Peter Abrahams (photo taken by Carl Van Vechten, 1955)
|Born||Peter Henry Abrahams Deras
(1919-03-03)3 March 1919
Vrededorp, South Africa
|Died||18 January 2017(2017-01-18) (aged 97)
Saint Andrew Parish, Jamaica
|Occupation||Novelist, journalist, political commentator|
|Notable works||Mine Boy (1946); A Wreath for Udomo (1956);|
Peter Henry Abrahams Deras (3 March 1919 – 18 January 2017), commonly known as Peter Abrahams, was a South African-born novelist, journalist and political commentator who in 1956 settled in Jamaica, where he lived for the rest of his life. His death at the age of 97 is considered to have been murder.
Early years and education
Abrahams was born in 1919 in Vrededorp, a suburb of Johannesburg, South Africa; his father was from Ethiopia and his mother was Coloured, with French and African roots. Abrahams was five years old when his father died, and with his family thereafter struggling financially he was sent by his mother sent him to live with relatives until the age of 11, when he became a boarding student at the Anglican Church's Grace Dieu School in Pietersburg. On graduation from there, he went to St Peter's Secondary School in Rosettenville, paying his tuition fees by working at the Bantu Men's Social Centre.
Move to London (1939) and Jamaica (1956)
In 1939 Abrahams left South Africa, and worked first as a sailor, and then settled in London, where he was a journalist.
Hoping to make his way as a writer, he faced considerable challenges as a South African, as Carol Polsgrove has shown in her history, Ending British Rule: Writers in a Common Cause (2009). Despite a manuscript reader's recommendation against publication, in 1942 Allen & Unwin brought out his Dark Testament, made up mostly of pieces he had carried with him from South Africa. Publisher Dorothy Crisp published his novels Song of the City (1945) and Mine Boy (1946). According to Nigerian scholar Kolawole Ogungbesan, Mine Boy became "the first African novel written in English to attract international attention." More books followed with publication in Britain and the United States: two novels —The Path of Thunder (1948) and Wild Conquest (1950); a journalistic account of a return journey to Africa, Return to Goli (1953); and a memoir, Tell Freedom (1954).
While working in London, Abrahams lived with his wife Daphne in Loughton. He met several important black leaders and writers, including George Padmore, a leading figure in the Pan-African community there, Kwame Nkrumah of the Gold Coast and Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, both later heads of state of their respective nations.
In 1956, Abrahams published a roman à clef about the political community of which he had been a part in London: A Wreath for Udomo. His main character, Michael Udomo, who returns from London to his African country to preside over its transformation into an independent, industrial nation, appeared to be modelled chiefly on Nkrumah with a hint of Kenyatta. Other identifiable fictionalized figures included George Padmore. The novel concluded with Udomo's murder. Published the year before Nkrumah took the reins of independent Ghana, A Wreath for Udomo was not an optimistic forecast of Africa's future.
In 1956 Abrahams settled in Jamaica, where he continued novels and memoirs, also working as a journalist and radio commentator. In 1994 he was awarded the Musgrave Gold Medal for his writing and journalism by the Institute of Jamaica.
Abrahams was found dead at his home in Saint Andrew Parish, Jamaica, on 18 January 2017, aged 97. A forensic examination showed that Abrahams was a victim of foul play. A local 61-year-old man, Norman Tomlinson, was later charged with murder. Court proceedings began in March 2017 after a delay due to a lengthy power outage in the court house; and on 7 October 2018, having pleaded guilty to manslaughter, Tomlinson was jailed for seven years.
Peter Abrahams is one of South Africa's most prominent writers, his work dealing 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 (1954) deal in part with apartheid. His other works include the story collection Dark Testament (1942) and the novels The Path of Thunder (1948, which inspired both a ballet of the same name and the opera Reiter der Nacht by Ernst Hermann Meyer), 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). His memoir The Coyaba Chronicles was published in 2000, and his young adult book Reality Check (2009) won the Edgar Award for Best Young Adult in 2010.
- Dark Testament (1942)
- Song of the City (1945) 179p, novel, published by Dorothy Crisp & Co Ltd London
- Mine Boy (1946) published by Dorothy Crisp & Co Ltd London – his seminal novel, the first author to bring the horrific reality of South Africa's apartheid system of racial discrimination to international attention.
- The Path of Thunder (1948)
- Wild Conquest (1950)
- Return to Goli (1953)
- Tell Freedom (1954; new edn 1970)
- A Wreath for Udomo (1956)
- Jamaica: an Island Mosaic (1957), Her Majesty's Stationery Office, the Corona Library
- A Night of Their Own (1965)
- This Island Now (1966)
- The View from Coyaba (1985)
- The Coyaba Chronicles: Reflections on the Black Experience in the 20th Century (2000)
Music inspired by his works
- The ballet İldırımlı yollarla ("The Path of Thunder") (1958) by the Azerbaijani composer Gara Garayev
- the opera Reiter der Nacht (1973) by the East German composer Ernst Hermann Meyer is also based on the The Path of Thunder
- Schudel, Matt, "Peter Abrahams, whose novels detailed South Africa's racial injustice, dies at 97", The Washington Post, 20 January 2017.
- Grimes, William, "Peter Abrahams, a South African Who Wrote of Apartheid and Identity, Dies at 97", The New York Times, 22 January 2017.
- Olivier Stephenson, "Essay: No Outcry for the Tragedy at Coyaba", Peepal Tree Press blog, 9 March 2017.
- J. Brooks Spector, "Politically incorrect since 2009", PAWA website.
- Gikandi, Simon (2003). Encyclopedia of African Literature. Taylor & Francis. p. 5. ISBN 978-1-134-58223-5. Retrieved 12 October 2018.
- Ogungbesan, Kolawole (1979), The Writings of Peter Abrahams, New York: Africana Publishing Company, quoted in "Peter Henry Abrahams", South African History Online.
- Carol Polsgrove, Ending British Rule in Africa: Writers in a Common Cause (2009), pp. 61, 76, 83.
- Polsgrove, Ending British Rule, p. 133.
- Larson, Charles R. (1 March 2002). "Self-Exile From Wretchedness: South African novelist Peter Abrahams left his homeland amid the horrors of apartheid and resettled in Jamaica". World and I. News World Communications, Inc.
- "Musgrave Awardees". Institute of Jamaica. Archived from the original on 18 October 2014. Retrieved 6 February 2015.
- "Long-Time Journalist Peter Abrahams Dies at 97". The Gleaner. 18 January 2017. Retrieved 19 January 2017.
- "Literary Icon Peter Abrahams Is Dead", The Gleaner, 19 January 2017.
- "61-y-o man charged with murder of Peter Abrahams", Jamaican Observer, 21 February 2017.
- "Case delayed for man accused of killing Peter Abrahams", RJR News, 24 February 2017.
- Thomas, Cornelius (29 October 1999). "The pen is mightier". Daily Dispatch. Archived from the original on 23 June 2010.
- Jackson, Sally-Anne (22 December 2007). "Peter Abrahams's Mine Boy: a study of colonial diseases in South Africa". Research in African Literatures.
- Tymieniecka, Anna-Teresa, ed. (2007). Temporality in Life as Seen Through Literature. Analecta Husserliana. Analecta Husserliana. 86. Springer Netherlands. pp. 37–46. doi:10.1007/1-4020-5331-2. ISBN 978-1-4020-5330-6.
- Mason, Philip (January 1955). "Review". International Affairs. Royal Institute of International Affairs. 31 (1): 93–94. JSTOR 2604615.
- "Category List – Best Young Adult". Edgars Database.
- The African Activist Archive Project website includes a photograph of Peter Abrahams and family at his home in England.
- Ensor, Robert. (1992). The Novels of Peter Abrahams and the Rise of Nationalism in Africa. Essen: Die Blaue Eule Verlag.
- J. Brooks Spector, "Politically incorrect since 2009", PAWA website.