Alan Paton

Alan Paton books and biography

Alan Paton

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Alan Stewart Paton (11 January 1903 – 12 April 1988) was a South African author.

He was born in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal, the son of a minor civil servant. After attending Maritzburg College, he studied a Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Natal in his hometown, followed by a diploma in education. After graduating, he taught at a high school in Ixopo, where he met his first wife, Dorrie, and then at another school back in Pietermaritzburg.

He served as the principal of the Diepkloof 1948, where he introduced controversial reforms of a progressive slant. Most notable among these were the open dormitory policy, the work permit policy, and the home visitation policy. Boys were initially housed in closed dorms. Once they had proven themselves trustworthy, they would be transferred to open dorms within the compound. Boys who showed high levels of trustworthiness would be permitted to work outside the compound. In some cases, boys were even permitted to reside outside the compound under the supervision of a care family. Interesting to note is that of ten thousand boys given home leave during Paton's years at Diepkloof, less than 1% ever failed to return.

Paton volunteered for service during World War II, but was refused. During this time, he took a trip, at his own expense, to tour correctional facilities across the world. He toured Scandinavia, England, continental Europe, and the United States of America. During his time in Norway, he began work on his first and most famous novel, Cry, The Beloved Country, which he would complete over the course of his journey, finishing it on Christmas Eve in San Francisco in 1946. There, he met Aubrey and Marigold Burns, who read his manuscript and found a publisher to publish it.

After studies at the University of Natal, Paton worked as a teacher at the Ixopo High School for White Students and then at a high school in Pietermaritzburg. In Ixopo Paton fell in love with Dorrie Francis Lusted, who was married. After her husband died, Paton and Dorrie Lusted were married in 1928. She died in 1967 of emphysema. His years with Dorrie Francis the author recorded in KONTAKION FOR YOU DEPARTED (1969). In 1969 Paton married his secretary, Anne Hopkins.

Paton's short stories, TALES FROM A TROUBLED LAND (1961), and his third novel, AH, BUT YOUR LAND IS BEAUTIFUL (1981), also dealt with the racial theme. The novel was built on parallel life stories, letters, speeches, news and records in legal proceedings, and mixed fictional and real-life characters, such as Albert Lutuli and Hendrik Verwoerd. "Paton attempts to imbue his characters with a humanity not expected of them. In this novel, for example, we meet the supposedly obdurate Afrikaner who contravenes the infamous Immorality Act... There are other Afrikaners, too, who are led by their consciences and not by rules, and regulations promulgated by a faceless, monolithic parliament." (from Post-Colonial African Writers, ed. by Pushipa Naidu Parekh and Siga Fatima Jagne, 1998)

In 1948 the separatist Nationalist Party came to power. From the early 1950s Paton began to devote himself fully to the newly formed Liberal Party. His writer colleague Laurens van der Post, who had moved to England in the 1930s, helped it in many ways. Van der Post knew that the South African Secret Police was aware that he was paying money to Paton, but could not stop it by legal procedures. In late 1960s the party was disbanded. . Before this Paton's passport was confiscated on his return from New York in 1960, where he had been presented with the annual Freedom Award.

In 1953 he founded the South African Liberal Party, which fought against the apartheid legislation introduced by the National Party. He remained the president of the SALP until its forced dissolution by the Apartheid regime, due to the fact that both blacks and whites comprised its membership. He was noted for his peaceful opposition to the Apartheid system, as were many others in the party, though some did take a more direct, violent route. Consequently, the party did have some stigma attached to it as a result of these actions. He retired to Botha's Hill where he lived until his death.


Selected Works:

  • Cry, The Beloved Country, 1948 - Itke, rakastettu maa - film 1951, dir. by Zoltan Korda
  • LOST IN THE STARS, 1950 (with Maxwell Anderson)
  • TOO LATE THE PHALAROPE, 1953 - Liian myhn vesipsky
  • DEBBIE GO HOME, 1960
  • HOFMEYER, 1964
  • SPONO, 1965 (with Krishna Shah)
  • THE LONG VIEW, 1967
  • KONTAKION FOR YOU DEPARTED, 1969 (also: For You Departed)

Cry, The Beloved Country has been filmed twice (in 1951 and 1995) and was the basis for the Broadway musical Lost in the Stars (adaptation by Maxwell Anderson, music by Kurt Weill).

The Alan Paton Award for non-fiction is conferred annually in his honour.

See also

  • Liberalism
  • Contributions to liberal theory
  • List of African writers
  • List of South Africans — In 2004 Paton was voted 59th in the SABC3's Great South Africans


This article might use material from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

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