Books by Peter
Tell Freedom; Memories of
The Path of Thunder
A Wreath for Udomo /
Return to Goli
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Peter Henry Abrahams
Peter Abrahams (Mar. 19, 1919;
author), an adopted citizen of Britain, makes his home in
Essex, but his spiritual home is South Africa, where he was born
and to which he returns on frequent visits.
“I am emotionally involved in South Africa,” he says,
“Africa is my beat.” South
Africa is the scene of Abrahams’ five novels and of his
stirring autobiography Tell Freedom; Memories of
Africa. As an
artist, of course, Abrahams knows no national boundaries, but as
a non-white who grew up in the slums and black ghettos of
Johannesburg, he has a strong sense of dedication to a cause.
“If I am ever liberated from this bondage of racialism,
there are some things much more exciting to me, objectively, to
write about. … But
this world has such a social orientation, and I am involved in
this world and I can’t cut myself off. …
James Henry Abrahams, the
author’s father, was an Ethiopian.
Angelina DuPlessis, his mother, was colored, which he
defines as “the South African word for the half-caste
community that was a by-product of the early contact between
black and white.” She
was of Negro-French origin.
Peter Henry Abrahams was born in Johannesburg on March 19,
1919. His father
died when he was a little boy, and the childhood which he
Tell Freedom was a hard one.
There was the endless struggle against poverty, common to
so many people all over the world, but added to this was the
spirit-crushing atmosphere of racialism, bettering conditions.
What emerges so strikingly from
indeed, is the sense of compassion and hope that filled the
lives of Abrahams and his family in the face of these formidable
Peter went to work before he
went to school. He
sold firewood, worked for a tinsmith, cleaned rooms in a hotel,
carried packages—did whatever odd jobs he could find—all
this before he was ten years old.
Education came later for him, but when it came, he
received it with an eagerness that enabled him to make up for
lost time and race ahead. After
three years in school he had discovered Charles and Mary
Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare and the poems of John
Keats. As he writes
in Tell Freedom: “With Shakespeare and poetry, a new
world was born.”
With the aid of a
scholarship Abrahams attended St. Peter’s College in
Johannesburg and the Teachers’ Training College at Petersburg.
At college the world opened up rapidly for the boy.
He edited the college magazine and began writing and
publishing verse in the Bantu World.
After graduating from college in 1938, Abrahams taught
for a year in Cape Town and then worked briefly in Durban as a
magazine editor. His
dream was to go to England, but the chances of his earning the
money for passage appeared hopeless.
Then in 1939 he got a job as a ship’s stoker and spent
the next two years traveling around the world.
Ultimately this led him to England and freedom, and he
has given all his time and energy since then to writing.
Abrahams wrote his first
story at eleven. “It
was a Western based largely on my Saturday excursions to a local
‘bioscope’ where Tom Mix, Joe Bonomo, Yakima Canut, and Buck
Jones were our great heroes and only the ‘dames’ interfered
and slowed down the pace and action that thrilled us.”
His adult writing, however, took on a more serious and
realistic note. Dark
Testament (G. Allen), a collection of short stories, was
published in England in 1942; Song of the City (Crisp), a
novel, followed in 1945. His
third book was
Mine Boy (Crisp), published in England in
1946 and by Knopf in the United States in 1955.
The Path of Thunder (Harper, 1948) Abrahams had
his hero an educated Negro who returns to his native South
African village with ideas of reform and equality and inevitably
clashes with the white population.
(Harper, 1950) was an historical
novel treating the great northward trek of the Boers in the
1830’s and their conflicts with the Africans.
(Knopf, 1954), his autobiography, and
A Wreath for Udomo(Knopf, 1956), a novel, Abrahams has made his most effective
contribution so far to world understanding of the racial
problems of Africa. Tell Freedom “adds an essential dimensions to the
African picture,” Melville J. Herskovits wrote in the Nation
(August 21, 1954). “Not
since [Alan] Paton’s
Cry the Beloved Country has there
been such an enormous and detailed rang of discriminating
reporting as in this book,” wrote Roi Ottley in Saturday
Review (August 14, 1954).
A Wreath for Udomo is
a powerful story of a brilliant Negro, educated in London, who
returns to Africa to govern his own people.
His failure and his martyrdom are as much the results of
the tragic misunderstandings among his own people as of the
prejudices of the white man.
Harvey Curtis Webster in the Saturday Review (May
26, 1956) called this “probably … the most perceptive novel
that has been written about the complex interplay between
British imperialism and African nationalism and tribalism.”
Abrahams has also
published a work of reportage
Return to Goli
1953). He is currently at work on a book about the island of
Jamaica, commissioned by the British and Jamaican governments.
The book will be part of the Corona Library.
tennis, walking, and “meeting and talking with people” are
the author’s favorite recreations.
In 1942 Abrahams married Dorothy Pennington.
Their marriage was dissolved in 1948.
On June 1, 1948 he married Daphne Elizabeth Miller, an
artist. They have
three children, Anne, Aron, and Naomi.
Abrahams is five feet seven inches tall and weighs about
150 pounds. He is a
member of the Society of Authors and of the International PEN.
His church affiliation is Anglican.
44:83 Ag 9 ’54 por
Bernardino (California) Sun Telegram Ja 22 ’56
(Ohio) Blade Ja 15 ’56 por
and Writer’s Who’s Who (1948–49)
Encyclopaedia of World Literature (1954)
Source: Current Biography Reprinted from the Wilson Library
Bulletin Sept. 1957.
* * *
Peter Abrahams (born March 3, 1919)
is a South African novelist
His father was
from Ethiopia and his mother was classified by South
Africa as a mixed race person, a "Kleurling" or Coloured.
He was born in Vrededorp,
nearby Johannesburg, but left South Africa in 1939.
He worked first as a sailor, and then as a
journalist in London, at which time, he lived with
his wife, Daphne, at Loughton.
Whilst in London, he met several important black
leaders and writers, such as Jomo Kenyatta. He then
settled in Jamaica in
One of South
Africa's most prominent writers, his work deals with
political and social issues, especially with racism.
His novel, Mine Boy (1946), one of the first works
to bring him to critical attention, and his memoir Tell Freedom; Memories of
Africa (1954) deal in part with apartheid. His
other works include the story collection Dark
Testament (1942) and the novels The Path of Thunder (1948), A Wreath for Udomo (1956), A
Night of Their Own (1965), the Jamaica-set This
Island Now (1966, the only one of his novels
not set in Africa) and
The View from Coyaba (1985). He also
wrote This Island Now, which speaks to the ways
power and money can change most people's
* * *
* * *
Peter Abrahams, born in a Johannesburg
slum of an Ethiopian father and a "Cape Coloured"
mother, is the best known of the South African Negro writers. he
and other novels, as well as an
Tell Freedom. In the lively article
excerpted here, he gives us a piece of candid journalism such as
few other writers would be in a position to do, for in writing
of his visits with Nkrumah and Kenyatta he is writing of men who
were his friends and intimates in the African colony in London
before the upsurge of independent states in Africa. Mr. Abrahams
has lived for many years outside his native continent, first in
England and now in the West Indies.
Written in 1959, the article may on some
political points be dated; and Mr. Abrahams may have
overestimated the damage done to Kenyatta's potentialities by
his ambivalent connections with tribal society.
But, on the whole, this article is a valuable
portrayal in personal terms of the tensions between
nation-building leaders and traditionally oriented masses. these
tensions could be of two sorts: in the case of Nkrumah they
would seem to be part of a clash between authoritarian
centralism and a variety of localisms; in the case of Kenyatta,
there seems to be in addition to the political dynamics, an
inner struggle of emotional commitments to both African and
Western patterns. [Jacob Drachler,
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Becoming American Under Fire
Irish Americans, African Americans, and the Politics of Citizenship
During the Civil War Era
By Christian G. Samito
In Becoming American under Fire, Christian G. Samito provides a rich account of how African American and Irish American soldiers influenced the modern vision of national citizenship that developed during the Civil War era. By bearing arms for the Union, African Americans and Irish Americans exhibited their loyalty to the United States and their capacity to act as citizens; they strengthened their American identity in the process. . . . For African American soldiers, proving manhood in combat was only one aspect to their quest for acceptance as citizens. As Samito reveals, by participating in courts-martial and protesting against unequal treatment, African Americans gained access to legal and political processes from which they had previously been excluded. The experience of African Americans in the military helped shape a postwar political movement that successfully called for rights and protections regardless of race. For Irish Americans, soldiering in the Civil War was part of a larger affirmation of republican government and it forged a bond between their American citizenship and their Irish nationalism. The wartime experiences of Irish Americans helped bring about recognition of their full citizenship through naturalization and also caused the United States to pressure Britain to abandon its centuries-old policy of refusing to recognize the naturalization of British subjects abroad. / For Love of Liberty
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Salvage the Bones
A Novel by Jesmyn Ward
On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake. She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.—WashingtonPost
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The White Masters of the
The World and Africa, 1965
By W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois’
Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization
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Ancient African Nations
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