Athol Fugard gave a stand-out performance as the 2012 Morgan Writer-in-Residence. During his weeklong March visit to Carolina, Fugard met with students and faculty in several venues and generously participated in events focusing upon his work and his craft. On March 21, he delivered a public talk, “Milestones of a Literary Journey,” in the Paul Green Theatre in the Center for Dramatic Art. As Creative Writing faculty member Bland Simpson, who introduced him that evening, observed, the talk was “a stunning display of brilliance, wit, and stagecraft, start to finish. No one who was there that night will ever forget it.”
Fugard provided an impressive captstone for the illustrious twenty-year Morgan Writer-in-Residence Program. The South African writer, director, actor, and film-maker brought his personal and artistic energies to ignite a week celebrating his major contributions to world theatre. And our Carolina literary community responded with enthusiasm to this remarkable man.
Fugard’s visit provided an excellent opportunity for the Morgan Writer-in-Residence Program and Department of English and Comparative Literature to partner with the Department of Dramatic Art and PlayMakers Repetory Company to expand the impact of Fugard’s presence on campus and in the community. Audiences enjoyed two readings of Fugard’s plays in the Center for Dramatic Art during the week. Kathryn Hunter-Williams, Department of Dramatic Art faculty member, directed the reading of My Children! My Africa!(1989), and Joseph Megel, Communications Studies faculty member, directed The Train Driver (2010). Fugard joined the actors and directors for a Q&A session with the audience following the second play.
In other events, Fugard participated in a thought-provoking panel hosted by Institute for Arts and Humanities, “The Theater Today,” along with Joseph Haj, Artistic Director of PlayMakers Repertory Company and Ed Strong of Dodger Theatricals, producer of the Broadway hit musical Jersey Boys. The Morgan Program hosted a screening of Tsotsi, a film based upon Fugard’s novel by the same name. Randall Kenan, Creative Writing faculty member, introduced the film, and afterwards Fugard shared background information about the movie and answered audience questions. Concurrent with Morgan Week, a local theatre company, Street Signs, staged a production of Fugard’s earliest play, The Bloodknot (1961), directed by Joseph Megel and running at the The ArtsCenter in Carrboro.
Fugard had considerable direct engagement with our students. He met twice with Bland Simpson’s playwriting class and Karen O’Brien’s drama class to explore his short play The Coat. He also spent a class session with Randall Kenan’s Honors Fiction students. Fugard’s generosity in investing himself in these student and community-centered events was essential to the success of the week—and gave our students an exceptional opportunity to talk with one of the most prominent and respected writers in theatre today.
In addition to the novel and plays already mentioned, Fugard wrote “’Master Harold’ . . . and the Boys (1982) and The Road to Mecca (1887), which enjoyed a successful revival on Broadway last year. Faculty member Pamela Cooper, herself a native of South Africa, observes that for Fugard, “struggle and endurance in the harsh physical and political landscapes of South Africa have shaped a celebrated body of work spanning the years of the apartheid regime, the watershed 1994 elections, and the democratic South Africa of today.” She summarizes,
“Fugard has striven passionately to depict the lives of the disenfranchised, the overlooked, and the voiceless.” That passion was evident to our students as they met Fugard and studied his work.
Our department and the Morgan Writer-in-Residence Program are grateful to the Department of Dramatic Art and PlayMakers Repetory Company for their generous collaboration. And our appreciation to Musette and Allen Morgan for their gracious sponsorship of the Morgan Writer-in-Residence Program is without end. Their gift has enriched our Carolina literary community beyond any measure. We are grateful.