Gray, Stephen 1941–
Gray, Stephen 1941–
(Stephen Richard Gray)
PERSONAL: Born November 30, 1941, in Cape Town, South Africa; married twice; divorced. Education: Attended St. Andrew's College, Grahamstown, South Africa, and University of Cape Town; Cambridge University, B.A., M.A.; University of Iowa, M.F.A.; University of Johannesburg, D.Litt, D.Phil.
ADDRESSES: Home—P.O. Box 2633, Houghton, South Africa, 2041.
CAREER: Aix-Marseille, France, lecturer in English, 1964–66; University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa, junior lecturer, 1969; Rand Afrikaans University, Johannesburg, South Africa, lecturer, 1970–74, senior lecturer, 1974–82, professor, 1982–92, head of English department, 1982–84, 1988–89, 1991; freelance journalist and writer, 1992–. Guest professor, University of Venice and University of Trento, 1994. Councilor, National English Literary Museum, Grahamstown, South Africa, 1980–93. Board member, Federated Union of Black Arts, Johannesburg, 1992–94.
AWARDS, HONORS: Hawthornden Castle International Retreat for Writers fellowship, 1992; Gold medal, English Academy of Southern Africa, 1993; Rockefeller Foundation fellowship, 1994; Thomas Pringle Award, English Academy of Southern Africa, 1994, for reviews.
Local Colour, Ravan Press (Johannesburg, South Africa), 1975.
Visible People, Collings (London, England), 1977.
Caltrop's Desire, Collings (London, England), 1980.
John Ross: The True Story, Penguin (Johannesburg, South Africa), 1987.
Time of Our Darkness, Muller (London, England), 1988.
Born of Man, Justified Press (Johannesburg, South Africa), 1989.
War Child, Justified Press (Johannesburg, South Africa), 1991.
Drakenstein, Justified Press (Johannesburg, South Africa), 1994.
It's about Time, edited by Douglas Livingstone, David Philip (Cape Town, South Africa), 1974.
Hottentot Venus and Other Poems, David Philip (Cape Town, South Africa), 1979.
Love Poems, Hate Poems, David Philip (Cape Town, South Africa), 1982.
Apollo Café, David Philip (Cape Town, South Africa), 1990.
Season of Violence, Dangaroo Press (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 1992.
Selected Poems (1960–92), David Philip (Cape Town, South Africa), 1994.
Gabriel's Exhibition: New Poems, Mayibuye (Bellville, South Africa), 1998.
Shelley Cinema and Other Poems, Protea (Pretoria, South Africa), 2006.
An Evening at the Vernes, Ravan (Johannesburg, South Africa), 1977.
Herman Charles Bosman's "Cold Stone Jug": The Play, Human & Rousseau (Cape Town, South Africa), 1982.
Schreiner: A One-Woman Play, David Philip (Cape Town, South Africa), 1983.
(And author of preface) Writers' Territory, Longman Southern Africa (Cape Town, South Africa), 1973, revised edition, Maskew Miller Longman (Cape Town, South Africa), 1999.
On the Edge of the World: Southern African Stories of the Seventies, Donker (Johannesburg, South Africa), 1974.
A World of Their Own: Southern African Poets of the Seventies, introduction by André P. Brink, Donker (Johannesburg, South Africa), 1976.
Sol T. Plaatje, Mhudi, introduction by Tim Couzens, woodcuts by Cecil Skotnes, Three Continents Press (Washington, DC), 1978, new edition, Penguin Modern Classics (Johannesburg, South Africa), 1999.
Theatre One: New South African Drama, Donker (Johannesburg, South Africa), 1979.
Athol Fugard, Tsotsi, Random House (New York, NY), 1980.
William Plomer, Turbott Wolfe, Donker (Johannesburg, South Africa), 1980.
(And author of afterword) C. Louis Leipoldt, Stormwrack, David Philip (Cape Town, South Africa), 1980.
Modern South African Stories, Donker (Johannesburg, South Africa), 1980, new revised edition, 2002.
Theatre Two: New South African Drama, Donker (Johannesburg, South Africa), 1981.
Athol Fugard, McGraw-Hill (Johannesburg, South Africa), 1982.
Stephen Black, Three Plays, Donker (Johannesburg, South Africa), 1984.
Modern South African Poetry, revised and expanded edition, Donker (Johannesburg, South Africa), 1984.
(With David Schalkwyk) Modern Stage Directions: A Collection of Short Dramatic Scripts, Maskew Miller Longman (Cape Town, South Africa), 1984.
William Plomer, Selected Poems, Donker (Craighall, South Africa), 1985.
The Penguin Book of Southern African Stories, Penguin (New York, NY), 1985.
Herman Charles Bosman, Bosman's Johannesburg, Human & Rousseau (Cape Town, South Africa), 1986.
Market Plays, preface by Mannie Manim, Donker (Johannesburg, South Africa), 1986.
Herman Charles, Makapan's Caves and Other Stories, Penguin (London, England), 1987.
The Penguin Book of Southern African Verse, Penguin (London, England), 1989.
Athol Fugard, My Children! My Africa! and Selected Shorter Plays, Witwatersrand University Press (Johannesburg, South Africa), 1990.
File on Fugard, Methuen (London, England), 1991.
Charles Rawden MacLean, The Natal Papers of "John Ross": Loss of the Brig Mary at Natal with Early Recollections of That Settlement and among the Caffres, University of Natal Press (Pieter-Maritzburg, South Africa), 1992.
The Penguin Book of Contemporary South African Short Stories, Penguin (Johannesburg, South Africa), 1993.
South Africa Plays, Nick Hern (London, England), 1993.
Herman Charles Bosman, Willemsdorp, Human & Rousseau (Cape Town, South Africa), 1998.
The Picador Book of African Stories, Picador (London, England), 2000.
C. Louis Leipoldt, Chameleon on the Gallows (Gallows Gecko), Human & Rousseau (Cape Town, South Africa), 2000.
Herman Charles Bosman, Jacaranda in the Night, Human & Rousseau (Cape Town, South Africa), 2000.
Herman Charles Bosman, Recognising Blues: Best of Herman Charles Bosman's Humour, Human & Rousseau (Cape Town, South Africa), 2001.
Herman Charles Bosman, A Cask of Jerepigo: Sketches and Essays, Human & Rousseau (Cape Town, South Africa), 2002.
Herman Charles Bosman, My Life and Opinions, Human & Rousseau (Cape Town, South Africa), 2003.
Herman Charles Bosman, Wild Seed, Human & Rousseau (Cape Town, South Africa), 2004.
(Selector) Poems for Performance: For Use in English and Speech and Drama Classes in Southern Africa, McGraw-Hill (Johannesburg, South Africa), 1978.
Southern African Literature: An Introduction, Barnes & Noble (New York, NY), 1979.
(Selector) Herman Charles Bosman, Selected Stories, Human & Rousseau (Cape Town, South Africa), 1980.
English South African Literature in the Last Ten Years: A Survey of Research Developments, RAU (Johannesburg, South Africa), 1982.
Douglas Blackburn, Twayne Publishers (Boston, MA), 1984.
Human Interest and Other Pieces (short stories), Justified Press (Johannesburg, South Africa), 1993.
Accident of Birth (autobiography), Congress of South African Writers (Johannesburg, South Africa), 1993.
Free-lancers and Literary Biography in South Africa, Rodoipi (Amsterdam, Netherlands), 1999.
Beatrice Hastings: A Literary Life (biography), Viking-Penguin (Johannesburg, South Africa), 2004.
Indaba: Interviews with African Writers, Protea Book House (Pretoria, South Africa), 2005.
Life Sentence: A Biography of Herman Charles Bosman, Human & Rousseau (Cape Town, South Africa), 2005.
My Serial Killer and Other Stories (fiction), Jacana (Johannesburg, South Africa), 2005.
A collection of Gray's manuscripts is maintained at the Harry Ransom Research Center, University of Texas.
SIDELIGHTS: South African writer Stephen Gray is a prolific author of novels, poetry, plays, and short stories, as well as a literary critic and editor who has produced books on the writings of other South African writers. Of European descent, Gray often writes about the racial politics of his homeland and its infamous period of apartheid, which dominated much of the twentieth century. Although his novels focus almost exclusively on these issues, Gray's poems also address the themes of love and the beauty of the African landscape.
Discussing Gray's novels, an essayist for Contemporary Novelists wrote that "the central preoccupations that recur throughout his entire oeuvre [include] … experimentation with form; a facility with the finer details of setting; a penchant for exploring the limits of racial and sexual taboos." His debut novel, Local Colour, revolves around the theme of racism. It concerns what happens when a woman named Beatrice learns that her aunt married a black man and that her cousin is partly black. "Beatrice's feelings of guilt and shame are contrasted with the serene acceptance of the situation by [her aunt] Miriam and [Beatrice's cousin] Elsabie and the old lady's ecstatic memories of her dead husband," related Peggy Crane in a review for Books & Bookmen.
Racism is again at the core of Visible People. Set on Noon Island, a tiny oasis that has become an independent country, the story is about the South Africans who go there to vacation and escape the problems of their homeland. When a storm strikes the island and they are cut off from civilization and all its conveniences, however, the desperate situation starts to chip away at their exteriors and reveal the prejudices within. The main character is a journalist named Wilder who, though he is cognizant of the political strife that is waging on the continent and understands the forces fighting around him, somehow knows very little about his own flaws. Peter Nazareth, writing in World Literature Today, observed that although much of the action in the book occurs offstage, it is reflected in what the author reveals on the page. Gray, wrote Nazareth, "knows that while he can write about what is center-stage, the real action is offstage. The problem is to refract this action—and the novel being words, to crack through the shell to the inner core meaning…. This Stephen Gray has done successfully in Visible People."
History and time are used by Gray in some of his novels to help highlight the issues of prejudice and apartheid in South Africa. In Caltrop's Desire, the author sets his tale in the year 1948, a turning point in South Africa's history when the government turned to the right and the foundations for apartheid were established. The title character is in a hospital, dying from cancer. A war correspondent by profession, he knows intimately the struggles his nation has endured and is highly disturbed by what is happening. Gray uses the failing health of the reporter as a symbol of the death of the dream for a better South Africa. Though Times Literary Supplement critic Christopher Hope felt that Gray's earlier attempts to address his social concerns through satire "collapse into skittishness," the reviewer believed that with Caltrop's Desire the author "has got hold of something altogether more substantial." Hope concluded, "Gray's achievement in Caltrop's Desire is to link the wider collapse of political potential with Caltrop's failing body."
Homosexuality is a theme in two of Gray's novels, Time of Our Darkness and Born of Man. In the former title, racism is still key as a white teacher named Pete Walker forms a relationship with his thirteen-year-old black student, Disley Mashinini. "Pete Walker's sexuality is akin to his politics," explained Dennis Walder in the Listener: "passive, tolerant and guilt-ridden." Walker's character begins to grow thanks to his exposure to Disley, but the hatred in the outside world encroaches and Disley is murdered by black gangsters. Walder concluded that the "harrowing scenes of [Walker's] sexual encounters effectively convey the sado-masochistic subtext to what passes for everyday life of South Africa today." Born of Man also uses homosexuality as a metaphor. As the Contemporary Novelists essayist explained, "Gray reinscribes homosexual difference in ways that signify strength, attitude, and ironic pride" in a story about the gay subculture in South Africa.
In the more recent novels War Child and Drakenstein, the author is noticeably more introspective, according to some critics. The former title, set in post-World War II South Africa, draws on Gray's childhood memories. It features a solitary, emotionally withdrawn child named Jimmy who lost his father in the war and is surrounded by adults profoundly affected by the conflict. London Observer contributor Ruth Pavey considered it a "captivating" work filled with "sly, affectionate humour," although she was jarred by the sudden twist at the novel's conclusion in which Jimmy becomes emotionally disturbed. Writing about Drakenstein, the Contemporary Novelists writer noted that it is a tale in which the narrator must "confront the horrors of his own fragmented subjectivity."
In addition to novels, Gray has written poetry that many critics considered accomplished. Though a Contemporary Poets essayist observed that his verses are "not always even in quality," his poems with political or social themes are notable for their humor and mocking observations of the world. Twice divorced, Gray has penned love poems that have a "no-nonsense quality in the language" that may mask a "deeper, more personal feeling," according to the Contemporary Poets essayist. Some of Gray's poetry collections contain a mixture of both love and political verses. Robert L. Berner, writing in World Literature Today, commented that in the first half of the book "Gray's rejection of South Africa's conditions is balanced against a deep concern for cultural tradition," while the second half contains more "personal" poems that are largely inspired by his reading of various works of literature. The Contemporary Poets writer reported that Gray does not consider himself a courageous writer. However, the essayist contradicted this notion, concluding that Gray "has never given any evidence of not being courageous and has never hesitated to adopt unfashionable or unpopular attitudes."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Novelists, 7th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2001.
Contemporary Poets, 7th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2001.
Gray, Stephen, Accident of Birth, Congress of South African Writers (Johannesburg, South Africa), 1993.
African Business, March, 2001, Stephen Williams, review of The Picador Book of African Stories, p. 42.
Books & Bookmen, March, 1976, Peggy Crane, "Towards Racial Understanding," review of Local Colour, p. 22.
Choice, December, 1979, review of Southern African Literature: An Introduction, p. 1315.
Listener, April 21, 1988, Dennis Walder, "Keep Moving," review of Time of Our Darkness, p. 35.
Observer (London, England), May 16, 1993, Ruth Pavey, "Wanderlust Walks on Sea Legs," review of War Child, p. 63.
Research in African Literatures, summer, 1995, Chris Dunton, review of South Africa Plays, p. 235; spring, 2003, Maria Olaussen, review of Freelancers and Literary Biography in South Africa, p. 188.
Spectator, August 25, 1990, David Wright, "History in Verse, but Not Just Boombang," review of The Penguin Book of Southern African Verse, pp. 26-27.
Times Educational Supplement, December 29, 2000, Beverly Naidoo, "Spice of Variety," review of The Picador Book of African Stories, p. 25.
Times Literary Supplement, December 19, 1980, Christopher Hope, "The Roads Not Taken," review of Caltrop's Desire, p. 1442; May 18, 1990, Stephen Watson, "A Garbled Message," review of The Penguin Book of Southern African Verse, p. 533; April, 1, 1994, John Higgins, review of The Penguin Book of Contemporary South African Short Stories, p. 19.
Village Voice Literary Supplement, November, 1987, Robert Christgau, "A Veld of Difference," review of Southern African Literature, pp. 6-10.
World Literature Today, summer, 1977, Barend J. Toerien, review of A World of Their Own: Southern African Poets of the Seventies, p. 492; summer, 1978, Peter Nazareth, review of Visible People, pp. 510-511; winter, 1985, Michael J. Collins, review of Athol Fugard, p. 147; winter, 1990, Douglas Reid Skinner, review of The Penguin Book of Southern African Verse, p. 178; spring, 1993, Robert L. Berner, review of Season of Violence, p. 434; autumn, 1994, James Gibbs, review of South Africa Plays, p. 871; summer, 1995, Douglas Reid Skinner, review of Selected Poems (1960–92), p. 633; summer-autumn, 2001, J. Roger Kurtz, review of The Picador Book of African Stories, p. 117.