Chris van Wyk was born at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, Soweto, Johannesburg in 1957 and grew up in Newclare, before moving to Riverlea, a poor suburb about 8km west of the Johannesburg, surrounded by dusty mine dumps. At the time, Riverlea, Johannesburg, Transvaal (now Gauteng), was designated as a Coloured township under the Group Areas Act. The eldest of six children, he was fascinated by literature from a very young age. van Wyk rose to fame in the 1970s for his writing.
He worked as an editor at the literary magazine Staffrider, as well as at Ravan Press, the publisher of dissident voices opposed to apartheid. In 1979, he published one of the most-quoted anti-apartheid poems, “In Detention”, which appeared in the collection It is Time to Go Home under the Ad Donker imprint, and for which van Wyk received the Olive Schreiner Prize.
Van Wyk had written over 20 books, including poetry collections and children's books. Individual poems have been published in Europe, Turkey, the United States of America and Canada.
In 1996 he received the Sanlam Prize for the best South African short story, 'Magic'. He's wrote a novel, 'The year of the tapeworm', and a biography, 'Now listen here: the life and times of Bill Jardine'.
In 2004, van Wyk’s acclaimed childhood memoir “Shirley, Goodness & Mercy” gave a delightful account of his special relationship to the township he grew up in and its inhabitants.
He was married to Kathy, and they had two sons.
Chris van Wyk passed away on 3 October 2014 in Johannesburg.
Diez, H. (2013). Chris Van Wyk Discusses His Writing, Finding a Readership, and the Interaction Between South African and Other African Writers, from Africa Book Club, 1 August. Available at http://www.africabookclub.com/?p=13976 online. Accessed on 6 October 2014.|Editor. (2014). RIP Chris van Wyk, 1957 ”“ 2014 from Books Live, 4 October. Available at http://bookslive.co.za/blog/2014/10/04/rip-chris-van-wyk-1957-2014/ online. Accessed on 6 October 2014.|City of Johannesburg. (2004). Chris van Wyk, Riverlea's storyteller from City of Johannesburg website, 11 August. Available at http://joburg.org.za/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=815&Itemid=52 . Accessed on 6 October 2014.
In Detention - Poem by van Wyk
Chris Van Wyk Discusses His Writing, Finding a Readership, and the Interaction Between South African and Other African Writers
Chris van Wyk, Riverlea's storyteller
The beautiful soul of Chris van Wyk, departed
The girl who found Europe
I am Coloured, but you’re stupid Renowned author Chris van Wyk’s response to Kuli Roberts