Yvette Christiansë was born in South Africa under apartheid and emigrated with her family via Swaziland to Australia at the age of eighteen. She is the author of the poetry collections Castaway (1999) and Imprendehora (2009), as well as a novel Unconfessed (2007).
Imprendehora was a finalist for the Via Afrika Herman Charles Bosman Prize in 2010 and Castaway was a finalist in the 2001 PEN International Poetry Prize. Her novel Unconfessed was a finalist for the Hemingway/PEN Prize for first fiction and received a 2007 ForeWord Magazine BEA Award. It was also shortlisted for the University of Johannesburg Prize and the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in 2008, and nominated for the Ama Ata Aidoo Prize 2010. Her poetry has been published in the U.S., South Africa, Australia, Canada, France and Italy. She is also the recipient of The Harri Jones Memorial Prize for poetry (Australia).
She teaches African American literature and postcolonial studies at Fordham University and lives in New York City.
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Yvette Christiansë talks about the background to her novel, Unconfessed
In 1825, the newly appointed Superintendent of Police for the Cape Colony
discovered a slave woman languishing in the Cape Town goal. Sentenced to death
on April 30 1823, Sila van den Kaap had not only survived, but also bore two
children while in prison. What had she done to deserve death? And what moved the
Superintendent to petition George IV for a full pardon on her behalf? Inspired
by actual nineteenth century court records, Unconfessed moves from the Cape Town
goal to Robben Island where Sila serves a commuted sentence of hard labor. On
this low, wind-harried stretch of land, on which Nelson Mandela would later
spend more than two decades, Sila breaks stones in the prison quarry, cleans the
warden's home, survives in the company of the few other women prisoners,
especially Lys, and sings a fierce, sometimes maniacal, sometimes wickedly
humorous love song to her dead son. He alone shares with her the deep privacy of
what happened that Christmas Eve, and why for, in public, when asked to explain
her act, Sila uttered nothing but one word: heertseer, or "heart sore."
While court and other records give the "who" ...
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