Stephen Coan (1950 - ) is an assistant editor at The Witness, Pietermaritzburg’s daily newspaper.
Coan was born in London. After leaving school he joined the British Broadcasting Corporation, first working as a researcher for BBC News before being trained as a film editor.
Coan came to South Africa on a three-month holiday in 1975 and has lived here ever since. He was initially employed by the South African Broadcasting Corporation in Johannesburg before joining an independent film production company. During this time he also edited news footage for various international television networks.
During the Eighties he worked as a writer-director in film, television and the theatre. His production of the play Stevie by Hugh Whitemore about the poet Stevie Smith - with Dorothy Ann Gould in the title role - won several awards including the Breytenbach Epathlon for best director as well as a Vita award for best production for its run in Durban. Other productions included the Peter Shaffer double-bill The Private Ear and The Public Eye, Tom Stoppard's Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, Stephen Gray's A Night at the Verne's and his own play Kitchen Tea.
Coan moved to Pietermaritzburg in 1990 and joined the then Natal Witness - the Natal prefix was dropped in 2004. At The Witness he has been, variously, a feature-writer, sub-editor and arts editor. He is now an assistant editor and senior feature writer. He is known for his writing on literature, history and film.
For many years he has been researching the life and work of Henry Rider Haggard, with particular focus on the years Haggard spent in southern Africa. Coan edited, annotated and wrote a biographical introduction for Haggard’s previously unpublished Diary of An African Journey (2000) and co-edited with Alfred Tella, Mameena and other plays – The dramatic works of H. Rider Haggard (2007). He has also published articles on Haggard in journals such as Natalia and The Journal of the Anglo-Zulu War Historical Society.
In 2005 with Lindy Stiebel he prepared the Rider Haggard Trail pamphlet which inaugurated the KZN Literary Tourism trails series.
A volume of poetry, Chant of the Doves, was published in 2008. "They are poems of place, and the place happens to be the Buddhist Retreat Centre near Ixopo," he said in an interview. Coan has been associated with the centre as a retreatant and teacher since 1987.
Coan's poetry has been published in Sesame, the English Academy Review, Fidelities and Carapace.
while driving to pretoria
i saw a spitfire.
it flew parallel to the freeway
banked and turned away across the veld.
it was the first spitfire i had ever seen
unless you count second-hand sightings
in newsreels and old films
where young men with oxford smiles
would scramble off into the cumulus
to search for their deadly playmates
fritz and jerry.
a girl who became my mother
stood watching spitfires
spiralling in dogfights
over palmers green.
it is difficult to imagine black-smudged death
over the north circular road
over the moss-filled cracks in the pavement
over the eternal plane trees
over the tennis courts
over the asphalt paths of parks
centred around sedate and manageable ponds.
over the fairies at the bottom of the garden.
over the suburbs of north london,
saved by those smiling summertime heroes.
forty years later
and further south
i saw a spitfire for the first time.
it disappeared into the cumulus
over a pretoria suburb
(from Sesame, 1984)
clear night sky
wind in the pines
May moon breathing
sitting at the Rocks
looking out over the valley
the wind made visible by the grass
wooden tiles cold underfoot
except for one
lit by the sun
the yellow-striped fieldmouse
peeps over the horizon of my pillow
to see if I am awake
a curve of bamboo
over the thatched roof
brushstroke against the blue
(from Chant of the Doves 2008)
2000. The Diary of an African Journey by H. Rider Haggard (editor), Durban: University of Natal Press; Christopher Hurst 2001; New York University Press 2001.
2007. Mameena and other plays - The complete dramatic works of H. Rider Haggard (editor, with Alfred Tella), Durban: University of Kwazulu-Natal Press.
2008. Chant of the Doves. Kloof: Leopard Press.