The Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century Fiction - Vol. 3

By John Clement Ball | Go to book overview

A

Abrahams, Peter
YOGITA GOYAL

Though often neglected by scholars of African fiction, Peter Abrahams is one of the earliest voices in black South African fiction and an important theorist of nationalism, transnationalism, and exile. His works reveal the competing and complementary intersections of liberal humanism, Marxism, and Black Nationalism.

Abrahams was born on March 19, 1919 in Vrededorp, a Johannesburg slum, to an Ethiopian father who worked the mines and a Cape Malay mother – leaders of an impoverished Afrikaansspeaking household classified as “colored.” In Tell Freedom (1954), Abrahams explains that his writing career stemmed from two sources of artistic inspiration. The first was African American writers and poets of the Harlem Renaissance. Abrahams discovered the writings of Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes, Paul Robeson, Marcus Garvey, and W. E. B. Du Bois in the mid-1930s as part of his work at the Bantu Men’s Social Center, later describing his encounter with their thinking as a catalyst for the awakening of racial and cultural pride. His second source of inspiration came when a young Jewish woman narrated Charles Lamb’s version of Othello to an 11-year-old Abrahams. Though drawn to the United States with the possibility of meeting the Harlem writers, he journeyed instead to England in 1939 by working his passage on a freighter. Abrahams invoked England as the home of Lamb, John Keats, and P. B. Shelley, suggesting that the metropolis would offer a refuge for his literary pursuits. In London, he became involved with the Communist Party, writing for the Daily Worker, but soon broke with the party over their attempts to control his artistic freedom. Joining a community of African and Caribbean intellectuals, he helped organize the 1945 Pan-African Conference in Manchester before moving to Jamaica in the mid-1950s with his wife, Daphne, where they still reside.

Following a volume of poetry, A Black Man Speaks of Freedom! (1941), Abrahams’s collection of short stories and reminiscences, Dark Testament (1942), offers unsentimental realist and naturalist sketches of South African urban squalor. His first novel, Song of the City (1945), presents a panoramic view of a group of characters in Johannesburg, linked by the organizing motif of the song – a ballad improvised in the beer halls recounting the journey to the big city as an allegory for the larger transition from tribal past to Western present. The well-received novel Mine Boy (1946) further represents the impact of urbanization by tracking the movement from rural to urban forms of political consciousness, exploring the possibility of freedom in a world marked by the exploitation of miners in a racist society. The Path of Thunder (1948) addresses similar issues, this time through the lens of interracial love, as it probes the ultimately tragic encounter between a colored schoolteacher and an Afrikaans woman, exploring the contradictions of the color line in the northern Cape Province. The historical novel Wild Conquest (1950) challenges the pioneer myth of the Great Trek: the Boer migration of the 1830s and 1840s into the Southern African interior seeking a homeland free of British control, which later

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The Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century Fiction - Vol. 3
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Editors i
  • The Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Literature WWW.Literatureencyclopedia.Com ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • List of Entries vii
  • Acknowledgments xiii
  • Notes on Contributors to Volume III xv
  • Introduction to Volume III 937
  • A 942
  • B 980
  • C 995
  • D 1034
  • E 1052
  • F 1066
  • G 1094
  • H 1121
  • I 1145
  • J 1154
  • K 1167
  • L 1180
  • M 1198
  • N 1252
  • O 1270
  • P 1277
  • Q 1296
  • R 1300
  • S 1325
  • T 1365
  • U 1370
  • V 1373
  • W 1378
  • Z 1398
  • Index 1400
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