JM Coetzee wrote of him in 2000, "Whether writing about the loves of men and women or about walking out under the African stars, Stephen Watson is a better poet than his time (the expiring end of the twentieth century) and his place (squalid, beautiful Cape Town) deserve."
Below, a blog post from author Mike Nichol, on Book.co.za:
Poet and essayist Stephen Watson died early yesterday morning. His writing life is not associated in any way with crime fiction – in fact I don’t even know if he read it. But he is associated with the city of Cape Town, the city that has come to dominate the settings of our crime thrillers. One of Stephen’s ideas was that a city needed an imaginary life, something that Cape Town – or the citizens of Cape Town – seemed to resist. As he memorably put it: ‘…([W]hen its citizens and tourists go to the beach here, they step into water, colder or warmer, but not into literature’. In the collection of essays he edited about the city, A City Imagined (2006), he found that this was changing. That writers could not ‘desist from imagining and reimaging the place of our lives’. From the readers’ comments local crime writers receive, it would seem that they have become part of the imagining of this place.
In tribute to Stephen, an extract from his Afterword in A City Imagined:
A person writes so much about a place not because he belongs, but because he wants to belong. He writes about a city, seeking out its hidden coordinates, the substructures that might define it – the character of its light, the dryness of its stone – not only because instinctively, as the American writer Flannery O’Connor once put it, that ‘if you are going to write you’d better have somewhere to come from’.
In fact I did not understand, in my youth, that in writing about Cape Town I was trying to compensate for the degree to which that city, like the rest of South Africa at the time, afflicted me with a sense of homelessness. My passionate identification with the place was fuelled by a no less impassioned sense of homelessness. The stone of its streets, the sight of the sea and its confluence with sky, whether drained of light or light-filled, the precise way in which it bleached with the onset of the first winds of summer – I tried for a long time to invest such things with all that I lacked, all that was lost, and which indeed could not be found. I was one of those who write about a city, peopling it, but also trying to capture that meeting of coastline and skyline – those impalpable things – in order to define and create a home for himself, a home that does not exist – and then, beyond that, to reinvent for himself, in his own exile, a lost kingdom, the lost tradition.’
Update: full obit and appreciation from BOOK Southern Africa here. Includes links to his various publications available for purchase.
Obit from The Times (SA) here.
[Photo: BOOK Southern Africa via Flickr]