The Most Famous

WRITERS from South Africa

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This page contains a list of the greatest South African Writers. The pantheon dataset contains 5,794 Writers, 19 of which were born in South Africa. This makes South Africa the birth place of the 50th most number of Writers behind Slovenia and Uruguay.

Top 10

The following people are considered by Pantheon to be the top 10 most legendary South African Writers of all time. This list of famous South African Writers is sorted by HPI (Historical Popularity Index), a metric that aggregates information on a biography’s online popularity. Visit the rankings page to view the entire list of South African Writers.

Photo of J. R. R. Tolkien

1. J. R. R. Tolkien (1892 - 1973)

With an HPI of 91.11, J. R. R. Tolkien is the most famous South African Writer.  His biography has been translated into 140 different languages on wikipedia.

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (; 3 January 1892 – 2 September 1973) was an English writer, poet, philologist, and academic, best known as the author of the high fantasy works The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. He served as the Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon and Fellow of Pembroke College, Oxford from 1925 to 1945 and the Merton Professor of English Language and Literature and Fellow of Merton College, Oxford from 1945 to 1959. He was a close friend of C. S. Lewis, a co-member of the informal literary discussion group The Inklings. Tolkien was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II on 28 March 1972. After Tolkien's death, his son Christopher published a series of works based on his father's extensive notes and unpublished manuscripts, including The Silmarillion. These, together with The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, form a connected body of tales, poems, fictional histories, invented languages, and literary essays about a fantasy world called Arda and, within it, Middle-earth. Between 1951 and 1955, Tolkien applied the term legendarium to the larger part of these writings. While many other authors had published works of fantasy before Tolkien, the great success of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings led directly to a popular resurgence of the genre. This has caused Tolkien to be popularly identified as the "father" of modern fantasy literature—or, more precisely, of high fantasy.

Photo of J. M. Coetzee

2. J. M. Coetzee (1940 - )

With an HPI of 76.83, J. M. Coetzee is the 2nd most famous South African Writer.  His biography has been translated into 90 different languages.

John Maxwell Coetzee (born 9 February 1940) is a South African-born novelist, essayist, linguist, translator and recipient of the 2003 Nobel Prize in Literature. He is one of the most critically acclaimed and decorated authors in the English language. He has won the Booker Prize (twice), the CNA Prize (thrice), the Jerusalem Prize, the Prix Femina étranger, and The Irish Times International Fiction Prize, and holds a number of other awards and honorary doctorates.Coetzee moved to Australia in 2002 and became an Australian citizen in 2006. He lives in Adelaide.

Photo of Nadine Gordimer

3. Nadine Gordimer (1923 - 2014)

With an HPI of 76.19, Nadine Gordimer is the 3rd most famous South African Writer.  Her biography has been translated into 97 different languages.

Nadine Gordimer (20 November 1923 – 13 July 2014) was a South African writer, political activist and recipient of the 1991 Nobel Prize in Literature. She was recognized as a writer "who through her magnificent epic writing has – in the words of Alfred Nobel – been of very great benefit to humanity".Gordimer's writing dealt with moral and racial issues, particularly apartheid in South Africa. Under that regime, works such as Burger's Daughter and July's People were banned. She was active in the anti-apartheid movement, joining the African National Congress during the days when the organization was banned, and gave Nelson Mandela advice on his famous 1964 defence speech at the trial which led to his conviction for life. She was also active in HIV/AIDS causes.

Photo of André Brink

4. André Brink (1935 - 2015)

With an HPI of 67.07, André Brink is the 4th most famous South African Writer.  His biography has been translated into 33 different languages.

André Philippus Brink, OIS (29 May 1935 – 6 February 2015) was a South African novelist, essayist and poet. He wrote in both Afrikaans and English and taught English at the University of Cape Town.In the 1960s Brink, Ingrid Jonker, Etienne Leroux and Breyten Breytenbach were key figures in the significant Afrikaans literary movement known as Die Sestigers ("The Sixty-ers"). These writers sought to use Afrikaans as a language to speak against the apartheid government, and also to bring into Afrikaans literature the influence of contemporary English and French trends. While Brink's early novels were especially concerned with apartheid, his later work engaged the new range of issues posed by life in a democratic South Africa.

Photo of Peter Abrahams

5. Peter Abrahams (1919 - 2017)

With an HPI of 66.55, Peter Abrahams is the 5th most famous South African Writer.  His biography has been translated into 39 different languages.

Peter Henry Abrahams Deras (3 March 1919 – 18 January 2017), commonly known as Peter Abrahams, was a South African-born novelist, journalist and political commentator who in 1956 settled in Jamaica, where he lived for the rest of his life. His death at the age of 97 is considered to have been murder.

Photo of Elsa Joubert

6. Elsa Joubert (1922 - 2020)

With an HPI of 63.26, Elsa Joubert is the 6th most famous South African Writer.  Her biography has been translated into 17 different languages.

Elsabé Antoinette Murray Joubert OIS (19 October 1922 – 14 June 2020) was a Sestigers Afrikaans-language writer. She rose to prominence with her novel Die swerfjare van Poppie Nongena, which was translated into 13 languages, as well as staged as a drama and filmed as Poppie Nongena.

Photo of Ronald Harwood

7. Ronald Harwood (1934 - 2020)

With an HPI of 61.77, Ronald Harwood is the 7th most famous South African Writer.  His biography has been translated into 20 different languages.

Sir Ronald Harwood (born Ronald Horwitz; 9 November 1934 – 8 September 2020) was a South African-born British author, playwright, and screenwriter, best known for his plays for the British stage as well as the screenplays for The Dresser (for which he was nominated for an Oscar) and The Pianist, for which he won the 2003 Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. He was nominated for the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007).

Photo of Laurens van der Post

8. Laurens van der Post (1906 - 1996)

With an HPI of 61.58, Laurens van der Post is the 8th most famous South African Writer.  His biography has been translated into 18 different languages.

Sir Laurens Jan van der Post, (13 December 1906 – 16 December 1996) was a 20th-century South African Afrikaner author, farmer, soldier, political adviser to British heads of government, close friend of Prince Charles, godfather of Prince William, educator, journalist, humanitarian, philosopher, explorer and conservationist.

Photo of Breyten Breytenbach

9. Breyten Breytenbach (1939 - )

With an HPI of 60.72, Breyten Breytenbach is the 9th most famous South African Writer.  His biography has been translated into 23 different languages.

Breyten Breytenbach (; born 16 September 1939) is a South African writer and painter known for his opposition to apartheid, and consequent imprisonment by the South African government. He is informally considered as the national poet laureate by Afrikaans-speaking South Africans of the region. He also holds French citizenship.

Photo of Alan Paton

10. Alan Paton (1903 - 1988)

With an HPI of 59.98, Alan Paton is the 10th most famous South African Writer.  His biography has been translated into 30 different languages.

Alan Stewart Paton (11 January 1903 – 12 April 1988) was a South African author and anti-apartheid activist. His works include the novels Cry, the Beloved Country and Too Late the Phalarope.

Pantheon has 19 people classified as writers born between 1892 and 1976. Of these 19, 6 (31.58%) of them are still alive today. The most famous living writers include J. M. Coetzee, Breyten Breytenbach, and Deon Meyer. The most famous deceased writers include J. R. R. Tolkien, Nadine Gordimer, and André Brink. As of October 2020, 7 new writers have been added to Pantheon including Elsa Joubert, Ingrid Jonker, and Elisabeth Eybers.

Living Writers

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Deceased Writers

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Newly Added Writers (2020)

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Which Writers were alive at the same time? This visualization shows the lifespans of the 13 most globally memorable Writers since 1700.