The Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century Fiction - Vol. 3

By John Clement Ball | Go to book overview

L

La Guma, Alex
ROGER FIELD

Best known for his novels and short stories, Alex La Guma’s political profile – leading member of the South African Communist Party (SACP) and African National Congress (ANC), founding member of the South African Coloured Peoples Organisation (SACPO), defendant in the 1956–61 Treason Trial, detained without trial several times, banned and placed under house arrest belies the diversity and complexity of his oeuvre.

La Guma was born on February 26, 1925 in District Six, a vibrant slum on the edge of Cape Town’s business district. His father was a leading left-wing politician and activist between the 1920s and 1950s. In the late 1930s, La Guma’s childlike illustrations for poetry by Langston Hughes and Georgia Douglas Johnson in The Liberator, a short-lived publication of the National Liberation League of South Africa, brought him into contact with Harlem Renaissance writers, and in the early 1940s his father called for the emergence of colored novelists at a time when the local press encouraged aspiring colored writers to emulate Dumas and Pushkin.

Like many black writers of the time, La Guma was a journalist before he became a novelist. His output was varied: standard news reports, satire, allegory, and a 37-week comic-strip story Little Libby (1959), which precedes the novella A Walk in the Night (1962) by three years. While his earliest prose fiction was set in and around District Six and displays the influence of American naturalism and popular culture, John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath was a strong influence on And a Threefold Cord (1964). Parallels between the appalling conditions in Cape Town’s informal settlements during the winter months and the plight of migrant “Okies” in California during the Great Depression were doubtless overpowering.

La Guma’s next two novels are more autobiographical. Set in the Roeland Street jail where he had been incarcerated, The Stone Country (1967) uses the dynamics of prison life to explore the limits and possibilities of political development among the most oppressed and marginalized. Begun in South Africa but completed during his exile first in Britain and later Cuba (1966–85), it marks a transition to fiction that places the liberation struggle and its activists and opponents center-stage. With its backdrop of the 1961 Sharpeville massacre and the apartheid regime’s shortlived confidence that it had dealt a killer blow to a weakened liberation movement, In the Fog of the Seasons’ End (1972) embraces underground political work in which La Guma had participated during his final years in South Africa and the beginning of the armed struggle.

Early exile saw La Guma encounter many influences and undertake various endeavors beyond the writing of fiction. He produced 22 radio plays and programs, at least one of which attacked postindependence African leaders whose employment policies placed political affiliation over technical expertise. The exiled poet Mazisi Kunene, also the ANC’s chief representative in the UK at the time, directed him toward traditional art forms. This defense of an authentic popular expression contributed to his role as an ANC and SACP

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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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