Cry, the Beloved Country: Author Biography
Alan Stewart Paton was bom in Pietermaritzburg, Natal (now part of South Africa), on January 11, 1903. At the age of twelve, he entered Maritzburg College (a secondary school). After graduating, he enrolled in courses at the University of Natal. While in college he published his first poems in the university’s literary magazine. In 1922 he graduated with a degree in physics.
Two years later he held his first political role by representing the students of his alma mater at the first Imperial Conference of Students in London. After this, he taught mathematics and chemistry at Ixopo High School for white children until 1928. That year he joined the staff at Maritzburg College and married Doris Olive Francis. Together they had a son, David Paton, two years later.
In 1935, Paton moved to Johannesburg to serve as principal of Diepkloof Reformatory for African boys. This position was the result of his friend Jan H. Hofmeyr’s dual role in the coalition government. Hofmeyr was both head of Education and the Interior. By the power of this position, Hofmeyr transferred juvenile reform from the Department of Prisons to that of Education. Paton, in other words, as an early proponent of racial harmony, was in an ideal position to influence the direction of South Africa. Unfortunately, the hope of a harmonious South Africa lasted only as long as Hofmeyr’s reign in government.
One year after becoming principal, Paton joined the South African Institute of Race Relations. He then had another son named Jonathan. When World War II was declared, Paton volunteered but was found ineligible. In 1942, he was appointed to an Anglican Diocesan Commission whose function was to report on church and race in South Africa. In the following year, he authored a series of articles on crime, punishment, and penal reform. In 1944 he addressed the National Social Welfare Conference, and this paper was later published in 1945 as “The Non-European Offender.” Then in 1946 he began his tour of penal and correctional institutions in Europe, the United States, and Canada. While on this tour, he began Cry, the Beloved Country, published in 1948. At the same time as this novel’s publication, Jan Hofmeyr died, and the National Party won the election. Apartheid policies were almost immediately enacted.
The international success of Cry, the Beloved Country enabled Paton to be financially independent as well as allowing him to write in opposition to the government and travel abroad. Being known internationally as an author and spokesperson of the conditions in South Africa kept Paton out of trouble with the government. However, the government did confiscate his passport in 1960, not returning it until the early 1970s. In the 1950s he was amongst those who tried to form an opposition Liberal Party to the Nationalist apartheid government. Legislation against non-whites in government forced Paton, who was president of the multi-ethnic party, to disband rather than conform to the new laws in 1968. From his most famous novel of 1948, until his death by throat cancer in 1988 Alan Paton wrote novels, poems, nonfiction articles and biographies, spoke around the world, and remained a proponent of racial equality.