Go to Knowledge4Africa.com

Chris van Wyk

I have my father's voice

Some questions to think about!

Keith Tankard
Updated: 18 January 2014
Contact the English4Africa Subject Coordinator

It is with great sadness that we have to announce that the creator of Knowledge4Africa, Dr T., has passed away. Helping people through his website gave him no end of pleasure. If you had contact with him and would like to leave a message, please send us an e-mail here.


The poet comments that he is like his father in every way. He behaves like his father, speaks like his father, and even has his father's temper. They differ only in the fact that he is a poet whereas his father is not.


Chris Van Wyk was born in Soweto and lived his early years in Newclare before moving to Riverlea, a poorer suburb of Johannesburg.

He was educated at Riverlea High School before working for a non-government organisation known as SACHED - South African Committee for Higher Education - where he was an educational writer.

He was also the editor of Staffrider and started the short-lived Wietie magazine with fellow poet, Fhazel Johennesse.

Van Wyk showed signs of wanting to be a writer as early as five years of age - and since then, he says, he has had a love affair with words.

He credits much of his success in storytelling to his love of "skinder" (gossip). "I skinder more than most women," he says, and explains that he listened to all the gossip between his mother and her friends. This eventually found its way into the many stories which he thereupon wrote.

"You will not believe the kind of information you can pick up just by keeping your ears open," van Wyk says, although there are certain little tricks you have to observe to prevent yourself from being caught eavesdropping.

These include not behaving like a quiet little mouse but rather making noises, "like drinking a glass of water" or singing bits from pop songs or calling to the dog outside, or doing something like reading or writing while you are also preoccupied in listening.

But above all, he says, don't give yourself away by laughing at a joke that you have overheard. "If you do, it's a dead giveaway and means that you've had your ears tuned on them all the time."

Van Wyk has written over 20 books, including poetry collections and children's stories. He published his first volume of poetry in 1979 - It is time to go home - which was to win him the prestigious Olive Schreiner Prize the following year.

He would win other awards for his novels and short stories, including the Maskew Miller Longman Award for Black Children's Literature in 1982 and the Sanlam Literary Award for the best short story of 1995.

His first novel - The Year of the Tapeworm - was published in 1998 while, in 2004, his childhood memoir Shirley, Goodness & Mercy became a successful play by director Janice Honeyman.

Unlike many South African writers who wrote "as a weapon against apartheid", van Wyk preferred to use humour as his primary weapon. "We've got our own magic, lots of it," he says.

He married his childhood sweetheart, Kathy, and they reared their two sons in Riverlea where he has lived most of his life. "I want to be part of this community," he says. "There's an element of the writer that keeps me here."

Have you looked at the questions
in the right column?
Read the left column and then answer
the following questions:

Comment on the STYLE of the poem. (6)

[Need help?]

"When I walk into a room
where my father has just been
I fill the same spaces he did
from the elbows on the table
to the head thrown back
and when we laugh we aim the guffaw
at the same space in the air."
  • List the ways in which the poet is similar to his father. (4)

[Need help?]

  • What is a "guffaw"? (4)

[Need help?]

"Before anybody has told me this I know
because I see myself through
my father's eyes."
  • Explain in your own words what the poet means here. (4)

[Need help?]

"When I was a pigeon-toed boy
my father used his voice
to send me to bed
to run and buy the newspaper
to scribble my way through matric."
  • What is the significance of his being "a pigeon-toed boy"? (4)

[Need help?]

  • Give ONE word for "used his voice" as it appears in these lines. (2)

[Need help?]

  • When the poet reflects on his childhood, does he reveal that he had any academic effort? Was he good at school? Be able to justify your answer. (4)

[Need help?]

"one sock in hand, its twin
an angry glint in his eye he flings
dirty clothes out of the washing box."
  • The poet speaks of "one sock in hand". Where is the other sock? Explain your reasoning. (4)

[Need help?]

"anagrams of fee fo fi fum"
  • What is an anagram? In what way could "fee fo fi fum" be an anagram? (4)

[Need help?]

"Everything a poet needs
my father has bequeathed me
except the words."
  • Explain the meaning of these three lines. (4)

[Need help?]

Try another worksheet?

See also:
This document is copyrighted. No part of it may be reproduced in any form whatever without explicit permission in writing from the author. The sole exception is for educational institutions which may wish to reproduce it as a handout for their students.

Contact the English4Africa Subject Coordinator