Guy Butler (1918-2001) was a poet, playwright, cultural activist and leading academic.
Born Frederick Guy Butler in Cradock, he was educated there, then studied at Rhodes University, receiving an MA in 1938. After marrying Jean Satchwell in 1940 he left South Africa to fight in the Second World War, when he also began to write his first creative work. After the war, he read English literature at Brasenose College, Oxford University, graduating in 1947, before returning to South Africa to become a lecturer at the University of the Witwatersrand. In 1951, he returned to Rhodes University in Grahamstown to take up a post as a senior lecturer, and a year later was made professor and head of English (1953 to 1987). After retirement, he was appointed Emeritus Professor and Honorary Research Fellow there.
He worked there he was professor in and head of the department and had an enormous influence not only on the University, but on South African English culture in general, and particularly South African writing in English. In this respect, he fought to have writings by South African authors recognized and included in school and university syllabi.
He died in Grahamstown in 2001.
Contribution to South African letters, arts and theatre
He was the driving force behind the founding of a number of university departments (Rhodes University Department of Speech and Drama, Linguistics and English Language, and Journalism and Media Studies), helped set up a number of institutes and societies (the Institute for the Study of English in Africa (ISEA), the National English Literary Museum (NELM), the Shakespeare Society of South Africa). Perhaps his most notable achievement, however, was the founding of the 1820 Settler's Foundation, which led to the building of the Festival Theatre in Grahamstown and thus to the annual Grahamstown Arts Festival.
Butler was also a leading figure in such organisations as the English Academy, NTO, CAPAB, and a board member of the Oude Meester Foundation for the Arts.
Among his best known plays are Everyman: A Morality Play. A Modernised Version of the Medieval Interlude of the Same Name (1950 - unpublished manuscript held in the NELM archives), The Dam (Van Riebeeck Centenary Award winner, performed by NTO, 1952, published 1953 ), The Dove Returns (performed 1955, published 1956), Remembrance Day (1965), Cape Charade (1968), Take Root or Die (1970 – written for 1820 Settlers’ centenary celebrations), Richard Gush of Salem (1982) and Demea(1990).
He also co-edited the collection Plays from Near and Far (with Tim Peacock, 1972).
Mona de Beer 1995. Revised ed. Who Did What in South Africa. Johannesburg: Ad Donker.
Peter Joyce. 1999. A Concise Dictionary of South African Biography. Cape Town: Francolin Publishers.
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