But in Black America it was the time of the Civil Rights Movement and on the African continent, it was a time for struggle against colonisation and apartheid.
It was during this period that William “Bloke” Modisane joined Drum magazine as a journalist.
He grew up in Sophiatown, a multiracial suburb in Johannesburg and became one of “the Drum Boys” in the 1950s, along with Henry Nxumalo, Can Themba, Es’kia Mphahlele and Lewis Nkosi.
Bloke and His American Bantu, which runs till 24 July 2022 at the South African State Theatre, relives the camaraderie that developed between Bloke Modisane and Langston Hughes.
The two-hander explores a simple friendship that led to international solidarity and cultural exchange between South Africa and Black America. The two writers are believed to have exchanged well over 50 letters.
The character of Bloke Modisane is channelled by rising star Anele Nene, who hails from Durban.
Here are five fun facts to know about the young actor and the play written by Dr Siphiwo Mahala and directed by Sello Maake kaNcube.
1. Bloke And His American Bantu is set in the 1960s, when Modisane was exiled in London, and Hughes through his contacts in the US, organised a lecture series for him in various states across the US. This play traces the intellectual discourse that transpired between the two.
2. The 25-year-old Anele, who hails from Durban, studied Performing Arts and Production.
3. The young thespian won the Ovation Award at the 2020 National Arts Festival for his one man show ‘The Hymns of a Sparrow’.
4. Langston Hughes (February 1, 1901– May 22, 1967), the poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist from Joplin, Missouri, is portrayed by Josias Dos Moleele.
5. Moleele has appeared in two international movies – ‘Invictus’ directed by Clint Eastwood and a BBC television series ‘Strike Back’.
Modisane, who was also the jazz critic at Drum’s sister publication, the weekly tabloid Golden City Post, later found an outlet in acting. Becoming frustrated by the political situation and oppression under the apartheid regime, Modisane moved in 1959 to England, where in 1963 his autobiography, Blame Me on History, was published.
Bloke And His American Bantu will run till 24 July 2022 with performances from Tuesdays to Sundays weekly. Tickets are R130 on Webtickets.