A native of nowhere: the life of South African journalist Nat Nakasa, 1937-1965
Brown, Ryan Lenora
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This article examines the life and work of South African journalist Nat Nakasa (1937-1965), a writer for the popular news magazine Drum, the first black columnist for the Johannesburg newspaper the Rand Daily Mail, and the founding editor of the African literary journal The Classic. He has long lurked on the fringes of South African historiography, never playing more than a bit part in studies of early apartheid-era journalism, literature and intellectual culture. Indeed, the specifics of his life have been overshadowed in both popular memory and academic study by the potent symbolism of his death, frequently evoked as a marker of the destruction wrought on black intellectuals by National Party rule. Nakasa committed suicide in exile in the United States at the age of only 28. Drawing on interviews, newspapers and magazines, memoirs, government surveillance documents, and personal papers, this article aims to fill in but also to complicate this legacy. In a broader sense, it also seeks to show how biographical narrative can be employed to cut across time periods, movements, perspectives, and geography, providing an important reminder that every history is peopled by the sprawled and frequently contradictory lives of individuals.