Gail Dendy (1957 - ) was born in Durban and lived in Durban North during her school and early university years. As a student she excelled and was awarded a series of university degrees: A BA at the (then) University of Natal, BA Honours at the (then) University of Natal (Pietermaritzburg) and a postgraduate Higher Diploma in Library Science. During her employment at the library at Unisa in Pretoria, she obtained a second BA Honours degree and an MA. She moved to Johannesburg in 1983, and subsequently attended Wits University where, as a slightly older student, she did a year’s post-graduate LLB.
Dendy’s main preoccupation as a writer is poetry. She has produced seven collections which have earned her critical praise and several accolades. In her review of Closer Than That, Moira Richards praised Dendy as a “master of synaesthesia and mistress of poems that tip the reader deliciously off balance with their startling, almost tangible, plays with images”. Mark Lilleleht described her work as “deeply affecting and both quietly powerful and often subtly surprising”.
Her accolades reflect the diversity of her writing, including, inter alia: Winner: SA PEN Millennium Competition (Playwriting); Finalist: Herman Charles Bosman Award (Poetry), SA Science Fiction Society Award (Short Story); Shortlisted: Thomas Pringle Award (Short Story), Sol Plaatje/European Union Poetry Award 2011 and 2012; Longlisted: Plough Poetry Prize (UK). During 2014 Gail achieved ‘Highly Commended’ in the Poetry Space Competition 2014 (UK), was longlisted for The Twenty in 20 Project (the aim of which was to identify the best South African English-language short stories of the past two decades of democracy), longlisted for Short Story Day Africa 2014, and longlisted for the Sol Plaatje/European Poetry Award 2014.
Besides her work as a poet, Dendy is also a gifted dancer. She trained with Robyn Orlin, and at the Bat Dor, Alvin Ailey and London Contemporary Dance theatre studios. In 1991 she was nominated for the inaugural AA Vita Award for Best Performer. Some have noted that her dancing has influenced the rhythmic nature of her poetry.
Dendy’s most recent work is a fictionalised memoir, entitled Rina, which is set in Durban, more particularly, Durban North, and strongly features the house in which she grew up. Although she currently resides in Johannesburg, Dendy holds strong ties to her city of birth. She told the project that:
Durban – its climate and architecture, and most especially its seascapes – are in my blood, and I constantly have the need to return (which I do as often as possible). I’ve always maintained that the rhythm of the sea can be detected both in the rhythms of my writing (whether poetry or prose) and in my dancing, a statement I hope is true rather than fanciful.
Poem from The Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Anthology (2014):
Unburdening myself, I pack away last week’s
cloudburst, a plastic sheep, five years of hell
at high school, my first, bumbling kiss,
the grandparents I never met, the scent
of bath oil spilt on the mat, a new-born kitten,
raisin bread, mielie kernels. And, of course,
myself as I will be in my dotage, since
the suitcase can expand to hold it all.
Lastly, I shall leave it at the station
without a label or a ticket, already
at its destination, waiting for the stranger
who will pick it up, treasure it, go on living.
1993. Assault and the Moth. (7 poems). Warwick, UK: Greville Press. (Editors: Harold Pinter, Anthony Astbury & Geoffrey Godbert.)
1995. People Crossing. Cape Town: Snailpress.
1996. (ed) Carapace vol 1 no 6 (1996). Guest editor.
1998. Gail Dendy; Jennie Fontana & Alyss Thomas Swimming in the Long Dark Sound. Exeter, UK: Stride. [Gail Dendy's section is entitled ‘A Monkeys’ Wedding’.]
1999. Painting the Bamboo Tree. Todmorden: Arc.
2002. Oakes, S. The Poetry of Norman Corwin and Gail Dendy . California: Shirim.
2007. The Lady Missionary. Cape Town: Kwela/Snailpress.
2011. Closer Than That. Johannesburg: Dye Hard Press.
Poetry in Anthologies
1. Leon de Kock & Ian Tromp (eds) The Heart in Exile: South African Poetry in English, 1990–1995. (Johannesburg: Penguin, 1996).
2. Robin Malan (compiler) The Pick of Snailpress Poems. (Cape Town: David Philip, 2000).
3. Ingrid de Kok & Gus Ferguson (compilers) City in Words: An anthology of Cape Town poems. (Cape Town: David Philip, 2001).
4. G E de Villiers (ed) Clusters. (A teaching anthology of poetry). (Cape Town: Juta Gariep, 2006).
5. Gus Ferguson and Tony Morphet (compilers) Birds in Words: The Twitchers’ Guide to South African Poetry. (Cape Town: Umuzi, 2006).
6. Anthony Astbury (ed) A Field of Large Desires (Manchester, UK: Carcanet, 2010).
7. Sven Ruhs South African Fever 2010 (Golden Arrow: süden Werbeagentur, GmbH 2010).
8. Liesl Jobson (compiler) The Sol Plaatje/European Union Poetry Anthology 2011 (Cape Town: Jacana, 2011).
9. Liesl Jobson (compiler) The Sol Plaatje/European Union Poetry Anthology 2012 (Cape Town: Jacana, 2012).
10. Patricia Schonstein Pinnock (ed) Africa, My Africa! (African Sun Press, 2013).
11. Harry Owen (ed) For Rhino in a Shrinking World: An International Anthology (East London, SA: The Poets Printery, 2013).
12. Liesl Jobson (compiler) The Sol Plaatje/European Union Poetry Anthology 2013 (Cape Town: Jacana, 2013).
13. Patricia Schonstein Pinnock (ed) Africa Ablaze! Poems & prose pieces of war & civil conflict (African Sun Press, 2013).
14. Walton et al eds Headstart English Literature Anthology Grade 9 (Cape Town: Oxford University Press, 2013).
15. The Sol Plaatje/European Union Poetry Anthology 2014 (Cape Town: Jacana, 2014).
16. Susan Jane Sims (ed) For want of a better word: poems from the Poetry Space Competition 2014: selected by Alison Brackenbury (Bristol, UK: Poetry Space, 2014).
17. Patricia Schonstein (ed) Heart of Africa! Poems of love, loss and longing (Cape Town: African Sun Press, 2015).