2 minute read

Athol Fugard (Athol Harold Lannigan Fugard) Biography

(1932– ), (Athol Harold Lannigan Fugard), Tsotsi, No-Good Friday, Nongogo, ‘Dimetos’ and Two Early Plays

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Samuel Foote Biography to Furioso

South African playwright, born in Middleburg, Cape Province; he grew up in Port Elizabeth and was educated at Cape Town University. His father, of English descent, was a shopkeeper, and his mother an Afrikaner. Fugard became actively involved in theatre when he married Sheila Meiring, an actress and novelist, and both moved to Johannesburg, where his work as Clerk to the Native Commissioner's Court gave him first-hand experience of apartheid laws. His novel Tsotsi (1980), its title a name for township gangsters, grimly depicts the Sophiatown ghetto. His two naturalistic plays No-Good Friday (1958) and Nongogo (1959), published in ‘Dimetos’ and Two Early Plays (1977), were also set in Sophiatown, a township which was later demolished, and its inhabitants expelled, under the Group Areas Act. Three Port Elizabeth Plays (1974) includes The Blood Knot (1961), about the difficulties faced by two coloured brothers; Hello and Goodbye (1965), which concerns a ‘poor white’ brother and sister; and Boesman and Lena (1968), about a frustrated married couple, whose relationship is strained by their struggle to survive as homeless coloured migrant workers, and the silent intrusion of a dying black. Much influenced by Beckett and Camus, the ‘Port Elizabeth’ plays established Fugard as a dramatist of international stature. Statements (1974) includes the harrowing Statements after an Arrest under the Immorality Act (1974) and two plays written in collaboration with the actors John Kani and Winston Ntshona: Sizwe Bansi Is Dead (1972) and The Island (1973), a version of Antigone as presented by two political prisoners on the notorious Robben Island. A Lesson from Aloes (1980) turned to middle-class characters in a story about a liberal Afrikaner and his relationship with his wife and a coloured political activist. ‘Master Harold’…and the Boys (1982), based on Fugard's experiences as a teenager in Port Elizabeth, concerns a boy whose problematic relationship with his father leads him to ill-treat his two family servants. The Road to Mecca (1984), a powerful drama reminiscent of Ibsen in its exploration of the past of a woman artist and a Calvinist minister, is based on the tragic life of Afrikaner Helen Martins, a reclusive sculptor who lived in the arid Karroo region. In My Children! My Africa! (1989), portraying the dilemmas faced by a black school-teacher, Fugard confronted the intransigence of politically militant Soweto schoolchildren. In Playland (1992), a black man and a white man have a revealing encounter in a travelling amusement park. Valley Song was performed in 1996. Township Plays (1993) collects several important plays including The Coat (1966). Fugard's film scripts include The Guest: An Episode in the Life of Eugene Marais (1977), Marigolds in August (1979), and the film version of Boesman and Lena (1972), with Fugard taking the part of Boesman. His private thoughts on the injustices of racialist politics, which his works vividly illuminate in public manner, are revealed in Notebooks: 1960–1977 (1983), edited by Mary Benson. Cousins: A Memoir appeared in 1995. See Dennis Walder, Athol Fugard (1984).

Additional topics