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Goucher Presents South African Writer Glen Retief

Release date: October 11, 2011

The South African writer Glen Retief will discuss his new book, The Jack Bank: A Memoir Of A South African Childhood, on Tuesday, October 11, at 5 p.m. in Goucher College's Geen Community Center.

His talk is free and open to the public. For more information, contact Kathy Flann, assistant professor of English, at kathy.flann@goucher.edu.

Retief, who is an assistant professor of English and creative writing at Susquehanna University, grew up in the Kruger National Park, South Africa, during the apartheid era. From 1988 to 1992 he studied English at the University of Cape Town, where he became involved in the anti-apartheid struggle as well as the lesbian and gay movement. He was part of a small core group of activists responsible for lobbying Nelson Mandela's African National Congress to include non-discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in the South African Bill of Rights. In early 1994, he emigrated to the United States.

His first book, The Jack Bank, is a literary memoir about his coming of age as a gay white South African at the end of apartheid in the late 1970s to early 1990s. It explores not only issues of race and sexuality, but also abuse, violence, and retribution. 

The title of the book comes from dormitory life at the government military-style boarding school to which Retief was sent, where an older student charged with supervising younger boys invented the Jack Bank—where "jacks," or beatings, could be "deposited" to escape the next cruelty session. Retief explores the Jack Bank as a metaphor both for the way apartheid worked—young white boys were dehumanized, so they would turn into vicious oppressors—and as a window into the human condition, whereby violence frequently can spawn further violence.

Retief occasionally publishes newspaper columns and op-ed pieces in publications such as The Pittsburgh Courier-Post, The Harrisburg Patriot-News, and the U.S. online magazine InsideHigherEd.com.

His essays and short stories have appeared in numerous publications and journals, including Virginia Quarterly Review; Puerto del Sol, Fugue; The Massachusetts Review; The Greensboro Review; New Contrast, South Africa's premier literary magazine; and Tribute, the South African equivalent to Ebony or Essence.

Retief's personal essay "The Chameleon's Home Country" won the AWP Intro Journal Award for Creative Nonfiction. He has also held numerous fellowships and awards, including a James Michener Writing Fellowship and the Florida State University Fellowship, that university's most prestigious award for graduate students.

His essay, "Keeping Sodom Out of the Laager" appeared in the first-ever anthology of South African lesbian and gay writing, titled Defiant Desire, and has become a frequently cited text in studies of apartheid history.

This event is made possible by the Kratz Center for Creative Writing and by the Isabelle Kellogg Thomas Lectures on English Fund.