Born on January 11, 1903, in Pietermaritzburg, Natal, South Africa, Alan Paton evolved as an eloquent spokesman against apartheid and a great humanitarian. In 1935, after completing a series of educational programs at the University of Natal and teaching in the country school of Ixopo, Paton was appointed principal of the Diepkloof Reformatory school in the Transvaal Province, near the city of Johannesburg. Paton’s novel approach (involving freedom of movement, reward, and punishment) proved so successful in the rehabilitation of black juvenile delinquents that in his twelve years as head, the Diepkloof Reformatory was transformed into a model school and Paton became known as an authority on rehabilitation efforts.
After World War II, in 1945, Paton had the opportunity to travel abroad to study the systems and methods of similar correctional facilities in Sweden, Norway, England, the United States, and Canada.
While in Sweden, Paton read John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, which rekindled his interest in creative writing. Paton had been confined to his hotel room because of an illness and had the opportunity to reflect upon his professional and private life back home in South Africa. Upon regaining his health Paton visited the Cathedral of Trondheim where, he says, “the creative energy that had dammed up in me broke.” Paton began writing Cry, the Beloved Country in Sweden and continued writing throughout his trip. The book was published in 1948. In October 1949 Paton returned to the U.S. to view the musical version of Cry, the Beloved Country, by Maxwell Anderson, entitled Lost in the Stars.
In 1954, for his humanitarian work, Yale University awarded Paton the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters. In 1959 Paton received the Ainsfield-Wolf Award (U.S.) and the London Times Special Book Award for Cry, the Beloved Country. In 1960 he received the Freedom Award from Freedom House, New York. Tales from a Troubled Land received an award from the Free Academy of Art, Hamburg, in 1961. Paton was a Chubb Fellow at Yale University in 1973 and received the Pringle Award in the same year. Paton died of throat cancer on April 12, 1988, in Botha’s Hill, Natal, South Africa.