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Alan Paton (1903-1988).

Alan Paton was born in Pietermaritzburg in Natal in 1903. His father was James Paton, a Scot who had emigrated to South Africa in 1895. His mother was Eunice Warder James Paton, the daughter of English immigrants. His father was a deeply religious Christian and a strict authoritarian. His disciplinary practices led Alan Paton to despise and openly oppose all forms of authoritarianism. His father's influence was not exclusively negative; he also taught Alan to love books and nature, two passions which figure prominently in his work.

His most famous and most acclaimed work is Cry, the Beloved Country (1948). By the time Paton had died in 1988, it had sold over 15 million copies. It has been made into two films, in 1951 and again in 1995. It is the story of a black Anglican priest from Ixpopo, Stephen Kumalo, who goes to Johannesburg to search for his son and sister. When he arrives, he discovers that his sister has become a prostitute, and that his son has murdered the son of a white Ixpopo farmer. Stephen Kumalo returns to Ixopo with his daughter-in-law, who is pregnant, and his sister's son, whom she leaves with Stephen and his daughter-in-law. Gertrude, his sister, never returns to the village. He eventually reconciles with the murdered man's father, who decides to actively help the black community.

After writing Cry, the Beloved Country, Paton resigned from his job as the director of the Diepkloof reformatory, and dedicated himself to writing. He wrote another novel, Too Late the Phalarope (1953), in 1951. It received less critical acclaim than the first novel, in part because it is more polished and less moving than the earlier work. In 1953, Paton formed the South African Liberal Party, which was disbanded in 1968, when interracial parties were deemed illegal in South Africa. He continued to write until his death, although none of his work was judged as good as his 1948 novel.

The Writings of Paton

  • Cry, the Beloved Country: A Story of Comfort in Desolation. New York: Scribners,1948.
  • Too Late the Phalarope. New York: Scribners, 1953.
  • Towards the Mountain. New York: Scribners, 1980.
  • Alexander, Peter F. Alan Paton: A Biography. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press,1994.

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    Okot p'Bitek (1931-1982).

    Okot p'Bitek was born in Gulu, the largest town in Acholi town in Uganda in 1931. He began writing at an early age. Okot played for the Ugandan national soccer team, and in 1958, he remained in England after a soccer tour to continue his education. He received a certificate in education from Bristol University, and earned a law degree from University College of Wales at Aberystwyth. In the early 1960's he studied social anthropology at Oxford, and received a B.Litt. He returned to Uganda to teach at Makerere University in Kampala. In 1967, he went to teach at Nairobi University. He died of a liver infection in 1982.

    In 1953, he wrote his first novel, Lak Tar (White Teeth). It is the story of a young Acholi man who must work away from home to earn money for bridewealth, so that he may marry. After working in Kampala and on a sugar plantation, he returns home with only a small portion of the necessary sum. On his return trip, he is pick pocketed, and returns to Gulu with nothing.

    In 1969, Song of Lawino was published. It is written in the style of a traditional Acholi song. It is an Acholi wife's lament about her college-educated husband, who has rejected Acholi traditions and ideas for Western ones. Much of Lawino's anger is directed at her husband's lover who embodies these Western values and customs, and who she contrasts with herself. In Song of Ocal, her husband responds to her, decrying what he perceives as Africa's backwardness, and extoling the virtues of European society and ideas. Lawino and Ocal's debate reflects the discourse taking place at the time in African societies about the implications of adopting Western culture and ideals. Other works, including Song of A Prisoner (1971) and Song of Malaya (1971) are written in the same poetic style.

    Okot p'Bitek has been criticized by other African writers, including Ngugi wa Thiong'o, for not adequately addressing the underlying causes of Africa's problems. Okot, however, believed that his work, like all good African literature, dealt honestly with the human condition and had "deep human roots."

    The Writings of Okot p'Bitek

  • Lak Tar. Nairobi, Kenya: East African Literature Bureau, 1953.
  • Song of Lawino. Nairobi, Kenya: East African Publishing House, 1969.
  • Song of Ocal. Nairobi, Kenya: East African Publishing House, 1970.
  • Two Songs: Song of a Prisoner, Song of Malaya. Nairobi, Kenya: East African Publishing House, 1971.

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