Bessie Amelia Head, SA novelist dies


Bessie Amelia Head.

Thursday, 17 April 1986

Bessie Amelia Head was born on 6 July 1937 in Pietermaritzburg to Bessie Amelia Birch, a White woman and a Black unnamed father. Due to the apartheid policies of the day, her parents were  not allowed to marry, and her mother was forced to spend the term of her pregnancy in a state institution.  She was raised in foster care at first and later a mission orphanage.

Bessie qualified as a teacher  in January 1957 and she taught at a  school in Clairwood, Durban until 1958. From 1958 to 1960, she worked  as a journalist for the Golden City Post and Drum magazine. At the beginning of 1960, she joined the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC). On 1 September 1961, Bessie Emery married Harold Head, and became Bessie Head. Some sources claim that this marriage was the source of inspiration for her novel Maru.  In March 1964, Head left South Africa on an exit permit and settled in Botswana.  She was a refugee in Botswana for 15 years.  Head was granted citizenship in Botswana in 1979. There she lived and worked as a lecturer and writer until her death in Serowe, Botswana. Throughout her life, Head was a prolific writer and was also the first South African Black woman to publish a collection of short stories.  The exact date of her death is under dispute, as some sources claim it was the 26 April 1986, while others claim it as 17 April 1986.

• Verwey, E.J. (ed)(1995). New Dictionary of South African Biography, v.1, Pretoria: HSRC.) 

Last updated : 16-Apr-2014

This article was produced by South African History Online on 16-Mar-2011

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