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A Native of Nowhere: The Life of Nat Nakasa

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Length: 230 pages3 hours

Summary

Tracing the life of South African writer Nat Nakasa, this biography tells the story of how a quiet, serious African boy growing up in the sleepy coastal city of Durban in the 1940s became part of the generation of outspoken black South African journalists in the 1950s and 1960s. He challenged state-sponsored segregation in that way that only writers can, simply by keeping a detailed record of its existence. On a warm July morning in 1965, he stood facing the window of a friend’s seventh floor apartment in Central Park West. Less than a year earlier, Nakasa had taken an “exit permit” from the apartheid government—a one-way ticket out of the country of his birth—and come to Harvard University on a journalism fellowship. Now he was caught in a precarious limbo, unable to return to South Africa but lacking citizenship in the United States, a place that he was beginning to feel offered little respite from the brutal racism of his own country. Standing in that New York City apartment building, he faced the alien city and the next thing anyone knew, he was lying on the pavement below. He was 28 years old. In a short but vibrant career as a writer and editor in the apartheid South Africa of the 1950s and early 1960s, Nakasa penned features for the country’s most influential black news magazine, Drum; became the first black columnist for the Rand Daily Mail, a Johannesburg daily newspaper with an antiapartheid editorial stance; and founded a literary journal, the Classic, to publish African writing. By the time he was in his mid-20s, he had written for the New York Times and been invited to Harvard to study journalism. But like so many South African intellectuals of his generation, leaving his homeland was not simply a matter of deciding to go. It was also a matter of deciding never to come back.

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