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Brutus, Dennis, 1924-2009

 Person

Dates

  • Existence: 1924-2009

Dennis Brutus, poet and South African expatriate, was born in Southern Rhodesia in November, 1924. Brutus was an activist, working for an end to racial segregation in sport. He was repeatedly arrested and imprisoned for his efforts, though he and his family eventually earned an exit visa from and moved to London in 1966. Brutus joined Northwestern University's faculty in 1971, and was granted political asylum in 1983. In 1986, Brutus joined the faculty of the University of Pittsburg. In addition to his teaching and political activism, Brutus published extensively and was known as the “poet laureate of South Africa”.

Parents Francis and Margaret were both South Africans teaching in Rhodesia when Brutus was born. Brutus spent the majority of his early years in Port Elizabeth, in South Africa's Eastern Cape Province, and as a young man he attended St. Augustine's Teacher Training College. In 1944, Brutus entered Fort Hare University, a black student university from which many prominent black South Africans graduated.

Brutus completed his degree, in Psychology and English, in 1947, and was awarded the Chancellor's Prize. He taught high school and worked in the Department of Social Welfare as a social worker for the so-called colored population. During this period Brutus became involved in non-racial sports associations. In 1961 Brutus was involved as an organizer of black and mixed race South Africans in the attempt to bring about a national convention of all racial groups. He was subsequently banned from political activity for five years, and was dismissed from his teaching position. He studied Law at the University of Witwatersrand in 1962 and 1960.

In 1968, the South African Non-Racial Olympic Committee (SAN-ROC) was formed, and Brutus was elected first President. In May of 1963 Brutus was arrested for contravention of his banning orders. In August of that year he escaped from South Africa. He was arrested by the Portuguese secret police in September 1963, and was returned to Johannesburg, shot in the back during an escape attempt, and imprisoned at Robben Island. Released and banned again in 1965, Brutus was granted an exit visa and left with his family for London the following year.

In London Brutus worked in sports campaigns and with Canon Collins at International Defense and Aid. In 1970, he was offered, and accepted, a visiting professorship at the University of Denver. In July of 1971, Brutus was arrested for sitting down on Center Court at Wimbledon to protest racism in sport. In 1971 he took a post at Northwestern University in the English Department, where he has since 1973 served as Professor. In 1983, after a prolonged conflict with the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service, Brutus was granted political asylum.

Professor Brutus, who has been called the “poet laureate of South Africa”*, has published extensively, and has nine collections of his poetry in print, including Letters to Martha, A Simple Lust, China Poems, and Stubborn Hope. His poetry has appeared in numerous magazines and journals. He is the recipient of a number of prizes, including the Freedom Writer's Award (1975) and the Kenneth David Kaunda Award for Humanism (1979), and is one of the founders of the African Literature Association. He is involved with a number of political organizations whose concerns include racism in sport and the United States divestment movement. He lectures widely.

Brutus' teaching career at Northwestern University spanned the years 1971 to 1985. After a visiting professorship at Swarthmore College (1985-86), Brutus went on to a professorship at the University of Pittsburgh, holding a joint appointment in the English and the Africana Studies departments. He also held the post of Distinguished Visiting Humanist at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Since 1985, Brutus received honorary degrees from Worcester State College (MA), University of Massachusetts-Amherst, and Northeastern University. He was awarded the Langston Hughes Medallion from City University of New York in 1986 and the Paul Robeson Award for Artistic Excellence, Political Consciousness, and Integrity in 1989. Publications since 1984 include Salutes and Censures (1984), Airs and Tributes (1988), and Still the Sirens (1993).

Found in 2 Collections and/or Records:

Dennis Brutus (1924-2009) Papers

 Collection
Identifier: 35/17
Abstract Dennis Brutus, poet and South African expatriate, was an activist, working for an end to racial segregation in sport. The Dennis Brutus Papers comprise correspondence, papers associated with specific organizations and events, and numerous drafts of poems, both handwritten and typed.

Dennis Brutus Defense Committee, Records of the

 Collection
Identifier: 026
Abstract Dennis Brutus was a South African anti-apartheid activist, poet, and educator. The Dennis Brutus Defense Committee was formed in response to efforts by the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service to deport him following the invalidation of his Rhodesian passport. When British Rhodesia became independent Zimbabwe, Brutus' passport was revoked. As a result, Brutus was technically rendered an illegal alien. The United States government began deportation proceedings against Brutus in...