Over the past year or so, as both an intern and now as editorial assistant for TCG Books, I’ve had the unique opportunity to become intimately acquainted with the now published Train Driver and Other Plays, a collection by Athol Fugard which includes The Train Driver, Coming Home and Have You Seen Us?. The characters and themes of these plays are so deeply rooted in the rich cultural history of the playwright’s native country, South Africa, and all the pictures are painted with such a visceral, sensorial honesty—you can’t help but sense some level of the author’s personal connection to the stories. It’s impossible not to want to ask that question every playwright hates, myself included: Where are you in this, Mr. Fugard?
Luckily, for curious readers such as myself, this publication concludes with excerpts from Mr. Fugard’s personal journals, “Pages from a Notebook.” These first-hand accounts from the artist on life, theatre and writing ease some of the mystery as to where our playwright is in his stories. He eloquently details how he received his initial spark of interest for many of his works—for both those included in this volume, and others. Train Driver, in particular, came about after a sort of obsession with a newspaper article about a women committing suicide by standing in front of a train with her three young children:
I read the story in the internet edition of the Mail&Guardian. I have now copied it out, word for word by hand, into this notebook. I did that because I feel the need to possess it at a very personal level, to make it a part of my life. (…) That, of course, is what a writer is always looking for—a strong story with an unhappy ending.
(…) The morning session at my table had started off with another close reading of the newspaper story. I took up each sentence and looked at it as carefully as I do the beautiful, wave-polished pebbles I pick up on my beach walks. And, just as I do them, I held on to each sentence for a few seconds, turning it over and over, as to examine it still more carefully before putting it back in its place on the page and moving on.
Mr. Fugard’s commitment to taking stories that do not originate in his own life and adopting them as a part of his personal life is obvious throughout this collection. Not only does the publication provide three plays—all very different in story while similar in spirit—but also an engaging account of Mr. Fugard’s individual musings, struggles and inspirations on his life and work as a theatre artist.
Order your copy today from the TCG Bookstore here.
Emma Jeszke is the Editorial Assistant for TCG Books. Emma is a playwright, and the author of the plays Manic Pixie Dream Girl (University of Michigan) and Working in Restaurants (Renegade Theatre Festival, Dexter Community Players). Emma holds an honorary degree from the Moscow Art Theatre School for an intensive study abroad in the summer of 2011. Emma is a recent graduate of the University of Michigan where she received a Bachelor of Theatre Arts, and studied playwriting under Oyamo.