A Walk in the Night is La Guma’s first novel, and it remains one of the most widely read novels by a black South African. Its publication in Ibadan, Nigeria, was followed five years later by publication in London, which gave it a much wider audience in Europe and the United States. La Guma’s writing grew out of his political activism against apartheid; a journalist, he was arrested for his role in assisting in the writing of the freedom charter, in 1955, for the Congress of the People, dedicated to South African democracy. Jailed for five years, he was released only to be arrested again in 1961, for planning a strike against the government. With the passage of the Sabotage Act in 1962, La Guma was punished for his anti-apartheid activism by being sentenced to confinement in his own house, twenty-four hours a day for five years. In 1966, he escaped to London.
As a “banned” person, La Guma’s novels have all been published outside South Africa. Two subsequent novels, And a Threefold Cord (1964) and The Stone Country (1967), were first published in Berlin; In the Fog of the Season’s End (1972) and Time of the Butcherbird (1979 were first published in London. La Guma’s naturalism has precedents in Emile Zola and Richard Wright, but primarily in its style: His experience itself is his determining source. Nadine Gordimer, white fellow South African writer, has said of La Guma that he “presents men and women who don’t talk about apartheid; they bear its weals, so that its flesh-and-blood meaning becomes a shocking, sensuous impact.”