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Wordsetc Journal

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The Stories They Tell

South Africa may not widely read them or even give them the respect they deserve but these five women know how to tell a damn good story.

By A.C. Fick

South African literature possesses a rich tradition of black women’s imaginative, creative writing. In various anthologies like Daughters of Africa (Jonathan Cape, 1992) and Women Writing Africa: The Southern Region (Wits University Press, 2003), one may see traces of such creative writing about, and engagement with the world, but what is often missing from the popular memory is the substantial bodies of work these pioneers have bequeathed us.

Several of their novels and anthologies are out of print, and are likely only to be found in remaindered piles at bargain bookshops rather than on school curricula or in school libraries, never mind in the hands of young readers on trains, taxis and buses. This is indeed cause for national shame; these women writers deserve to be read and to be treasured, to be celebrated in the ordinary acts of people opening their books and taking in the stories they have to tell.

Far from being polemicists, writers like Bessie Head and Miriam Tlali demonstrate their talent by giving us stories that are funny, poignant, tragic, dramatic, and historical; tales interested in questions of love and desire as much as they are reflections on issues of loss, mourning and survival. In other words, they give us a literature fully engaged with the whole gamut of emotional states which make us human, not just the sort of political fictions usually associated with the literature of apartheid South Africa.

In a post-millennial South Africa, more than a decade since that “freedom day” in April 1994, it may be important to continue to remember these women writers for their ongoing contribution to the debate on the multiple and complex meanings of South African.

  • To read the rest of this essay, buy the latest edition of Wordsetc – called “Women & Words” – at your local bookstore for R49.95. Better still, subscribe for only R170 for four editions. It’s that easy.

This essay on five top black women writers appears in the current edition of Wordsetc.


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