Wilma Stockenström

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Wilma Stockenström (1933-) [1] is a South African actress, poet, novelist, translator and playwright.

(Also credited in some cases as Wilma Kirsipuu, Wilma Stockenstrom and at least once as Wilma Stockenstroom.)


Born in Napier in the Overberg district of South Africa on 7 August 1933. Her parents were both participants in amateur theatre in the town. She completed high school there in 1949 and then went to Stellenbosch University, where obtained a BA (Drama) in 1952, having studied speech, oratory and stagecraft with lecturers like Robert Mohr and Marguerite de Villiers.

She began her working life as a radio announcer in Cape Town, then , after a year, moved to Pretoria in 1954. In the same year she married Ants Kirsipuu , an Estonian by birth and a linguist and translator by trade. There she worked as a translator for a while, while also beginning to write poetry, and embarking on what would become a major career as a celebrated poet and novelist, as well as a competent translator in various genres. At the same time she continued performing, inter alia for amateur companies (e.g. Volksteater), some of the the state run professional companies (initially NTO in the late 1950s early 1960s, and after their founding, also for PACT and CAPAB) as well as for the Space Theatre and Market Theatre, as well as in films and TV.

For a while in 1966 she was also the theatre documentarian for PACT.

In 1993 she and Ants moved to Cape Town, where her husband passed away in 2003. She has continued living in Cape Town since then.

Her career as writer

Her very first piece of writing was in fact a short play, written while she was still in primary school, followed by few poems published in the periodical Wurm. Thereafter she concentrated on plays and the theatre for a while (see below), before turning to poetry in the late 1960s, producing her first collection, of poems Vir Die Bysiende Leser ("for the short-sighted reader"), published in 1970 by Reijger Uitgewers.

This turned out to be the beginnings of a most remarkable career as a highly regarded poet (publishing 11 highly regarded collections) and later novelist, producing five major novels, beginning with Uitdraai in 1976 and including the award winning Abjater Wat So Lag in 1991. A number of her books have since been adapted for stage or film, including the two mentioned above, as well as two adaptations of Die kremetartekspedisie, one as a stage play by Tertius Kapp and Vicky Davis and a second as a haunting dance version (as Intarsia) by Tossie van Tonder in 1985).

This creative spurt lead to a number of prestigious awards, including the Hertzog Prize for poetry (1977) and for prose (1991), as well as the SALA Literary Lifetime Award (2008).

However, while evolving as a major writer, she also gradually returned to regular freelance acting for stage and screen in the 1970s and began translating plays for use by theatre and film companies. Like her early plays, most of her translations have not been published, though many have been performed.

For more on her literary career, see for example the Afrikaans biography by Erika Terblanche in LitNet[2] and the English entry in Wikipedia[3].

Contribution to SA theatre, film, media and/or performance

After finishing her studies, and a year as radio announcer for the SABC in Cape Town, she moved Pretoria in 1954. There she had an initial period of theatre activity with NTO in the 1950s, then , gradually, she returned to freelance acting, notably in the 1970s.

Over the years she developed a good reputation as a reliable character actress, working on stage as well as in film and TV, which she preferred in later years. In addition she began translating plays for use by theatre companies. Like her early plays, most of her translations have not been published, though many have been performed.

As a playwright

Her first piece of writing, the unnamed short play written while she was still in primary school, was followed by two more one-act plays, Katlagters ("Babblers") and Op deurreis ("passing through"), published in Wurm and Contrast (two the literary magazines of the time). Then came Dawid die dik dom kat ("Dawid the Fat Dumb Cat", a children's play written for CAPAB's children's company) and Trippens se patatta, ("Thrupenny's worth of sweet potato", an absurdist[4] piece about human gullibility and avarice, billed a "fairytale for adults"), which were both published as playscripts by DALRO (the Dramatic, Artistic and Literary Rights Organisation).

However, it was with the 1978 publication and subsequent production of her last play, Die Laaste Middagmaal ("The last midday meal", originally written in 1966), that she gained serious attention as a dramatist. Probably her best known play, the work was the joint winner of the one-act play competition announced by The Space in 1972/3 (the other winner being Sheila Roberts’s My Weekend, Too). The play was performed by The Space in that period and the text was published by Taurus Publishers in 1978.

She wrote no more plays after this, concentrating on her poetry and prose, as well as translation and her film and TV career.

She did however co-author the script for Uitdraai (1988) with Leon van Nierop, a TV film based on her first novel of the same name (first published by Human & Rousseau in 1976).

As translator

Though she does not seem to have written any further original plays, she did combine her linguistic skills and her theatre experience to emerge as a very competent translator of play texts, responsible for some fine Afrikaans translations of inter alia Lappies die Lappiesmous by Aad Greidanus, (Dalro, 1968), Professor Poffel en Professor Moffel by Erik Vos (Dalro, 1971), Andorra (with her husband, Ants Kirsipuu, and herself billed Wilma Kirsipuu), Leonce en Lena, Die Dans van die Reier, Die Paradysboot, WAM (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart) and the film script for Die Besoeker (an Afrikaans version of Athol Fugard's script for The Guest, Ad Donker, 1977), in which she would also appear as actress.

As a stage actress

With a good founding in the classical style training prevalent at the time from the influential teacher and director Robert Mohr, she established herself as a fine character actress, working, in Afrikaans and in English, with some of the other leading directors of the time (among them Barney Simon, Leonard Schach, and Francois Swart), and appearing in a variety of (often edgy and provocative) productions for amateur groups, state funded theatre companies and a range of independent theatre companies over the course of her career. Her professional career started in 1959 with the National Theatre Organisation's experimental company NTO Kamertoneel.

Among her notable appearances have been:

1959: 'n Bruid in die Môre (her debut professional appearance), done by NTO Kamertoneel, directed by Tone Brulin in Pretoria, followed by another production by the company in Cape Town, now directed by Pietro Nolte). Next came Ionesco’s The Chairs (directed by Richard Daneel).

1964: Andorra (Volksteater, (Pretoria), directed by Mario Schiess.

1964: Happy Days (Beckett) for the Phoenix Players at Dorkay House, directed by Barney Simon.

1965: Agt Vroue (PACT, directed by Leonora Nel)

1970: Drie Susters (PACT), directed by Robert Mohr. Plays "Olga".

1971: The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-moon Marigolds (PACT, directed by Leonard Schach)

1972: Ampie Oppie Diekens (PACT, directed by Francois Swart),

1973: Die Verhoor (PACT, directed by Francois Swart),

1974: Hedda Gabler (PACT, directed by Francois Swart)

1976: God’s Forgotten (Upstairs at the Market, directed by Pieter-Dirk Uys)

1977: Taraboemdery (PACT, directed by Francois Swart)

1978: Saterdag, Sondag, Maandag (PACT, directed by Louis van Niekerk)

1979: Statements After an Arrest Under the Immorality Act (Market Theatre, directed by Barney Simon)

1980: Die Verhoor (PACT, directed by Francois Swart),

1993/1994: Happy Days (Beckett) at the Market Theatre, directed by Barney Simon.

Her biography also mentions a role in an undated production of a piece called Rip van Winkle (probably the operetta version by Jac J. Brits and Walter Swanson).

As a film and TV actress

In the 1970s Stockenström also began to develop an excellent reputation as a character actress for film and television, media she would later say she preferred to appearing on stage. Maintaining a steady output of at least one film per year till the early 1990s, she managed to achieve another kind of fame in a wide range of TV and theatre films and series, among them some fine award-winning productions by leading directors.

The film and TV roles include:

1972 – Vlug van die Seemeeu (Afrikaans film, also released in English as Flight of the Seagull. She is listed as "Wilma Stockenstroom" in the film credits)

1976 - Liesbeth slaap uit (TV drama)

1977 – Die besoeker/The Guest: An episode in the Life of Eugène Marais as "Tant Corrie" (this was a highlight, for which she received the Rapport- Oscar for her role as "Tant Corrie Meyer”).

1978 - Die Koster ("The beadle", Afrikaans TV drama)

1981 - Dokter Con Viljee se Overberg (TV Series) as "Tant Gesie"

1982 - Die Perdesmous ("The Horse Trader"; Afrikaans TV drama, 1982)

1983 – Verspeelde Lente (TV series), as "Griet le Roux"

1983 - Hedda Gabler (TV drama) as "Berthe".

1984 - Die Jare (TV drama) as "Mrs. Krynauw"

1984 - Laat Vrugte (TV drama) as "Willa van Vuuren"

1985 - Galery (TV drama) as "Deborah Duvenhage"

1986 - Die Seemeeu (TV drama) as "Polina"

1987 - Satan's Shutes (TV drama) as "Claudette Pearl"

1990 – The Fourth Reich as "Mrs. Engelbrecht" (film)

1990 - Veldslag (TV mini series) as "Tant Mart"

1992 – Die Storie van Klara Viljee as "Miss Lizzie Sauer" (Afrikaans film)

1993 – Friends as "Iris" (film)

1993 - Die Manakwalanners (Afrikaans TV series) as "Lenie Strauss"

1993 – Djadje – Last Night I Fell Off a Horse (short film)

1996 - Hagenheim: Streng Privaat (TV series) as "Granma Sarah"

2002 – Promised Land as "Mart" (film).

Awards, etc

She is one of a handful of writers to have won the prestigious Hertzog Prize in two different categories (in 1977 for her volume of poetry Van vergetelheid en van glans and in 1991 for her novel Abjater Wat So Lag).

She has also been awarded:

1977: The Rapport-Oskar for her performance as "Tant Corrie" in the film The Guest.

1984: CNA Award, Louis Luyt Prize and the Old Mutual Prize for her volume of poetry Monsterverse.

1988: Grinzane Cavour Prize for Spedizione al Baobab.

1991: W.A. Hofmeyr Toekenning

2008: SALA Literary Lifetime Award.

2015: A Fiësta-toekenning ("Fiësta award"), a lifetime award in recognition of her contribution to South African theatre and verbal art ("teater en woordkuns").








André P. Brink. 1980. Tweede voorlopige rapport Cape Town: Human & Rousseau

André P. Brink. 1986. Aspekte van die nuwe drama. Pretoria: Academica (2nd edition)

Die Patatta theatre programme notes, circa 1965.

Athol Fugard and Ross Devenish. 1977.

Stephen Gray. Desegregating the theatre Index on Censorship 4/85 [5]

J.C. Kannemeyer. 1983. Geskiedenis van die Afrikaanse literatuur 2. Pretoria: Academica [6]

Die Burger, 7 August 2008.

Ensovoort ’n Tydskrif vir Poësie, Vol 5 No 1 1985[7]

Prepublicity, Rand Daily Mail, Johannesburg, South Africa, June 7, 1979: p.13

André le Roux and Lilla Fourie. 1982. Filmverlede. Geskiedenis van die Afrikaanse speelfilm. Pretoria: Universiteit van Suid-Afrika: pp. 120-121, 180.

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