Alex la Guma

February 2010
28 black and white, 19 line illustrations
272 pages
23.4x15.6 cm
ISBN: 9781847010179
Format: Hardback
Library eBook
James Currey

Alex la Guma

A Literary and Political Biography

Roger Field

The life and works of South African writer, political activist and artist, from his early life in District Six, his arrest and trial for treason, to his eventual reluctant exile in Cuba.
Best known as a novelist and political activist, Alex la Guma (1925-85) was also a journalist, comic strip artist, reviewer, sketcher, painter, short story writer and travel writer. Born in Cape Town's famous multiracial District Six, he was a founder member of the South African Coloured People's Organisation and a leading member of the Congress Alliance during the 1950s and 1960s. Due to his political activity he was detained without trial, shot at, placed under house arrest, and ultimately tried for treason in 1956-61.
He reluctantly went into exile in 1966, where he continued his writing and political work for the African National Congress (ANC) and the South African Communist Party, travelling widely as an ANC spokesperson on cultural matters. In 1979 he became the ANC's Chief Representative in Central and Latin America and moved to Havana, where he died in 1985.
La Guma attracted the attention of critics and literary scholars from the time his first short stories appeared in the 1950s, and he has been hailed by such important literary figures as Achebe, Soyinka and J.M. Coetzee. His novels continue to sell steadily and inspire comments by literary critics, who have studied different aspects of his work, but who have left the rest of his life and his literary and political influences relatively untouched. Drawing on a far wider range of his writing and artwork, some previously unpublished, this book combines biography with literary and political analyses to offer fresh insights into his major texts: A Walk in the Night (1962), And a Threefold Cord (1964), The Stone Country (1967), In the Fog of the Seasons' End (1972) , A Soviet Journey (1975) and Time of the Butcherbird(1979).

ROGER FIELD is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of English at the University of the Western Cape.

Southern Africa (South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Swaziland and Botswana): Jacana (PB)

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Table of Contents

'A man in an ordinary cloth cap': family, society & founding political moments
'Brown Sons of Africa': National Liberation League, early literary influences & World War II
'The honey of a satirical philosophy': Blanche, the national question & New Age political journalism
'This is the time for practical politics': election controversies, satire & the art of treason
'Maybe he thought it was a disgrace, too': the languages of resistance & A Walk in the Night
'The clouds, pregnant with moisture': And a Threefold Cord, biography, influence & anxiety
'Well, I'll just start again, won't I?': The Stone Country, house arrest & departure
'You had to be contented with history': In the Fog of the Seasons' End & Cold War politics of culture & identity
'Y eso, lo tenemos aquí en Cuba!': Cuba, Cabral, Time of the Butcherbird, Hemingway & A Soviet Journey
Coming home


An impressive critical study. MATUTU

Un travail de recherche approfondi qui rend justice, par sa portée et par la richesse de sa documentation, à celui qui fut reconnu comme un écrivain prometteur dès la parution de son premier roman. ETUDES LITTÉRAIRES AFRICAINES

Full of insight. [...] In its incisive account of the interaction of literature and politics in the life of an important South African writer this is an exemplary study. AFRICAN LITERATURE TODAY 29

Roger Field has skillfully extracted for the reader countless insights in this exhaustive study. There is a wealth of information here for both literary and political scholars. INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF AFRICAN HISTORICAL STUDIES

A scholarly work with an extremely wide frame of reference whose assemblage of the fragments of la Guma's life is often illuminating. AFRICAN AFFAIRS

Provides an abundance of detailed factual information which makes the book valuable as a source for further research. LEEDS AFRICAN STUDIES BULLETIN