Classic Author Focus: Alan Paton

Alan Paton

Alan Paton was a South African novelist and poet best known for Cry, The Beloved Country. He was also known as an early and important anti-apartheid activist. I found several mentions but was unable to find the attribution of a phrase applied to him as the man who “pulled up barbed wire fences and planted geraniums.”

Paton was born and raised in a rural town in Natal, which he reported later he was often homesick for. His father was a civil servant who loved literature and had earned a local reputation as a poet. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Natal and went on to teach high school and get married. However, in 1935, he became principal of the Diepkloof Reformatory, the only one for young native offenders, where he instituted controversial reforms with the aim of educating and changing the circumstances of the boys.

He volunteered his service during World War II but was turned down, so he began a tour of correctional facilities in Europe, Canada, and the United States. During this journey, he began working on Cry, The Beloved Country, a poetic book about the struggles of his country, which was published in 1948. This book was followed by more novels, stories, essays, and even a musical. His book Ah, But Your Land Is Beautiful, published in 1981, is considered an accurate historical account of the resistance movement in the 1960’s.

In 1948, Paton along with others formed the Liberal Party of South Africa, which fought against the apartheid policies of the new right-wing National Party. He served as president until his party was dissolved in the 1960’s by the government because it included both White and Black members. Although he proposed peaceful opposition to apartheid, eventually, Paton’s passport was confiscated, and he spent the rest of his life in retirement.

Dates: 1903-1988

Most popular works: Cry, The Beloved Country, Too Late the Phalarope, Ah, But Your Land is Beautiful

Other works: Lost in the Stars, The Land and People of South Africa, Tales from a Troubled Land, Kontakion for You Departed, and more

Reviews by members:

Cry, the Beloved Country (Alluminor) (Emily) (J. E. Fountain) (Sylvia)


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