Gladys Thomas

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Gladys Thomas (1934-) is an activist, poet, short-story writer, playwright and author of several children’s stories.


Born Gladys Doreen Adams of a mixed race couple, the daughter of John Adams and an Irish woman, Dorothy O'Riodan, on the 14th of December, 1934 in Soutrivier, Cape Town. She lived with her mother in Salt River until she was six, when she was taken to live with her father’s family in Lakeside. There was conflict between the families because of the racial issue at the time and the fact that both parents married to other people, so she was not allowed to see her mother again.

She went to school from Lakeside, attending an Afrikaans, Dutch Reformed school, in Retreat up to Standard 6, then like many, she left school to work at the age of fifteen. Initially at a in a sweets factory then at the Monatic clothing factory, though she really wanted to be a nurse. When she was 18 she married Albert Thomas, with whom she had two children, Adrian Thomas and Tanja Thomas.

The family settled in Simonstown, but she, her family and friends were later evicted in terms of the notorious Group Areas Act and moved to the “raw”, unfinished township of Ocean View. This experience led to her starting to write. She states that she, like many others, was angry and she thus "wrote not beautiful poetry but angry words. How could you explain to your teenage children why their lives had changed so radically?". Thomas's literary career really started in 1967 when she contacted James Matthews about her writing and they began working on the anthology, Cry Rage!, which was published by SPROCAS in 1972, and then banned by the Apartheid authorities two weeks after its launch.

Since her work was so critical of apartheid, much of it was banned; so when a stage production of one of her plays was praised by The World in 1979, her plays were banned and she was detained by the Security Police.

In 1983 she attended the International Writing Program in Iowa City, and her writing intensified markedly. Among the works now produced were Six stories of the children of Crossroads (1986) (using interviews she did with the dispossessed children of the community of Crossroads, which had been bulldozed in 1986 to make room for a white suburb), The Wynberg Seven (1987, based on her interviews with parents who watched their teenagers being taken into Pollsmoor Prison), and Spotty Dog and other Township Children's Stories (Skotaville, 1989).

Over the years she received many forms of recognition, including the Kwanzaa Award for her protest writing, the Molteno Medal for her contribution to literature in the Western Cape (2000), the Western Cape Department of Arts and Culture Award for Literature (2004), the SALA Literary Lifetime Achievement Award and in 2007, the State President’s Award (The Order of Ikhamanga in Silver) in recognition of her "outstanding contribution to poetry and short stories through which she exposed the political injustices and human suffering of the apartheid regime and for raising international consciousness about the ravages of apartheid"[1].

Contribution to SA theatre, film, media and/or performance

In May of 1974, two plays - Now we are not alone anymore and David and Diana - were performed in a programme called From the townships 1.

In the late 1970s, during the time of the Soweto uprisings, Thomas submitted an (unnamed) play to the World Literary Competition and won first prize.

Passionate about drama and acting, she at one time helped a friend produce the play Waiting for Godot at Pollsmoor Prison, to stimulate creativity.

In 1990, she won the Betrams V.O. Literary Award for her full-length play, Avalon Court: Dramatic Scenes on the Cape Flats and the text was published by Skotaville Publishers in 1992.

In 1991 she wrote The Time is Now, a localized adaptation of Waiting for Lefty by Clifford Odets (1906-1963), which was performed at a mini-festival linked to a Theatre Action Group (Cape Town) seminar in 1991, directed by her husband, Albert Thomas.

In 1993, Thomas and her husband began a theatre group, Getwize Players, for whom she wrote her plays. Their debut production was of The Time is Now, with which they toured in the Cape Peninsula and featured at the Grahamstown Arts Festival, always to excellent reviews.

She also ran a drama group for the children in Ocean View and in 2005 her play Sex can wait, Aids can't, a family drama with music and songs, was the first production of the Ocean View Players.


Various entries in the NELM catalogue, including a programme for From the townships 1: two plays by Gladys Thomas: Now we are not alone anymore and David and Diana, with reviews of the plays from the Cape Times of 17.5.1974, The Argus of 21.5.1974 and The Fish Hoek Echo of June 1974

Lorna Sage, Germaine Greer, Elaine Showalter. 1999. The Cambridge Guide to Women's Writing in English. Cambridge University Press: p.623 [2]

The Star, 8 Oct 1991

Michele King. 2011 "Gladys Thomas of Ocean View – esteemed poet", The Scenic South (November 25, 2011)[3]

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