Breytenbach at the 2009 Brooklyn Book Festival.
September 16, 1939|
Bonnievale, Cape Province, South Africa
|Occupation||Novelist, essayist, poet, painter|
|Alma mater||University of Cape Town|
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Breyten Breytenbach (/
Breyten Breytenbach was born in Bonnievale, approximately 180 km from Cape Town and 100 km from the southernmost tip of Africa at Cape Agulhas. His early education was at Hoërskool Hugenoot and he later studied fine arts at the Michaelis School of Fine Art at the University of Cape Town. His committed opposition to apartheid policy compelled him to leave South Africa for Paris, France, in the early 1960s, where he married a French woman of Vietnamese ancestry, Yolande, due to which he was not allowed to return: The Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act of 1949 and The Immorality Act (1950) made it a criminal offence for a white person to have any sexual relations with a person of a different race.
On an illegal clandestine trip to South Africa in 1975 he was arrested and sentenced to nine years' imprisonment for high treason: his work The True Confessions of an Albino Terrorist describes aspects of his imprisonment. In June 1977 Breytenbach was brought to court again by the South African government on a new series of terrorism charges. It was alleged that he had planned a Russian submarine attack on the prison centre at Robben Island through the "Okhela Organisation", which he had allegedly founded as a resistance group fighting apartheid in exile. After a successful defence, the judge found a total lack of evidence for the very existence of Okhela – which had been the main charge at the first trial – and so Breytenbach was found not guilty on all serious charges. He was found guilty only on the technical counts of having smuggled out letters and poems, for which a nominal fine of some 50 dollars was imposed.
Released in 1982 as a result of massive international intervention, he returned to Paris and obtained French citizenship.
He became a visiting professor at the University of Cape Town in the Graduate School of Humanities in January 2000 and is also involved with the Gorée Institute in Dakar (Senegal) and with New York University, where he teaches in the Graduate Creative Writing Program.
Breytenbach's work includes numerous volumes of novels, poetry and essays, many of which are in Afrikaans. Many have been translated from Afrikaans to English, and many were originally published in English. He is also known for his works of pictorial arts. Exhibitions of his paintings and prints have been shown in cities around the world, including Johannesburg, Cape Town, Hong Kong, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Paris, Brussels, Edinburgh and New York City.
He is the brother of Jan Breytenbach, co-founder of the 1st Reconnaissance Commando of the South African Special Forces, and Cloete Breytenbach, a widely published war correspondent. He is the father of the French journalist Daphnee Breytenbach.
Poetry in Afrikaans
- The Iron Cow Must Sweat (Die ysterkoei moet sweet), Johannesburg, 1964
- The House of the Deaf (Die huis van die dowe), Cape Town, 1967
- Gangrene (Kouevuur), Cape Town, 1969
- Lotus, Cape Town, 1970
- The Remains (Oorblyfsels), Cape Town, 1970
- Scrit. Painting Blue a sinking Ship. (Skryt. Om 'n sinkende skip blou te verf), Amsterdam, 1972
- In Other Words (Met ander woorde), Cape Town, 1973
- Footnote (Voetskrif), Johannesburg, 1976
- Sinking Ship Blues, Toronto 1977
- And Death White as Words. An Anthology, London, 1978
- In Africa even the flies are happy, London, 1978
- Flower Writing (Blomskryf), Emmarentia, 1979 (Selected poems)
- Eclipse (Eklips), Emmarentia, 1983
- YK, Emmarentia, 1983
- Buffalo Bill, Emmarentia, 1984
- Living Death (Lewendood), Emmarentia, 1985
- Judas Eye, London – New York, 1988
- As Like (Soos die so), Emmarentia, 1990
- Nine Landscapes of our Times Bequeathed to a Beloved (Nege landskappe van ons tye bemaak aan 'n beminde), Groenkloof, 1993
- The Handful of Feathers (Die hand vol vere), Cape Town, 1995 (Selected poems)
- The Remains. An Elegy (Oorblyfsels. 'n Roudig), Cape Town, 1997
- Paper Flower (Papierblom), Cape Town, 1998
- Lady One, Cape Town, 2000 (Selected love poems)
- Iron Cow Blues (Ysterkoei-blues), Cape Town, 2001 (Collected poems 1964–1975)
- Lady One: Of Love and other Poems, New York, 2002
- The undanced dance. Prison poetry 1975 – 1983 (Die ongedanste dans. Gevangenisgedigte 1975 – 1983), Cape Town, 2005
- the windcatcher (Die windvanger), Cape Town, 2007
- Voice Over: A Nomadic Conversation with Mahmoud Darwish, Archipelago Books, 2009
- Catalects (Artefacts for the slow uses of dying) (Katalekte (artefakte vir die stadige gebruike van doodgaan)), Cape Town: Human & Rousseau, 2012
Prose in English
- Catastrophes (Katastrofes), Johannesburg, 1964 (stories)
- To Fly (Om te vlieg), Cape Town, 1971 (novel)
- The Tree Behind the Moon (De boom achter de maan), Amsterdam, 1974 (stories)
- The Anthill Bloats … (Die miernes swell op …), Emmarentia, 1980 (stories)
- A Season in Paradise (Een seizoen in het paradijs), Amsterdam – New York – London, 1980 (novel, uncensored edition)
- Mouroir: Mirror Notes of a Novel, London – New York, 1983
- Mirror Death (Spiegeldood), Amsterdam, 1984 (stories)
- End Papers, London, 1985 (essays)
- The True Confessions of an Albino Terrorist, London – New York, 1985
- Memory of Snow and of Dust, London – New York, 1987 (novel)
- Book. Part One (Boek. Deel een), Emmarentia, 1987 (essays)
- All One Horse. Fiction and Images, London, 1989
- Sweet Heart (Hart-Lam), Emmarentia, 1991 (essays)
- Return to Paradise. An African journal, London – New York, 1992 (which won the Alan Paton Award)
- The Memory of Birds in Times of Revolution, London – New York, 1996 (essays)
- Dog Heart. A travel memoir, Cape Town, 1998
- Word Work (Woordwerk), Cape Town, 1999
- A veil of footsteps, Cape Town, 2008
- All One Horse, Archipelago Books, 2008
- Mouroir: Mirror Notes of a Novel, Archiepalago Books, 2008
- Intimate Stranger, Archipelago Books, 2009
- Notes From The Middle World: Essays, Haymarket Books, 2009
- Breytenbach, Breyten (December 2008). "Mandela's Smile: Notes on South Africa's Failed Revolution". Harper's Magazine. 317 (1903): 39–48.
In popular culture
- "Breyten Breytenbach". South African History Online. Retrieved 30 July 2014.
- Breyten, Breytenbach (1985). A Season in Paradise. London: Faber and Faber. p. 11. ISBN 0-571-13491-2.
- "Breyten Breytenbach". Stellenbosch Writers. Retrieved 30 July 2014.
- "Author Focus". Human & Rousseau. Retrieved 30 July 2014.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Breyten Breytenbach.|
- A Conversation with South African Poet and Anti-Apartheid Activist Breyten Breytenbach on His Own Imprisonment, South Africa’s "Failed Revolution," Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama
- An Hour with the Renowned South African Poet, Writer, Painter and Anti-Apartheid Activist Breyten Breytenbach
- Podcast Interview with Breytenbach by André Naffis-Sahely
- Review of Voice Over: A Nomadic Conversation with Mahmoud Darwish by André Naffis-Sahely
- Stellenbosch Writers
- Breyten Breytenbach, Professor of Creative Writing
- Open letter to General Ariel Sharon (by Breyten Breytenbach)
- Poetry Podcast at Badilisha Poetry Exchange
- Culture.pl interview from May 2017 after winning the Zbigniew Herbert International Literary Award