AE Ballakisten

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AE Ballakisten

AE Ballakisten (born Athol Williams on June 20, 1970) is a South African poet and social philosopher.

Life and career[edit]

Ballakisten was born in Lansdowne, Cape Town, South Africa. South Africa’s complex racial policies under apartheid classified Ballakisten as Coloured given the racial mix of his parents. He grew up in Mitchells Plain, the coloured township established under apartheid. Ballakisten was present at the launch of the anti-apartheid movement, the United Democratic Front, in 1983 and actively participated in anti-apartheid student protests in the late 1980s. His experience of apartheid features prominently in his poetry.[1]

He earned degrees from the University of the Witwatersrand,[2] MIT, London Business School[3] and Harvard University where he focused on political thought and public policy. It was at the University of the Witwatersrand, in 1991, that he published his first poem, New South Africa in the student publication Wits Student; the poem captured the newfound optimism associated with the release from prison of Nelson Mandela and other anti-apartheid leaders in 1990.[4]

Ballakisten "deals in money and metaphor" - he has worked in business around the world, experiences which further shaped his writing.[5] His social activism in South Africa has centred on youth development through education, literature and drama. His volunteering and philanthropy in education earned him a Wits Volunteer Award in 2009 and an Inyathelo Award in 2012. Ballakisten presented the literature radio show, Words Alive on Mix 93.8 fm and has Executive Produced two human rights films, namely, Anna & Modern Day Slavery and A Shot at the Big Time.


Ballakisten tackles the global issues of conflict, fear and war through the art of poetry.[6] His poetry has strong social and political messages, and is centrally concerned with visions of alternative social and political arrangements. In this way, he rejects Plato’s dismissal of poetry as a source of inspiration for political and philosophical thought; he finds poetry to be a rich source because "here we can find uncensored possibility. The possibility of rich human existence is not found in avoiding each other but in finding ways to journey freely together – to co-exist in our differences, not always seek to reconcile them. But to do this we need a sense of who we are, in time and space, and the consciousness, that we are on this journey together."

The philosophies expressed in his poetry echoes the concerns and dreams for human greatness found in the writings of Roberto Mangabeira Unger, H. G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw. His more recent writings paint images of hope, offering poignant insight into the path that humanity can follow to find harmony. "Light on man's condition, man's spirit, the purpose of my writing," he wrote in A Consecration.[7]

His poems have recently appeared in:

His poem Euler's Daughter which is dedicated to mathematics professor Judy Holdener, was selected and read at the Joint Mathematics Meetings of the American Mathematical Society in January 2013. Ballakisten was invited to read his poetry at the Chipping Campden Literature Festival in May 2014 and is a poet for 'here, without' a collaboration between Harvard and Israeli-Palestinian artists.


  • Writing on Flesh (1990) (unpublished)
  • Heap of Stones (2009) (ISBN 9780620457026) THEART Press
  • Talking to a Tree: Poems of a Fragile World (2011)[12]
  • Selected Poems: In Video, Volume 1 (2012)
  • Our World, Better Together (ed)(2013) (A private collection, Harvard University)
  • Oaky and the Sun (2013) (Children's book illustrated by Taryn Lock) THEART Press


  • Talking to a Tree brilliantly captures the essence of despair that can force humankind to change. Thought-provoking, devastatingly direct, this anthology is one that will shake the reader out of complacency.” - Fiona Ingram.[12]
  • "AE Ballakisten is one of those rare souls who perceives the world as it is with all its flaws and does whatever is in his power to change it. He uses well-chosen words and a natural gift for storytelling in this collection to create short narratives about issues which are familiar to us all.” – Janet van Eeden[13]
  • " ... it is such a satisfying thing to read the work of someone who is a real poet, able to work an image into a new existence.” – Angela Read Lloyd.[12]
  • “South African poet AE Ballakisten’s latest collection of poems seethes with rage over the violence humanity inflicts upon itself and the natural world. Hope flickers amid the bleakness ... Ballakisten’s book serves as a call to action, urging readers to stop condoning violence.” - Camille-Yvette Welsch[14]


  1. ^
  2. ^ WITS Review, January 2012, University of the Witwatersrand
  3. ^ The Plainsman, February 17, 2010
  4. ^ WITS Review, January 2012, University of the Witwatersrand
  5. ^ 'O' The Oprah Magazine, December 2012
  6. ^ Sandton Chronicle, January 13, 2012
  7. ^ Heap of Stones (2009), p11
  8. ^ New Contrast No.158, June 2012, Published by South African Literary Journal
  9. ^ Peach, Mark, Being Coloured, WB Peach Media and Communication, [2011]
  10. ^ Harry Owen, ed. (2013). For Rhino in a Shrinking World. ISBN 978-0-620-55296-7. 
  11. ^ London School of Economics and Political Science, Volume CIX, 2013
  12. ^ a b c A E Ballakisten (2011). Talking to a Tree: Poems of a Fragile World. Theart Quality Press. ISBN 978-0-620-51066-0. 
  13. ^ LitNet, February 15, 2012,
  14. ^ Clarion Review, February 17, 2012

External links[edit]