Marlene van Niekerk

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Biographical information

Marlene van Niekerk


Poet, novelist, short-story writer, awarded the Order of Ikhamanga in Silver for her outstanding intellectual contribution to the literary arts and culture field through poetry, literature and philosophical works.

First name: 
Last name: 
van Niekerk
Date of birth: 
Location of birth: 
Tygerhoek farm, near Caledon

Marlene van Niekerk was born in 1954, on a farm in Tygerhoek near Caledon. An outstanding intellectual, philosopher and prodigious literary giant, van Niekerk matriculated from Hoërskool Bloemhof and proceeded to study Language and Philosophy at the University of Stellenbosch, where she completed a Masters’ Degree in 1978.

In 1979, she moved to Germany to join theatres in Stuttgart and Mainz as an apprentice in directing. From 1980 to 1985, she continued her studies in Philosophy in Holland and obtained a Doctoral Degree with a thesis on the works of Claude Lévi-Strauss and Paul Ricoeur: (Taal en mythe: een structuralistische en een hermeneutische benadering).

Van Niekerk has lectured Philosophy at the University of Zululand, and later at the University of South Africa, and thereafter became a lecturer in Afrikaans and Dutch at the University of the Witwatersrand. Van Niekerk is now Professor of Afrikaans and Dutch at the University of Stellenbosch.

She has made a significant contribution as an award-winning poet, novelist and short-story writer and boasts an impeccable publication record. Her publications include the short-story collection, The Woman Who Forgot Her Spyglass, the novella, Memorandum, and the novels, Triomf  and Agaat. In particular the novel, Triomf, translated by Leon de Kock, reflects on post-colonial South Africa, showing how apartheid failed to benefit even those it was designed to serve, namely the white population.

This work was named a New York Times Notable Book in 2004, and won the CNA Literary Award, the M-Net Prize in South Africa and the prestigious Noma Award.  Triomf was the first Afrikaans novel to win this prize. Also, its film adaptation, directed by Michael Raeburn, won the Best South African Film Award at the Durban International Festival in 2008. In 2007, Agaat received the Sunday Times Literary Prize and the Hertzog Prize and was translated as The Way of the Women by Michiel Heyns, who received the Sol Plaatje Award for his translation.

On 27 April 2011, State President Jacob G Zuma conferred Marlene van Niekerk with the Order of Ikhamanga in Silver for her outstanding contribution to the development of South Africa’s inclusive literary culture.

• Anon, (2011), Presentation Of National Orders , Marlene van Niekerk, from The Presidency, [online] Available at  [Accessed  8 May 2011]
•  Marlene van Niekerk Biographical info, from NB UitGewers Publishers, [online], Available at [Accessed 08 September 2011]

Last updated : 09-Apr-2018

This article was produced by South African History Online on 16-May-2011

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