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Breyten Breytenbach was born on September 16, 1939, in Bonnievale, South Africa. He studied at the University of Cape Town but left to travel Europe at age 20, settling in Paris in 1961.
In 1964, Breytenbach published his first poetry collection, Die ysterkoei moet sweet, in Afrikaans. He went on to publish over a dozen books of poetry in Afrikaans and English, including Windcatcher: New and Selected Poems, 1964–2006 (Harcourt, 2007), Lady One: Of Love and Other Poems (Harcourt, 2002), In Africa Even the Flies are Happy: Selected Poems, 1964–1977 (J. Calder, 1978).
A human rights activist, Breytenbach established an apartheid resistance group and was held as a political prisoner in South Africa for seven years. He is the author of several works of nonfiction, including a four-volume cycle chronicling his experiences in South Africa.
In The New York Review of Books, J. M. Coetzee writes, “An immensely gifted writer, able to descend effortlessly into the Africa of the poetic unconscious and return with the rhythm and the words, the words in the rhythm, that give life.”
Breytenbach has received numerous honors and awards, including the Ansfield-Wolf Book Award, the Allen Paton Award for Literature, and the Mahmoud Darwish Award for Creativity. He has taught at the University of Natal, Princeton University, and New York University. He lives in Paris and New York.