Agnes Sam was born in South Africa in 1942. She left the country in 1960 when the South African government introduced the Separate Education Bill – legislation designed to further enforce racial segregation under the apartheid regime. She continued her studies in Lesotho and Zimbabwe, where upon graduating, was recruited by the United Nations to work in Zambia during its transfer to independence. There she began writing children’s fiction for the Sunday Times of Zambia under the pen name ‘Dominique’ before emigrating to England in 1973.
After reading English at the University of York, she began writing an experimental novel entitled ‘What Passing Bells?’. This was followed by a series of short stories that were first published in the commonwealth journal ‘Kunapipi’ in Denmark and subsequently collected under the title ‘Jesus is Indian and other South African Stories’ and published by The Women’s Press (1989) and Heinemann (1994).
Agnes Sam has also written several radio plays, two of which were commissioned and broadcast by BBC Radio 4, the UK’s leading national radio network – ‘Dora’ (BBC R4, 1991) and ‘The Tyranny of Karma’ (BBC R4, 1994). Both have since been syndicated internationally and re-broadcast on other European radio networks including Belgium and the Republic of Ireland.
Throughout her career, she has contributed to numerous anthologies published in England, Germany, Denmark and South Africa including ‘Charting the Journey’ (Sheba, London 1986), ‘The Story Must Be Told’ (Stummer et al, Germany 1986), ‘Let it Be Told’ (Virago Press, London 1988) and ‘The Penguin Book of South African Short Stories’ (Penguin Books, Johannesburg 1994) amongst others.
A complete list of all Agnes Sam’s work can be found in the Bibliography section of this site.
Culture, tradition and religion, and how they combine to shape peoples lives and relationships, are important themes that influence much of Agnes Sam’s writing, and she continues to explore this in her latest novel ‘The Pragashini-Smuts Affair’. Her writing and research is informed by extensive travel throughout South Africa, including time spent working in one of the country’s Provincial Legislatures, where she became heavily involved in South Africa’s emerging trade union movement, and had the privilege of meeting the former President Nelson Mandela, ex- Robben Islander Govan Mbeki (father of Mandela’s successor) and Archbishop Desmond Tutu amongst others.
In researching her family history, she undertook a comprehensive study of the genealogy of South Africa’s Indian population, and the practice of indentured labour, and aspects of this can be found in her celebrated collection of short stories ‘Jesus is Indian’. She also has a long-standing interest in African literature and follows the works of British Black & Asian writers.
Agnes Sam lives in York.