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Roberts, Sheila 1942-

ROBERTS, Sheila 1942-

PERSONAL: Born May 25, 1942, in Johannesburg, South Africa; immigrated to United States, 1977; daughter of Gideon P. and Claire M. (Freestone) Williamson; married Peter Roberts, January 17, 1963 (died, April 19, 1971); married Philip C. McGuire (a professor), June 20, 1980; children: (first marriage) Sandra, Kelly. Education: University of South Africa, B.A. (with honors), 1967, M.A., 1972; University of Pretoria, Ph.D., 1977.

ADDRESSES: Home—1914 N. Prospect Ave., #81, Milwaukee, WI 53202. Office—Department of English, University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee, College of Letters and Science, Curin Hall, P.O. Box 413, Milwaukee, WI, 53201. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER: Poet, novelist, teacher. Performing Arts Council, Transvaal, South Africa, literary consultant, 1974-75; University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa, lecturer in English, 1975-77; Michigan State University, East Lansing, assistant professor of Commonwealth and African studies, beginning 1977; University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee, professor of English.

MEMBER: Modern Language Association of America.

AWARDS, HONORS: Olive Schreiner Award for prose from English Academy of South Africa, 1975, for Out-side Life's Feast; Teacher-Scholar Award from Michigan State University, 1980.


Outside Life's Feast: Short Stories, Ad. Donker (Johannesburg, South Africa), 1975.

He's My Brother: A Novel, Ad. Donker (Johannesburg, South Africa), 1977, reprinted as Johannesburg Requiem: A Novel, Taplinger (New York, NY), 1980.

The Weekenders, Bateleur Press (Johannesburg, South Africa), 1981.

This Time of Year and Other Stories, Ad. Donker (Johannesburg, South Africa), 1983.

(With Bernth Lindfors) Dan Jacobson, Twayne (Boston, MA), 1984.

Dialogues and Divertimenti, Ad. Donker (Johannesburg, South Africa), 1985.

Jacks in Corners: A Novel, Ad. Donker (Johannesburg, South Africa), 1987.

(Editor, with Yvonne P. Tevis) Still the Frame Holds: Essays on Women Poets and Writers, Borgo Press (San Bernardino, CA), 1993.

Coming In and Other Stories, Justified Press (Johannesburg, South Africa), 1993.

Daughters and Other Dutiful Women, Justified Press (Johannesburg, South Africa), 1995.

Purple Yams, Penguin Books (Johannesburg, South Africa), 2001.

Also author of House of Shame: J.M. Coetzee's "Age of Iron," a speech presented at the Thirty-fourth Annual Meeting of the African Studies Association, St. Louis, MO, November 23-26, 1991. Work represented in anthologies, including On the Edge of the World, Ad. Donker, 1979; Sudafrika (German translation), Horst Erdmann Verlag, 1978; and Modern South African Short Stories, Ad. Donker, 1981. Contributor of stories to magazines, including Cavalier, Fair Lady, New Nation, Contrast, and Short Story International.

SIDELIGHTS: Sheila Roberts left South Africa in the late 1970s to begin teaching at Michigan State University. Shortly after she assumed her new position, Roberts learned that her 1977 novel, He's My Brother, had been banned in South Africa. The ban cemented her decision to remain in America. Nevertheless, much or her work remains based on her South African experiences, especially in terms of apartheid and discrimination by class and gender.

Roberts once wrote: "The political situation in South Africa has strongly influenced my writing, as well as the existence of the 'underdogs'—blacks, women, children, failures. My interest still lies with Africa, even though I am now a resident in the United States, and my university research all centers on Africa. That continent still appears in most of my writing."

He's My Brother was published in the United States as Johannesburg Requiem, in 1980. In the novel, schoolteacher Myra Shepherd has affairs with two men, Darrell, a self-centered political activist who ultimately rejects her and ends up in jail, and Dawie, who is more caring and sensuous but is eventually murdered by his own brother. Writing in Library Journal, George J. Soete called the book an "excellent short novel" that reflects the role of women in a "male-dominated society." A reviewer writing in Publishers Weekly pointed out that Myra's life mirrors "the tensions and overlapping ambiguities" of life in South Africa at that time. The reviewer went on to note that Roberts "captures with low-key realism the portents of doom and air of inevitability that weigh on young whites in South Africa today." Soete called Roberts "a gifted storyteller in control of her craft, who understands that novels with powerful political messages need not be preachy."

Her next novel, The Weekenders, tells a tale about the social elite who go to a casino and seem friendly and pleasant on the surface but who are smoldering inside. Ultimately, their dissatisfaction with life results in a savage outburst. Roberts is also the author of short stories. Many of them—gathered in the collection Coming In and Other Stories—focus on exile and migrants. For example, in the title story, "Coming In," Roberts tells the story of a migrant family who leave Algeria for South Africa and bring with them their own prejudices, racism, and class consciousness. The stories are also often concerned about age, our perception of the aged, and the reality of becoming old. According to Roberts, our idealized notion that "with age comes wisdom," is misguided because people continue to retain their prejudices and self-centered attitudes. Writing in World Literature Today, Barbara Eckstein noted, "These stories say repeatedly that neither exile nor age necessarily engenders virtue, that in fact both create a vulnerability as likely to produce desperate power-grasping as generous multicultural understanding."

Roberts, who went on to the University of Milwaukee—Wisconsin to teach fiction writing and modern and contemporary British and South African literature, has also written a collection of essays on women writers called Still the Frame Holds. Roberts is the author of a biography of Dan Jacobson, one of South Africa's most respected writers. Her novel Purple Yams was published in 2001, a story set in Japan about an older woman and her exploits.



Daymond, M.J., and J.U. Jacobs, editors, Momentum: On Recent South African Writing, University of Natal Pietermaritzburg, (Pietermaritzburg, South Africa), 1984, pp. 182-197, 305-306.

MacKenzie, Craig, and Cherry Clayton, Between the Lines: Interviews with Bessie Head, Sheila Roberts, Ellen Kuzwayo, Miriam Tlali, National English Literary Museum (Grahamstown, South Africa), 1989.


Best Sellers, September, 1980, review of Johannesburg Requiem, p. 203.

Choice, November, 1984, review of Dan Jacobson, p. 427.

Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 1980, review of Johannesburg Requiem, p. 317.

Library Journal, May 15, 1980, George J. Soete, review of Johannesburg Requiem, p. 1190.

Publishers Weekly, March 21, 1980, review of Johannesburg Requiem, p. 53.

Science Fiction Chronicle, April, 1994, review of Still the Frame Holds, p. 48.

Science Fiction Studies, November, 1994, review of Still the Frame Holds, p. 420.

Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature, spring, 1992, Margaret Lenta, "Two Women and Their Territories: Sheila Roberts and Miriam Tlali," pp. 103-111.

World Literature Today, winter, 1985, R.L. Berner, review of Dan Jacobson, p. 152; winter, 1995, Barbara Eckstein, review of Coming In and Other Stories, pp. 208-209.*

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