- Category: PA 2011
The highly-acclaimed Dr Mbuyiseni Oswald Mtshali was born in Vryheid, Northern KwaZulu-Natal in 1940. He holds degrees from the New School University, School of the Arts, Columbia University and Teachers College of Columbia University.
After being rejected by the University of Witwatersrand, Mtshali took up menial jobs in Johannesburg, working as a dishwasher, tea boy, messenger and chauffeur, before he became a poet.
His successful first book, Sounds of a Cowhide Drum (1971), explores the banality and extremity of apartheid through the eyes of working men in South Africa. One of the first books by a black South African poet to be widely distributed, Sounds of a Cowhide Drum sparked much debate amongst the white population of the day. This was followed by the more militant collection of poems, Fireflames(1981), an epic poem, The Black Trinity from African Divinity (1997), a musical play based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Thando and Lerato (2008) and a three-act play titled Hang John Matshikiza (2009).
Mtshali has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the Southern Africa English Academy Poetry Award in 1971, the London Poetry International Award in 1973 and the South African Lifetime Achievement Literary Award (SALA) from the Department of Arts and Culture in 2007.
Mtshali taught at the New York City College of Technology, but one of his greatest achievements is being founder and deputy headmaster of Pace Community College in Jabulani, Soweto.
Articulating the profundity and importance of Mtshali’s poetry, writer and researcher Michael Chapman states: “[Mtshali’s] poetry has been instrumental…in prompting serious, often uncomfortable re-examination by writers and critics alike on the function of, and the appropriate responses to, literature in a racially turbulent society.”