Achmat Dangor

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crossroads:
interculturalism, politics, racism
genre(subgenre):
Written and spoken word (general)
region:
Africa, Southern, America, North
country/territory:
South Africa, United States of America
created on:
April 28, 2005
last changed on:
Please note: This page has not been updated since November 21, 2005. We decided to keep it online because we think the information is still valuable.
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Article

“I am an African with Asian and Dutch blood in me, I don’t know what race I am, and I don’t care” – with this description of himself, Achmat Dangor also describes the central themes of his literary work: heritage and a sense of belonging.
Dangor was born in a Muslim and Indian environment in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1948, the year that marked the beginning of apartheid in South Africa. As a result of the racial classification, he was considered a ´colored person.´ He spoke Afrikaans and Sotho until he started school. Today he writes in English.

Dangor says about himself, “I write because I have to and because I love to - it is the closest I am to having an obsession,” and has committed himself to politics with the same fervor. At the time of his studies, he was a member of the group Black Thoughts, whose goal was to strengthen the black movement through literature, theater, and music. As a result of this involvement, he was ´banned´ from 1973 to 1979. He was confined to Johannesburg and could not attend any social or political gatherings. In retrospect he sees this as an extremely productive period, since it gave him the opportunity to write, even if he had do so secretly.

In the 80s Dangor, one of the co-founders of the South African Writer’s Congress, started to publish books in South Africa, which were translated into five languages: short stories, books of poetry and to date three novels, one of which, ´Kafka’s Curse´ (1997), was published in German under the title ´Kafkas Fluch´ (2001). The central figure is a Muslim by birth named Omar Khan, who as the supposed Jew Oscar Kahn is married to a white woman. Using more than one voice, Dangor tells of the psychological consequences, which emerge when the members of the affected family discover that this was a lie. The novel thereby calls attention to the complex problems the ethnic and religious groups in South African society have to struggle with even today. The metamorphosis the hero goes through recalls Kafka as much as an Arabic legend, in which a gardener transforms himself into a tree, because he dared to love a princess.

Dangor’s prose is lyrical and rich in metaphors. It is reminiscent of Salman Rushdie who influenced his literary work. At the request of Bishop Tutu, he took over the direction of the newly founded Kagiso Trust, the largest foundation directed by Blacks in South Africa, and politics accordingly again assumed a larger role in Dangor’s life. Dangor was the director of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund until the end 2001 and since then has lived in Johannesburg and New York, where his wife works for the United Nations.
Author: International Festival of Literature Berlin (ilb)

Works

Bitter Fruit

Published Written,
2001
Kwela Press: Kapstadt

Private Voices

Published Written,
1992
COSAW Publishing: Johannesburg

Kafka´s Curse

Published Written,
1992
Kwela Books

The Z Town Trilogy

Published Written,
1990
Ravan Press: Johannesburg

Exiles Within

Published Written,
1989
COSAW Publishing: Johannesburg

Bulldozer

Published Written,
1983
Ravan Press: Johannesburg

Voices From Within: Black Poetry from Southern Africa

Published Written,
1982
Introduction. Edited with Michael Chapman. A. Donker

Waiting for Leila

Published Written,
1981
Ravan Press: Johannesburg

Www

International Festival of Literature Berlin

Bold Type interview with the author