Reflecting on the life and work of André Brink

04 March 2015 | Story by Newsroom
The late author and academic, André P Brink.
The late author and academic, André P Brink.

Past and present members of UCT's Department of English remember a writer, a friend, a colleague, a teacher, and a source of inspiration – the late André P Brink.

Meg Samuelson, head of the Department of English at UCT

"In addition to his extraordinary achievements on the national and world literary stage, André P Brink – Professor Brink, as he was to me – had a deep and enduring impact in the Department of English at UCT where he was professor between 1990 and 2000 and thereafter honorary professor. We are naturally extremely proud of our association with one of South Africa's literary giants, but what really stands out in the tributes that have poured in from past colleagues and students is the vividness and warmth of their memories of André Brink the colleague, the teacher, the supervisor and the human being."

Lesley Marx, associate professor in film and media studies and former head of the Department of English at UCT

"When André Brink came from Rhodes University to take up a professorship in the English Department at UCT in 1990 there was a considerable buzz – by this stage his stature as a courageous and prolific author of novels of political protest had established his authority as a voice against oppression. Once established in his new department, André quickly made his presence felt as a warm, friendly, charming and engaged colleague. The range of his reading in fiction, literary theory, history and philosophy was breathtaking and contributed enormously to the teaching and intellectual life of the department. He and John Coetzee made a remarkable team, collaborating both as scholars and teachers and bringing a thrilling energy to the culture of UCT. Heady days, indeed."

John Coetzee, emeritus professor of English at UCT and Nobel Laureate

"André and I first collaborated in the 1970s, when we jointly put together an anthology of South African writing of the time. Later, when we were both members of the English department at UCT, we taught together in master's level courses. It was always a pleasure to work with André: he was swift, decisive, efficient, and was able to draw on the widest possible knowledge of literature and the world."

John Higgins, Arderne professor of English at UCT

"I first met André when he came to interview for his post in the department. What was immediately striking was his humility, and his complete love of, and absorption in, Literature. I put the capital 'L' because Literature was André's life. A man of prodigious Balzacian energy, he contributed an enormous amount to Literature in every dimension: writing, translation, criticism and polemic. Yet he did this always in the most unassuming and gentle way, and that made him a wonderful colleague and teacher and a person who will be missed."

Dorothy Driver, emeritus professor of English at UCT, and professor of English at the University of Adelaide

"As a colleague, André Brink was exemplary: quick to accept requests to deliver lectures, generous with academic advice, uncomplaining about administrative duties, never giving the impression that he was special and demanded special treatment, engaged and courteous at all times. I attended his lectures from time to time, and never failed to be struck by them: the extraordinary critical intelligence tempered by accessibility, the combined ease and expertise of delivery. His students were as attentive and absorbed as I was."

Geoffrey Haresnape, emeritus professor of English at UCT

"I remember André Brink as a soft-spoken and cooperative colleague in a highly competitive departmental environment. He carried his great reputation as a novelist in an unassuming way and was always ready to lecture on a variety of literary topics. Students found his lectures inspiring and accessible."

Gail Fincham, emeritus professor of English at UCT

"I first got to know André Brink when JM Coetzee was initiating a new master's programme in literary studies. But my most vivid memories of him are not academic at all. We were both at this time parents of preschool children at the UCT Educare Centre, where André frequently delivered or fetched Olga, then 3 or 4 years old, the daughter of an employee. Meeting in the parking lot or playground we talked not about his over 60 books or his shortlistings for literary prizes or his membership of the Sestigers or his UCT teaching, but about the pine trees and squirrels and walks on the slopes of the mountain which the children and their teachers loved. So I knew a side of André's personality that was warm, informal, and homely and which few of his colleagues saw."

Mary Watson, UCT graduate and winner of the Caine Prize for African Writing

"When I think of André, I think of lemon meringue and sunshine, while we talked about stories in garden cafés. I think of someone who was quite magnificent, yet at the same time a comforting and comfortable presence. Who had a good sense of fun and an enormous generosity of spirit. He had an absolute commitment to beauty through art and I think that it was this that fuelled him. When I first met André, I thought he was a great man because of what he had achieved in his writing and teaching. As we became friends, I realised that he was a great man because of the small, everyday details about him."

Kristine Kelly, UCT graduate and lecturer in English at Case Western Reserve University

"I remember Andréas a very kind and enthusiastic presence in the MA lit studies seminar room. I particularly recall his enthusiasm for the avant-garde and his excitement when he thought I 'got' Robbe-Grillet. Whenever I speak of The Voyeur, the false promise of its title and its missing centre (which is surprisingly often), I think also of André, and I appreciate the influence his support has had on my own career as a teacher and scholar."

Colette Guldimann, UCT graduate and lecturer in English at Notre Dame University, Lebanon

"I have a vivid recollection of my first encounter with André in 1898. He was giving a lecture and it was not what I was expecting, at all. I was surprised by the Afrikaans accent, his casual appearance, informal manner, the lack of dramatically punctuated prose that characterised some of his peers. Yet to this day I remember what he was talking about because the result is still in my bookshelf and, more significantly, my life: the book was The Empire Writes Back, a pioneering work on postcolonial theory, but it was André's infectious enthusiasm for the subject that inspired me to buy it, and read it, immediately after the lecture. I had many further encounters with André in the MA course he taught alongside JM Coetzee, but that first impression of him as someone who loved literature, loved reading, loved talking about it, loved sharing it, and inspiring that quality in others, is what remains. That first lecture contributed to changing the direction of my studies, my reading of literature, my thinking, my life. Thank you, André, for that gigantic contribution."

Emma van der Vliet, UCT Graduate and winner of the UCT Meritorious Book Award

"Once upon a time, when André was my supervisor, I had to give him the pages of my sex scene. I dropped the manuscript into his pigeonhole and fled, red-faced. Because he was astoundingly diligent, I didn't have to wait long for a response. He professed himself delighted with my efforts, and singled out that scene for special mention when he generously wrote a shout for my novel some years later. André, I discovered, had a ticklish and wicked sense of humour. He loved a little soupcon of rudity, and savoured such offerings. How gratifying! I miss that already."

Helen Moffett, UCT graduate and author

"There is a great Afrikaans word that describes André: 'hoflik'. It translates somewhere between 'gallant' and 'courteous', and that is the André I remember as a colleague, friend and host. As a senior member of the English department, he attended a far-from-expert lecture on postcolonial literary theory I gave at winter school on the night of a massive storm – and, with typical humility, took notes. My students raved about his lecturing skills – I'll always remember one innocent proclaiming 'Middlemarch is such a boring book, and he actually makes it interesting'. But my fondest memory is of him sitting in his cold study in the darkness, courtesy of Eskom shedding a load, while Karina, his wife, and I relaxed in front of their fireplace – because he didn't want to 'intrude' on our heart-to-heart conversation. When he did finally join us, he was even more sympathetic to my romantic dilemmas than Karina! I'll always remember his exquisite manners, impassioned teaching, his loving and brave heart. Rest well, you magnificent man."

Photo by Seamus Kearney.

Read more:

Literary giant remembered

Marking the passing of André P Brink

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