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Alan Paton | Biography

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Early Life and Work

Alan Paton was born in Pietermaritzburg, a city in Natal, South Africa on January 11, 1903. He studied at Maritzburg College and at the University of Natal, and then taught school for a decade, between 1925 and 1935. In 1935 Paton was appointed the director of Diepkloof Reformatory for delinquent African boys. His experience in this post is surely reflected in his first novel, Cry, the Beloved Country. The dilemma of the young white reformatory official, for instance, is vividly rendered. Paton's work on the novel unfolded in South Africa and during a visit to Norway. The book's publication in 1948 was aided by some friends of the author who lived in San Francisco. By this time, Paton had resigned his post at the reformatory, having decided to devote himself to full-time writing.

Later Years

Following the notable success of Cry, the Beloved Country, Paton lived on the south coast of Natal for a number of years, writing fiction and essays on South African affairs. In 1953 he co-founded the Liberal Party of South Africa. This party devoted its energies to changing the minds of the white minority on the subjects of equal rights and political participation. The party was strongly opposed to apartheid—the official state policy regarding the separation of the races. The Liberal Party's anti-apartheid program led to its dismantlement by the government in 1968.

Paton's second novel, Too Late the Phalarope (1953), recounted the tragic story of an Afrikaner police officer, descended from Dutch settlers in South Africa. Over the course of his literary career, Paton produced a volume of short stories, a collection of essays, a biography of South African politician Jan Hofmeyr, and an autobiography.

Paton died in South Africa on April 12, 1988. He is acknowledged as one of the most accomplished writers South Africa produced in the 20th century, and his writings are celebrated as a call for social justice. Paton's descriptions in his fiction of the conflicts of his time—as well as of the South African landscape—underlie the enduring appeal of his work.

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