Peter Henry Abrahams

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Peter Henry Abrahams timeline 1919 - 1985

1919
Peter Abrahams is born in Vrededorp, Johannesburg in March 1919 to an Ethiopian father and a Coloured mother. His father passed away when he was young and Abrahams was sent to live in the rural village of Elsburg.
1926
At the age of seven Abrahams mother retrieves him from Elsburg and brings him back to Johannesburg to live with her.
Shortly after his mother finds work out of town and Abrahams goes to live with his Aunt Mattie where his sister Maggie and brother Harry are already living. Abrahams helps out by selling firewood and working at the smithy.
1930
At the age of 11 Abrahams is exposed to books for the first time prompting him to begin to attend school. He is admitted to the Coloured school in Vrededorp and begins a special program of doing three years of school in one.
1934
At 15 Abrahams is forced to leave school in order to work to help support his family. He first works odd jobs such as carrying bags for White shoppers before finding work at a hotel.
After his sister Maggie forces him to stop working at the hotel he finds work at the Bantu Men’s Social Centre as the office boy at Pathfinders, the Black section of the Boy Scout Movement.
While working at the Centre, Abrahams also enrolled in a correspondence course he saw advertised in the Bantu World.
mid 1930s
After working at the Pathfinders for only three months they were forced to let Abrahams go as there was not enough business.
Abrahams, at the encouragement of his employer Peter Dabula, attends the Diocesan Training College in Grace Dieu near Pietersburg, working there to afford his stay.
It is while at Grace Dieu that his poems are first published in The Bantu World, a white owned newspaper catering toward Black readers.
While at the college Abrahams also became a Christian, receiving confirmation and his first communion at the hands of his teacher Father Woodfield.
1936
At the age of 17 Abrahams left Grace Dieu as he did not want to be a teacher and it was a teachers’ training college.  He was also having a hard time reconciling his lessons and Christianity with the violent racism he experienced.
After leaving Grace Dieu Abrahams completed his studies at St Peter’s Secondary School. It was while at St Peter’s that Abrahams was first exposed to left wing politics through his interaction with a White couple living near the school.
1938
Abrahams moves to Cape Town in search of new opportunities.  While in Cape Town he writes poems that are published in the Standard and the Guardian. He also spends time working in the Cape Flats, however, after a few months the environment began to affect his health.
1939
Abrahams leaves Cape Town and after nearly three months of travelling he arrives in Durban in 1939 where he finds a small room with an Indian family.
In Durban Abrahams becomes involved with the Liberal Study Group serving as editor of the group’s monthly bulletin.
In September , World War II breaks out and Abrahams manages to bribe himself on board a freighter ship in search of a new crew.
1941
After two years at sea Abrahams arrives in London, spending his first night sleeping under a tree in Hampstead Heath before connecting with a friend from South Africa who is involved in the local Communist Party. Through this friend he finds work at a communist book distribution center as well as a room in a comrade’s flat.
Not long after Abraham’s arrival in London, he marries Dorothy Pennington, a White woman. They move to Paris in order to finalize their marriage and have their first child, a son.
Early 1940s
Abrahams becomes acquainted with George Pandmore and other African intellectuals such as Kwame Nkrumah. Padmore works at writing dispatches to be sent out to the colonies – dispatches that Abrahams had received while working as the editor of a newsletter for an Indian political group in Durban.
1942
Peter Abrahams published his first full-length book, Dark Testament, a collection of short stories that he had brought with him from South Africa, through publishers Allen and Unwin. He was the first non-white South African since S.T. Plaatjie to publish a novel in English.
1945
Dorothy Crisp publishes Abraham’s second novel, Song of the City.
1946
Mine Boy, considered one of Abraham’s most important works, is published. The South African press and radio choose it as one of the three books of the year.
In the summer of 1946 Abrahams goes to Paris to attend the Paris Peace Conference. It is in Paris that Abrahams is introduced to the American writer, Richard Wright. Wright became an important mentor to Abrahams, providing feedback as well as introducing him to his publisher.
Abrahams along with George Padmore and other African intellectuals such as Nkrumah and Jomo Kenyatta come together to plan the Fifth Pan-Africanist Conference in Manchester.
Late 1940s
Throughout this time his reputation as a writer as well as a “spokesman on the race issue” was steadily growing.
Abrahams breaks away from the Communist Party due to the publication of his first novel Dark Testament as well as due to the party’s discovery that he was not, in fact, a card-carrying member.
1948
The Path of Thunderis published in both England and the United States.
Abrahams and his first wife, Dorothy, get a divorce. In the same year he moves to Paris with his second wife, an artist and another White woman, Daphne Elizabeth Miller.  While in Paris Abrahams loses touch with his former social circle and a rift between Abrahams and Padmore begins to develop.
1950
Wild Conquestis published.
1952
The London Observer, New York Herald Tributeand BBC Third Programme send Abrahams back to Africa to report on the ‘colour question’ in South Africa and Kenya. His articles were published in both England and France and received a lot of attention.
1953
Abrahams publishes, Return to Goli, a journalistic account of his recent return to South Africa.
1954
Abrahams publishes Tell Freedom, a memoir.
1955
Abrahams is sent to Jamaica by the Colonial Office to write a popular history of the Island.
1956
A Wreath for Udomois published, a story with characters that appear to be based on Kwame Nkrumah and Jomo Kenyatta. The novel concludes with the murder of Udomo, the main character who has come back to his African homeland in order to modernize and transform his country.
1957
Jamaica: An Island Mosaic, the book documenting Abrahams experience in Jamaica is published.
1959
Abrahams moves to Jamaica with his family where he has lived ever since. In Jamaica he works for the Jamaican Broadcasting Commission and is a staff writer for the Holiday Magazine.
1965
Abrahams publishes A Night of Their Own.
1966
Abrahams publishes his first novel not set in Africa, but rather in Jamaica, This Island Now.
1985
The View from Coyaba is published. 
2017
Abrahams passes away  on 19 January 2017 at his Red Hills home in the Store Andrew Parish of Jamaica

Last updated : 21-Feb-2017

This article was produced for South African History Online on 05-Jun-2012