Peter Abrahams Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Peter Henry Abrahams was the first nonwhite South African to publish a novel in English since Solomon Plaatje, whose Mhudi was published in 1930. Once his literary career began with the short-story collection Dark Testament in 1942 (a volume of poetry had previously been published by a small publisher), Abrahams established himself as a prolific writer.

Abrahams was born in Vrededorp, a mixed ghetto, on March 19, 1919. When he was five, his father died, and Abrahams was sent to live with relatives in rural Elseburg. On returning to Johannesburg, he entered school at about age eleven. After a few years, however, his education was interrupted by the Depression, and he was forced to seek work. Working at the Bantu Men’s Center, Abrahams was exposed to the works of African American authors, principally W. E. B. Du Bois and such Harlem Renaissance writers as Langston Hughes, Countée Cullen, and Sterling Brown. He would later be influenced by Richard Wright as well.

After working at the Bantu Men’s Center, Abrahams began attending St. Peter’s Secondary School, one of the best South African schools for nonwhites. There, Abrahams had essential experiences which shaped his vision as a writer. While at St. Peter’s, Abrahams had his first contacts with whites, influencing his ideas about the possibility of interracial harmony among certain individuals—a theme that runs through his works. Moreover, he was exposed to left-wing politics. Later, he began a brief flirtation with Marxism; his classic novel Mine Boy exhibits this interest in its focus on the possibility that workers could achieve a revolutionary interracial friendship.

After attending St. Peter’s, Abrahams left South Africa. He began work as a stoker on a freighter around the time of the beginning of World War II. At the end of two years at sea, he arrived in England, where he lived for much of the next decade. Soon after settling in England, he published his first work, Dark Testament. During the 1940’s, Abrahams established a reputation as a novelist—with the publication of Song of the City, Mine Boy, and The Path of Thunder—and as a journalist. Pursuing a journalism career, he...

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(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Peter Abrahams was born and reared in Massachusetts. His father was a dentist, and his mother a writer. He acquired a love of reading from his mother, from whom he also learned the basic rules of writing fiction, the most important of which is to be original. As a boy, he particularly loved adventure stories, such asRobert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island (1883). Like those stories, Abrahams’s works are notably effective in creating suspense.

Abrahams was graduated from Williams College in Massachusetts with a bachelor of arts degree in 1968. He then spent two years in the Bahamas, working as a spear fisherman. From there he went to Toronto, Canada, where he worked for a time in radio as a producer for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. His novels reflect these international experiences in a number of ways, particularly in his exploration of the United States’ relationship with and impact upon other regions of the world.

In 1978, Abrahams married Diana Gray, a teacher. They had four children, two daughters and two sons. Soon after his marriage, Abrahams began to publish his critically and commercially successful fiction at the rate of one novel every other year.

The reading interests of Abrahams’s children seem to have influenced him to try his hand at writing fiction for younger readers. In 2005, he published Down the Rabbit Hole, a mystery story with parallels to Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865). Other mystery novels for young readers include Behind the Curtain and Into the Dark, and they, too, have enjoyed great popularity and recognition.