Athol Fugard is a South African playwright, novelist, actor, and director, who often writes on the subject of South African apartheid. His works are often critical investigations of South African history, and he has been called South Africa’s greatest playwright.
Fugard was born in 1932 in Middelburg, Eastern Cape, South Africa. His mother was an Afrikaner and his father was of Irish, English and French Huguenot descent. He studied at the University of Cape Town, but dropped out in 1953 and travelled to North Africa and Asia on a steamer ship. He began writing plays while working on the ship, and later returned to South Africa to pursue his career as a playwright.
Fugard’s first plays were No-Good Friday and Nongogo, which dealt with the lives of black South Africans in urban slums. His breakthrough play was The Blood Knot (1961), which explored the relationship between two brothers of mixed race who lived under the apartheid system. The play was banned in South Africa, but received international acclaim when it was staged in London and New York. The Blood Knot was the first in a series of plays that Fugard called “The Family Trilogy”, which also included Hello and Goodbye (1965) and Boesman and Lena (1969). These plays focused on the themes of family, identity, and oppression in South Africa.
Fugard also collaborated with black actors and playwrights, such as John Kani and Winston Ntshona, to create plays that reflected the experiences of black South Africans under apartheid. Some of these plays were Sizwe Banzi Is Dead (1972), The Island (1973), and Statements After an Arrest Under the Immorality Act (1972). These plays used minimal sets and props, and relied on the actors’ improvisation and interaction with the audience. They were also performed illegally in South Africa, often in secret venues or private homes.
Fugard continued to write plays that challenged the apartheid regime, such as A Lesson from Aloes (1980), “Master Harold”…and the Boys (1982), and The Road to Mecca (1985). He also wrote novels, such as Tsotsi (1980), which was adapted into an Oscar-winning film in 2005. Fugard also acted and directed some of his own plays, as well as films based on his works. He received many awards and honours for his contribution to theatre and literature, such as the Order of Ikhamanga from the South African government in 2005, and a Tony Award for lifetime achievement in 2011. He also taught at various universities in South Africa and the United States.
Athol Fugard is widely regarded as one of the most influential and important playwrights of the 20th century. His plays have been translated into many languages and performed all over the world. His works have inspired generations of writers and activists who fight for social justice and human rights. He is still active as a writer and director, and lives in New York City with his second wife Paula Fourie.