Stephen Gray

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Stephen Gray (1941-). Immensely influential South African academic, literary historian, theatre reviewer, poet, novelist and playwright.


Born in Cape Town, he went to high school at St Andrews College, Grahamstown, then completed a BA degree at the University of Cape Town , followed by a MA in English at Cambridge University (1964). While there he was Editor of Granta, and the director of the the Cambridge Shakespeare Group. He had a spell as Lecturer in English, Aix-en-Provence for two years and in 1969, he completed an MFA at the Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa.

Returned to South Africa to become a lecturer and later professor of English at the Rand Afrikaans University (later called the University of Johannesburg) from 1970 to 1992. In this period he completed a doctorate, obtaining a D. Litt et Phil. from the Rand Afrikaans University in 1978. In 1982 he was writer-in-residence, at the University of Queensland, Australia. He retired as Professor Emeritus, becoming a freelance writer.

Over the years Gray has been a dramatic and literary advisor to numerous publishers, journals and theatre companies.

His academic career

Gray followed in the footsteps of Guy Butler, to play an enormously influential role in establishing South African literature as a legitimate and exciting field of study and endeavour. He has been especially important as an obsessive literary archeologist, digging up unknown or little known facts and features of the South African literary landscape and has been a stalwart supporter and collaborator of NELM and other archives and research centres, including the Centre for South African Theatre Research (CESAT) at the HSRC in Pretoria.

Besides writing numerous academic studies on South African literature (his Southern African Literature: An Introduction - 1979 - being a seminal work at the time), he also prepared biographical and critical studies of a variety of authors - including important studies on Athol Fugard), such as the seminal collection simply called Athol Fugard (McGraw-Hill, Johannesburg) in 1982. In addition he inspired young academics and writers and edited a wide range of anthologies of poetry, prose and plays (see below).

He served on a variety of editorial boards, including the South African Theatre Journal, **, **, and was the initiator of the AA Vita Award for Theatre Research in 198*

His impact on South African theatre

Besides his academic and creative interest in poetry and prose, Gray has a deep interest in various facets of South African theatre.

As anthologist

Gray has compiled and edited a number of play collections over the years, often including a number of previously unpublished or forgotten plays. Perhaps the notable aspect in this regard has been his virtual resurrection of the reputation of the early 20th century actor, director and playwright Stephen Black, whose works he edited and published in 1979 (Ad Donker), the writings and life of Herman Charles Bosman, the poetry of William Plomer and the English prose writings of C. Louis Leipoldt.

Edited play collections

Theatre One. Johannesburg, Ad Donker, 1975),

Theatre One: New South African Drama, Ad Donker, Johannesburg, 1978

Theatre Two: New South African Drama, Ad Donker, Johannesburg, 1981

Modern Stage Directions: A Collection of Short Dramatic Scripts, Maskew Miller Longman, Cape Town, 1984, (edited with David Schalkwyk)

Stephen Black: Three Plays, Johannesburg: Ad Donker, 1984.

Market Plays, Ad Donker, Johannesburg, 1986

My Children! My Africa! and Selected Shorter Plays, by Athol Fugard, Wits University Press, Johannesburg, 1990

South Africa Plays, Hern, London, 1993

As performer

His work in theatre encompassed a period of three years (in 1962-64) in which he toured Shakespeare with the Cambridge University European Theatre Group on their annual European tours. He apparently also brought the Group to South Africa. In Johannesburg he performed as an occasional reader of poetry in venues such as the Black Sun in Hillbrow.

As playwright

For details of plays and performances, click on the title of the play.

Full length plays:

Cold Stone Jug (1980), a play based on the prison diaries of Herman Charles Bosman.

Schreiner: A One Woman Play (1983)

An Evening at the Vernes (published 1977, performed in Afrikaans in 1985, in English in 1986).

Short radio plays:

Intensive Care (1989)

White Magic (1993)


Personal correspondence from Stephen Gray, 16 January, 2014

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