Worcester State University
The Dennis Brutus Collection

  D Brutus

     The collection consists of a range of primary documents donated by
Dr. Brutus, including manuscripts, letters relating to many public and personal topics, texts of speeches, travel documentation, and photographs. These materials are now available for access by scholars, students, and independent researchers from outside Worcester State.


Dennis Brutus, 1924-2009
In November, 1924, two South African school teachers working in Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia, became the parents of a baby boy. That child would later become one of the best English-language poets to come out of South Africa. He would also become a thorn in the side of the South African government through his work against apartheid and sports segregation. That child, Dennis Brutus, grew up in South Africa. Of mixed-race ancestry, he was branded as “Coloured” with few human rights and an overwhelming sense of fair play. He became a teacher, like his parents, after attending St. Augustine Teacher Training College and later Fort Hare University, where he completed a degree in Psychology and English in 1947. Along with his teaching, Brutus was becoming politically active. He switched careers to journalism, and began to take part in anti-apartheid protests. His focus became racial segregation in sports, and in 1959 he became associated with the South African Sports Association, serving as secretary for the group. By 1963, Brutus was serving as president of the South African Non-Racial Olympic Committee (SANROC), a group that worked to have the country banned from the 1964 and 1968 Olympics for not integrating its sports teams. This activity led to Dennis Brutus’ first arrest by the South African government. He was forbidden by the government from attending gatherings of over two people, from working in teaching or journalism, and from publishing his poetry. He broke his probation by attending a meeting of the white South African Olympic and National Games Association in 1963 and was arrested. On bail, Brutus left the country, ending up in Swaziland on his way to meet the International Olympic Committee in Germany. Unfortunately, he was arrested by Portuguese police at the Mozambique border and returned to South African authorities. Brutus feared for his life. He was being held by South African police in Johannesburg, unbeknownst to family and friends. He tried to escape and was shot in the back. After recovering from his wound, he was imprisoned on Robben Island – an 18 month sentence doing hard labor. Some of his poetry was published during this time in his first volume Sirens, Knuckles, Boots (1963). Upon his release, the South African government placed him under house arrest and prohibited him from further publication – even from writing without publication – for five years. Brutus circumvented the restriction by writing letters to the wife of another Robben Island prisoner; his book Letters to Martha and Other Poems from a South African Prison was published in 1969. After a year of house arrest, Brutus and his family were allowed to leave South Africa, settling in London in 1966. There he continued his activist work as director of the Campaign for Release of South African Political Prisoners. In 1970, he was offered a teaching post at the University of Denver, the first of several professorial appointments at major American universities, including the University of Texas, Northwestern, and the University of Pittsburgh. Brutus’ activism led to problems in the United States. The Reagan Administration, a strong supporter of the South African government, took steps to have Brutus deported from this country after Rhodesian independence left the poet without a passport for a few months. Brutus, a wanted man in the segregated country, again feared for his life. After the interjection of writers, scholars and activists world-wide, including Worcester State College English department professor Merrill Goldwyn, Brutus was granted political asylum in 1983. He and Professor Goldwyn became close friends, with Brutus helping with Goldwyn’s Center for the Study of Human Rights, a group that is still active on the Worcester State University campus. Dennis Brutus received an Honorary Doctorate of Human Letters from Worcester State in 1982, and donated a portion of his collection of papers to the school. The Dennis Brutus Collection is housed in the Learning Resource Center and is available for perusal by students and scholars. His death in 2009 was a loss to the world of literature, to activism and to the community at Worcester State University.
Spring 2014 Updates
We are in the process of updating the Dennis Brutus Collection descriptions.
Unveiling of the Dennis Brutus Collection

At-Right: At the formal unveiling of the Dennis Brutus Collection on March 21, 2000, Dennis Brutus (second from the left) stands with, from left to right, Professor Merrill Goldwyn, founder of the Human Rights Center at Worcester State College, President Kalyan Ghosh, now President emeritus of Worcester State College, and Donald Hochstetler, Director of the Learning Resource Center at Worcester State College.
Links of Interest
  Center for the Study of Human Rights
  Poems by Dennis Brutus

Contact Us

For permission to examine the collection,  please contact

Center for the
Study of Human Rights


Sai Chinnaswamy 
Executive Director

DataBridge © WSU, 486 Chandler Street, Worcester, MA 01602
Phone: 508-929-8000