Ezekiel Mphahlele Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

South African novelist, essayist, critic, short-story writer, editor, teacher, humanist, and poet, Ezekiel (also written Es’kia) Mphahlele (uhm-fuh-LAY-lay) is best known for his autobiography Down Second Avenue and his novel The Wanderers. Through a writing career that spanned five decades, Mphahlele was one of South Africa’s most prolific writers and provocative social critics. Because he drew heavily upon his experience of exile and alienation, critics have tended to view his writing as journalistic and autobiographical. This criticism is partially true, in that much of his fictional works and essays seem marked by the alienation and pain of being black and living in South Africa.

Three distinct periods mark his life and are reflected in his writing: his early life in South Africa until age thirty-seven; his twenty-year self-imposed exile; and his return to South Africa in 1977. Born in Pretoria in 1919 into the poverty of black townships, Mphahlele grew up under the influence of his maternal grandmother, his aunt Dora, and his mother. His experience living in the black township of Marabastad with these three strong women, to whom he credits his survival, education, and escape from the ghetto, forms the core of Down Second Avenue.

Despite the poverty and harrowing conditions of Marabastad (much of which he captured in his first collection of short stories, Man Must Live) Mphahlele nurtured a passion for reading everything from the classics to English, American, and African American literatures. Despite meager family income, he attended an academically renowned high school in Johannesburg and Adams Teachers’ Training College in Natal, graduating with a teaching degree in 1940. Because of his outspoken opposition to the government’s Bantu Education Act and total apartheid in education, however, he was banned from a teaching career in...

(The entire section is 778 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Ezekiel Mphahlele was born in Marabastad township, Pretoria, South Africa, on December 17, 1919. His father left the family early in Mphahlele’s life, and he was raised by his mother, a housemaid, and his grandmother, who struggled to keep him in school in spite of economic hardship and an oppressive, strictly segregated social structure. His birth name was Ezekiel, but he later changed his name to Es’kia; both names appear on his works.

In 1945, employed as a high school teacher, he married Rebecca Mochadibane. His first collection of short stories, Man Must Live, and Other Stories, was published in 1946. In the early 1950’s, he was fired for protesting the segregation of schools, and in 1957 he chose exile from South Africa over life under apartheid. His autobiographical volume Down Second Avenue (1959), describing South Africa’s black townships, was an international success, but led to the official banning of his work in that country.

For twenty years, Mphahlele moved about Africa, Europe and the United States, teaching at various universities and writing highly acclaimed fiction and criticism. He was allowed to return to South Africa in 1977, and the ban on his writing was lifted two years later. His next several books were published in South Africa and were addressed to an African audience. After the end of apartheid in 1990, he continued to teach and write about political and cultural imperialism. Mphahlele died in 2008 in South Africa. He was 88.


(Short Stories for Students)

Es’kia Mphahlele was born on December 17, 1919, in Marabastad Township, Pretoria, in the strictly segregated country of South Africa. His...

(The entire section is 459 words.)