Elana Bregin was born in Johannesburg but has lived most of her life in Durban. She holds a BA degree from the University of the Witwatersrand and an MA in English cum laude from the then University of Natal. Her eclectic career path has included stints as a Cecchetti ballet teacher, ad hoc dancer with NAPAC Ballet Company, Kelly Girl office assistant, academic tutor, freelance copywriter and longstanding book editor with UKZN Press.
Bregin first came to attention for her award-winning Young Africa titles such as The Red-haired Khumalo (MML 1994), The Boy From the Other Side (MML 1992) and The Kayaboeties (MML 1989) which addressed racial dynamics in a changing society and have retained an enduring popularity with teachers and learners in South African classrooms.
Her work has sometimes attracted controversy for its tendency to write across rather than within categories and its frank tackling of sensitive issues. The Slayer of Shadows (Bodley Head UK 1994 and Gecko Books SA 1996), a fantasy-realist work set in the turbulent days of 1990s internecine violence, won the English Academy Percy Fitzpatrick Prize in 2000 but caused consternation among Cornwall school librarians for its dark depictions of ‘Mandela’s South Africa’.
The Bushmen and their ‘difference’ formed the focus of her MA dissertation, which looked at Bushman representation as ‘subhuman other’ in colonial times and ‘mythic fossil’ in contemporary times, and the way in which this facilitated their genocide, continuing displacement and dysfunction. This study led ultimately to the writing of Kalahari RainSong, co-authored with Kalahari dweller, Belinda Kruiper. Based on Belinda’s life among the Kruiper community of the Northern Cape Kalahari region, it tracks the survival and spiritual battles that continue to beleaguer this traumatised community.
‘Ella’s Dunes’ (in Memories of Sun, Greenwillow USA), a fictionalised story about friendship between two troubled children, one from a Bushman community, returns once more to this theme of difference and its cost in a world that has no place for it.
Bregin’s body of work reflects a diversity of styles and genres, from children’s and young adult novels to adult fiction, narrative non-fiction and speculative fiction. Her prize-winning futuristic story ‘They’ is set in an animal-testing facility and examines the ethical underpinnings of human use and abuse of other species, and the way this challenges our notion of ourselves as evolved, superior and intrinsically humane beings.
Shiva’s Dance (Jacana Media 2009), set amidst the multi-cultural richness of Durban, charts a troubled teenager’s journey through self-destruction to self-awareness, drawing on Buddhist and Hindu spiritual wisdoms in its quest for solutions.
Bregin’s most recent novel, Survival Training for Lonely Hearts (Pan MacMillan 2012), returns to the dilemma of writing the ordinary in a context that is extraordinary, while still delivering a page-turning story. This time using ‘smart romance’ as a vehicle for self and social examination, it looks at the search for love and connection in a damaged and divided society, and the way this is complicated by the entanglements of collective history and personal adversity.
Extract from Survival Training for Lonely Hearts
To the estemed Sirs and Madems
I am young man of 22 who dreems to be writer. I greatly beg your ilustrus selvs to Asssit by corecting atached story. How much do you charge for Publihs?
Mr Happiness Bhilitane
The attached story was written on pages torn from a school exercise book, in leaking ballpoint pen. The pages carried the faint smell of wood smoke, and something spicier: mphepho, the sacred sage burnt in traditional offering to the ancestors who helped bring dreams to fruition. The postmark said Dutywa, a small town in a remote and impoverished region in the Eastern Cape.
Kate’s eyes scanned the first page. The title was ‘Your Hart Is Like Fish In River’ and it was the story of a young man from a poor household trying to win the hand of his beloved despite no money for lobola. It was clearly autobiographical to some degree and not without its charm, brought to life as much through it lapses as its words. Kate had never been to Dutywa or any of its far-flung neighbours, but she felt she knew them, from the stories that came out of them. The writers, in their imperfect English, evoked all too vividly the landscapes of dusty poverty, the hardships of life in a region of zero job prospects and minimal resources, where often the only reading matter came in the form of newspaper sheets that the shopkeeper wrapped bread in. It was always incredible to her that even in the midst of such unconducive literary deserts, the creative impulse could bloom.
2012. Survival Training for Lonely Hearts. Johannesburg: Pan MacMillan.
2009. Shiva’s Dance. Johannesburg: Jacana Media.
2004. Kalahari RainSong (co-written with Belinda Kruiper). Pietermaritzburg: UKZN Press.
1997. A School for Amos. London: Reed Books.
1995/1996. The Slayer of Shadows. London: The Bodley Head and Durban: Gecko Books.
1995. Bert the Crusher. Cape Town: Human & Rousseau.
(Afrikaans: Bert Plettertrap)
1994. The Red-haired Khumalo. Cape Town: Maskew Miller Longman.
1994. The Boy from the Other Side. Cape Town: Maskew Miller Longman.
1990. The Magical Bicycle. London: Heinemann.
(German: Das Magische Fahrrad. Berlin: Altberliner.)
1989. The Kayaboeties. Cape Town: Maskew Miller Longman.
1989. Warrior of Wilderness. Cape Town: Maskew Miller Longman.
(Afrikaans: Bewaker van die Wildernis)
2012. ‘Missing Mama Afrika’. In Africa Inside Out: Stories Tales and Testimonies. Pietermaritzburg: UKZN Press.
2008. ‘That’s Durban’. In Durban in a Word. Johannesburg: Penguin Books.
2006 ‘They’. In Probe131. Johannesburg: Science Fiction (and Fantasy) South Africa and http://winningwriters.com/contests/tomstory/2007/ts07_bregin.php#.Uicnj9JaX-U
2002. ‘Ella’s Dunes’. In Memories of Sun: Stories of Africa and America. USA: Greenwillow Books/Harper Collins.
1999. ‘Now We Are Free’. In Dare To Be Different. United Kingdom: Bloomsbury/ Amnesty International.
1996. ‘Postcard from Planet Earth. In Keys. Cape Town: Maskew Miller Longman.
1993. ‘The Devil of Warg’. In Fantastic Space Stories. London: Doubleday.