Alan Paton


Alan Stewart Paton (11 January 1903 – 12 April 1988) was a South African author.
He was born in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal, the son of a minor civil servant. His father was a Scot who had emigrated to South Africa in 1895 and his mother was the daughter of English immigrants. After attending Maritzburg College, he studied a Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Natal in his hometown, followed by a diploma in education.
After graduating, he taught at a high school in Ixopo, where he met his first wife, Dorrie, and then at another school back in Pietermaritzburg.
He served as the principal of the Diepkloof Reformatory for young offenders from 1935 to 1948, where he introduced controversial reforms of a progressive slant.
Most notable among these were the open dormitory policy, the work permit policy, and the home visitation policy. Boys were initially housed in closed dorms. Once they had proven themselves trustworthy, they would be transferred to open dorms within the compound.
Boys who showed high levels of trustworthiness would be permitted to work outside the compound. In some cases, boys were even permitted to reside outside the compound under the supervision of a care family. Interesting to note is that of ten thousand boys given home leave during Paton’s years at Diepkloof, less than 1% ever failed to return.
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Paton volunteered for service during World War II, but was refused. During this time, he took a trip, at his own expense, to tour correctional facilities across the world. He toured Scandinavia, England, continental Europe, and the United States of America.
During his time in Norway, he began work on his first (and arguably most famous) novel, Cry, The Beloved Country, which he would finish over the course of his journey, finishing it on Christmas Eve in San Francisco in 1946. There, he met Aubrey and Marigold Burns, who read his manuscript and found a publisher to publish it.
In 1953 he founded the South African Liberal Party, which fought against the apartheid legislation introduced by the National Party. He remained the president of the SALP until its forced dissolution by the Apartheid regime, due to the fact that both blacks and whites comprised its membership.
He was noted for his peaceful opposition to the Apartheid system, as were many others in the party, though some did take a more direct, violent route. Consequently, the party did have some stigma attached to it as a result of these actions. He retired to Botha’s Hill where he lived until his death.
Among his works are Cry, The Beloved Country (1948), Too Late the Phalarope (1953), Debbie Go Home (1961), and Tales from a Troubled Land (1965) (short story collection). Cry, The Beloved Country has been filmed twice (in 1951 and 1995) and was the basis for the Broadway musical Lost in the Stars (adaptation by Maxwell Anderson, music by Kurt Weill).
The Alan Paton Award for non-fiction is conferred annually in his honour.


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