. You don’t know [that you’re going to win] when doing the work but you have a hunch, so it’s a rewarding part of the process; a great sense of accomplishment.”

Coppen said that considering that writing plays is considered a lesser literary art form, he is honoured that the blood, sweat, and labour pains of the playwright’s process have been recognised.

The Olive Schreiner Prize is given for original works in English where the “‘creative’ element carries more weight than purely factual or informative content.” according to the English Academy.

Previous winners of the prize include Zakes Mda (1997), John Kani (2005) and Antjie Krog (2000).

FEATURED IMAGE: Award winning published play ‘Tin Bucket Drum’ recognized in the literary world. Photo: Onke Ngcuka