Bessie Head: Disowned for being too black; one of SA's best writers

Bessie Head: Disowned for being too black; one of SA's best writers

- 6 July is the commemoration of the birth of one of South Africa's most prolific female writers, Bessie Head

- Bessie spent time in Botswana and it is there that she wrote her best-known novel Maru

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Bessie Head was born to a black father and a white mother. Her mother was sent to a mental asylum when her family found out she was pregnant by a black man.

Bessie was born in the asylum on the 6th of July 1937 and rejected by her biological family. She was raised at first by foster parents and then by the Anglican mission orphanage.

She trained to be a teacher and taught for a few years before going into journalism. She would write short stories every week for Johannesburg’s Golden City Post.

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In 1960 Bessie moved to Cape Town and became part of a group of anti-apartheid activists. She also married a fellow activist, Harold Head.

They lived in District Six while Bessie wrote for a monthly magazine, The New African. It was at this time that Bessie wrote her first novel, The Cardinals. Sadly, it wasn't published until after her death.

Bessie and Harold moved to Port Elizabeth in 1963 where Harold became the first black reporter for the Evening Post.

In 1964, Bessie moved to Botswana and Harold went to England. By then, their marriage didn't seem to work out.

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Bessie taught again for a while in Botswana before she started working on the Swaneng Hill project. The project dealt with teaching the community of Serowe how to farm.

Unfortunately, Bessie got rejected by many of the Africans in Botswana. She lost her job teaching and started working on a farm.

Bessie then started writing. Her first short novel - When Rain Clouds Gather - was written in Botswana.

Maru, possibly one of Bessie best-known novels, was also written during this time. Bessie then wrote A Question of Power.

Bessie published the first collection of short stories by a black South African woman - The Collector of Treasures - in 1977.

From there Bessie got a reputation as a writer and was often seen with students and academics alike.

Bessie passed away in 1986 at the age of 49. Hepatitis was the cause of her death, and she was working on more books at the time.

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