Bessie Head

(1937-1986) – Author

Author Bessie Head was born in 1937 in South Africa in an asylum to a white mother declared ‘mentally insane’ because she had gotten pregnant by a black man (forbidden at the time according to South Africa’s Immorality Act). She had a turbulent childhood, suffering extreme prejudice as a mixed race child. She left South Africa for Botswana in 1964 and was technically in exile until she was granted citizenship by Botswana in 1979. Although Bessie’s novels started being published in her early thirties, real international success came in 1977 when The Collection of Treasures became the first short story collection to be published by a black South African woman. Bessie died at the age of forty-nine, but has since her death come to be seen as the exceptional literary talent and activism that she was. 

I first came across Bessie Head in the early 1990s and was immediately captured by her captivating storytelling about real human lives.

Sharmilla Beezmohun

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