Remarkable People

ID #5173

Athol Fugard 1 Playwright, Middelburg, Eastern Cape, South Africa.

Athol Lanigan Fugard (1932-) is a playwright, novelist, actor, and director. He is best known for plays opposing apartheid and for the Academy award-winning film “Tsotsi”.

He was born in Middelburg (Eastern Cape) to English and Afrikaner parents. His mother Elizabeth Potgieter operated a general store and then a lodging house. His father Harold was a disabled jazz pianist of Irish, English and French Huguenot descent. In 1935 the family moved to Port Elizabeth. In 1938 he attended a Catholic primary school (Marist Brothers). After being awarded a scholarship, he enrolled at a local technical college and later matriculated at the University of Cape Town (UCT). However he dropped out a few months before final examinations. He left home, hitchhiked to North Africa with a friend and spent the next two years working in East Asia on a steam-ship, the SS Graigaur, where he began writing. The experience was celebrated in his 1999 autobiographical play “The Captain's Tiger:  A memoir for the stage”.

In September 1956, he married Sheila Meiring, a UCT student he met the previous year. She is the novelist and poet Sheila Fugard. Their daughter, Lisa Fugard, is also a novelist. In 1958 they moved to Johannesburg where he worked as a clerk in a Native Commissioners' Court, which made him keenly aware of the injustices of apartheid. The political focus of Fugard's plays brought him into conflict with the national government.  To avoid prosecution, his plays were produced and published outside South Africa.

Fugard demonstrates his opposition to injustice committed by both the government and the political opposition in his play “My Children My Africa”, which attacks the ANC for its boycott of African schools because of the damage such a boycott would cause to African pupils. His post-apartheid plays, such as “Valley Song”, “The Captain's Tiger: A memoir for the stage” and his latest play “Victory” (2007) focus more on personal issues. The Fugard Theatre in District Six opened with performances by the Isango Portobello theatre company in February 2010. A new play written and directed by Fugard – “The Train Driver” -- will be staged at the theatre in 2010.

Fugard's plays are produced internationally and have won multiple awards. Several have been made into films, some of which featured Fugard himself. His debut as a director occurred in 1992 when he co-directed the adaptation of his play “The Road to Mecca” with Peter Goldsmid.

The film adaptation of his novel “Tsotsi” (Zulu for hoodlum), written and directed by Gavin Hood, won the 2005 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. He is an adjunct-professor of playwriting, acting, and directing in the Department of Theatre and Dance at the University of California, San Diego. In 2000–2001 he was the Wells Professor at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana.

Fugard is the recipient of many awards, honors, and honorary degrees, including the 2005 Order of Ikhamanga in Silver "for his excellent contribution and achievements in the theatre". He is also an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He and his wife live in San Diego where he teaches playwriting, acting, and directing in the Department of Theatre and Dance. They maintain a home in South Africa.


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Last update: 2014-03-02 21:52
Author: Alan McIver
Revision: 1.6

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