A giant of local letters, Watson was anchored at UCT for most of his career. In his poetry, he was best known as a lyrical chronicler of The Cape's natural beauty, documenting the response of the soul when surrounded by it. His intertwinedness with the landscape spilled into his prose, too: he memorably wrote about his "love affair" with the city's mountains last year, in what might be cast as a follow-up essay to his landmark 1990 piece, "In These Mountains".
Although poetry was Watson's chief metier, he distinguished himself as an essayist, writing on subjects near and far, as diverse as South African struggle poetry and Leonard Cohen. His final collection of poems,The Light Echo, was described as his "finest"; and his latest book of essays, The Music in the Ice, launched last year, received lavish praise from his UCT colleague Imraan Coovadia.
In January, Watson received the English Academy's Thomas Pringle Award for a short story, "Buiten Street", published in New Contrast. His poetry featured in the most recent edition of Poetry International - South Africa Poetry International - South Africa, where further biographical information is available.
Watson was one who loved to share the gift, as it were. A scrupulous and dedicated teacher, he helped found UCT's creative writing programme, where his efforts honed and launched a thousand manuscripts, greatly enriching the medium in which South African letters thrives. Watson left a substantial legacy of great value. He will be greatly missed by the many students and young writers whom he mentored and by his colleagues across the University. Imraan Coovadia writes:
Stephen was my colleague in the creative writing programme, my friend, and the reason I came to UCT in the first place. The first and second words I would use to describe him would be "generous" and "cultured" in the old-fashioned sense. He was generous with time, generous when you agreed with him and when you didn't, generous with his attention, and his intelligence, and he was cultured in that he loved books and language and always saw the opposing side of the argument as clearly as his own and almost unfailingly courteous. For me his two greatest contributions on paper are the translations from Bleek-Lloyd, and the essays on Camus and Leonard Cohen in his recent book of essays. And his greatest contribution off the page, for those of who weren't members of his family, was that he treated us like cousins. There are more people today remembering Stephen as their most important teacher, and mentor, and friend than any one of us could have counted. Stephen didn't believe much in politics but he did believe in friendship, and loyalty, and imagination. When I spoke to him a few days ago, when he was gravely ill, he characteristically said that he felt absolutely lucky, to have found Tanya, and to have discovered his children, and to have written the poems and essays he gave us.
Faculty of Humanities
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