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South Africa: Man of Letters Stephen Gray Dies At 78

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Stephen Gray’s literary legacy comprises novels, short stories, biography, poetry and journalism, written with incisiveness and wit.

Stephen Gray, the South African novelist, poet, biographer, literary scholar, editor, critic and academic, died in Johannesburg on Thursday 22 October after a short illness. He was 78.

Born in Cape Town on 30 November 1941, Stephen Richard Gray was to become a protean literary talent, writing in every genre, acknowledged as the expert on Herman Charles Bosman, acclaimed as a biographer, renowned as an editor of classic South African literature and respected as a critic and university teacher.

Schooled at St Andrew’s College in then Grahamstown (now Makhanda), Gray went on to the universities of Cape Town, Cambridge and Iowa. His long career teaching English literature ended in 1992 when he retired as a professor of English at what was then Rand Afrikaans University, now the University of Johannesburg.

Gray combined an academic career with that of a prolific writer, publishing six novels and a collection of short stories, beginning with Local Colour in 1975 and ending with My Serial Killer and other Short Stories in 2005. His first volume of poetry, It’s About Time, was published in 1974 by David Philip, which also published his Selected Poems 1960-92 (1994).

As a biographer, his Beatrice Hastings: A Literary Life was one of the best books of 2004, followed the next year – the centenary of Bosman’s birth – by Life Sentence: A Biography of Herman Charles Bosman. Gray edited an illuminating collection of intimate recollections, Remembering Bosman, published by Penguin in 2008.