By Ruth Obee
“If you really want to understand South Africa, read black African writers. Read Es'kia Mphahlele,” is the advice proffered to diplomats and scholars by professor and publisher Donald Herdeck.
The irony is that in the past, many of Mphahlele's works were out of print or banned under censorship laws in South Africa from the early 1950s on. Readers were denied access to these seminal works, while black South African youths in particular were deprived of any knowledge of one of their preeminent writers, thinkers, and educators.
In Es'kia Mphahlele, Ruth Obee presents the works of this important voice in South African literature against the backdrop of alienation and humanism: two themes central to the shaping of a black nationalist vision in South Africa.
Ruth Obee was a feature writer and poet who served as the editor of the monthly publication of the Association of American Foreign Service Women. With her husband, a diplomat, she lived in India, Nepal, Pakistan, Tanzania, and South Africa.
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In 1932, two years after D. H. Lawrence's death, a young woman wrote a book about him and presented it to a Paris publisher. She recorded the event in her diary: “It will not be published and out by tomorrow, which is what a writer would like when the book is hot out of the oven, when it is alive within oneself. He gave it to his assistant to revise.” The woman was Anaïs Nin. Nin examined Lawrence's poetry, novels, essays, and travel writing.