Born in Chesterville a black township in Durban in 1936, Lewis Nkosi came from a working class female-headed family and became one of a group of writers from the Cato Manor area. He was educated in various local schools most notably an English medium mission school in Eshowe. After his first job as a labourer, Nkosi became a junior reporter on Ilanga lase Natal newspaper under the influential Dhlomo brothers. He soon moved to Johannesburg to work on Drum Magazine in 1956 which though his time there was short he provided an intensely formative experience working in the company of Can Themba, Nat Nakasa and Bloke Modisane. Nkosi was awarded a Nieman Fellowship to Harvard in 1961.
He was only granted a one-way exit for this Fellowship and was denied entry to his native land. From America he went to London in 1964 becoming literary editor of New African Magazine from 1965 to 1968. He was granted British citizenship and took an MA Degree in English Literature at the University of Sussex in 1976. Interrupting his doctoral studies to take up a lecturing position he then embarked on the academic career of Professor of Literature holding positions at the Universities of Zambia, Warsaw, Wyoming and California (Irvine), among others. He now lives in Basel, Switzerland and is a speaker at international conferences valued as an astute critic of South African letters and politics.
His first return to South Africa since his exile was in 1991 to attend the New Nation Conference and later received his South African passport in 2003. He is now a regular visitor to his home country maintaining, “People of the diaspora have always had to know the road home…otherwise how will they know where they come from (their roots)?”
Though his name was almost unheard in South Africa during apartheid his profile in recent years has been raised with the publication of two novels, Underground People in 2002 and Mandela’s Ego in 2006 and the re-release in 2004 of Mating Birds originally published in 1983.