Playwright and novelist Nadia Davids’ “spell-binding” play, What Remains wins the Olive Schreiner Prize for Drama for 2020

Wits University Press is delighted to announce that Nadia Davids’ play, What Remains: A Play in One Act, has won the English Academy of Southern Africa’s Olive Schreiner Prize for Drama (2020).

The Olive Schreiner Prize for drama forms part of a larger annual competition in creative writing of English expression, which includes prose and poetry. The award is named after the South African author and activist, Olive Schreiner.

The convener of the adjudicators, Prof Owen Seda, said in the committee’s report:

“Here then is a new spell-binder in contemporary South African theatre. Nadia Davids’s What Remains fuses incident, character, text and physical theatre to present a profound metaphor of the country’s on-going struggle to reconcile its troubled past with an imagined future. What we have here is a profound piece of creative writing that demonstrates an unequivocal and deliberate effort to tear (up) the form book as it breaks new ground through extensive research, effort and a depth of thinking about issues which is second to none.”

What Remains is a fusion of text, dance and movement to tell a story about the unexpected uncovering of a slave burial ground in Cape Town, (loosely based on the events at Prestwich Place), the archaeological dig that follows and a city haunted by the memory of slavery. When the bones emerge from the ground, everyone in the city – slave descendants, archaeologists, citizens, property developers – is forced to reckon with a history sometimes remembered, sometimes forgotten.

Roshan Cader, commissioning editor at Wits University Press said the Press has always wanted to work with Nadia Davids and to publish her plays. “Regrettably, other publishers often beat us to the post. Our luck turned when we approached her to publish What Remains and happily she granted us permission to license her play for the South African market. It is an important play for South African audiences to read, and we hope universities and schools around the country will make use of it. There is important history being told by our storytellers and dramatists that don’t often find their way into the school curriculum. Yet, as publishers we see something unique and daring in what the writer is doing and so we feel compelled to publish it and hope that it will be picked up readers who will be similarly moved. Clearly we were right. Winning the Olive Schreiner Prize for Drama is a wonderful testament to the strength of this play that includes the choreography by Jay Pather.

“What Remains is at its essence a story about slavery at the Cape, but it is more than that. It is also about memory and forgetting, about the relationship between the living and the dead, modernity and development, and honouring our ancestors and where we come from. It is a story that speaks to the zeitgeist of the student protests of 2015/2016 and for a reckoning of our past trauma that cannot go un-remembered.

“In the adept hands of two award winning creatives, Nadia Davids and Jay Pather, the story is elevated to convey the hauntology of South Africa’s past onto its present in a manner that is sublime, deeply mournful and quintessentially, unique. The manner in which the text is published shows the transcendent nature of the creative process through interdisciplinary collaboration. This play and its genre bending approach is richly deserving of the accolades and we are proud to be the publisher of such a fine play script.”


Nadia Davids is a writer, theatre-maker and scholar. Her plays At Her Feet, Cissie and What Remains have won various Fleur de Cap Theatre awards. She is an Associate Professor at the University of Cape Town.

The script was published in 2019 by Wits University Press and includes Jay Pather’s notes on the choreography, an integral part of this play.

The English Academy of Southern Africa was founded in 1961 and for over fifty years has dedicated itself to stimulating interest in the English language and its literatures as well as promoting the effective use of English as a national resource in Southern Africa.

Find more info on Nadia Davids’ play here

The retail price of What Remains is R165.00

For hi-res cover image, book orders or media enquiries contact Corina van der Spoel, Marketing coordinator, Wits University Press  – [email protected] or 011 717 8705

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