Bessie Head

(1937 - 1986)

Born in 1937 in South Africa, novelist Bessie Head was the daughter of an upper-class white woman and a black stable hand. She was raised mostly in foster care, then worked as a teacher and a journalist before being driven to exile in Botswana in 1964. Denied citizenship there for fifteen years, she worked for a time teaching local communities how to grow vegetables in a harsh climate; she based Rain Clouds, her first novel, on the experience. Head never returned to South Africa; she died of hepatitis at the age of forty-nine. A year before her death, she wrote an article for a Paris newspaper titled “Why Do I Write?” It ends: “I am building a stairway to the stars. I have the authority to take the whole of mankind up there with me. That is why I write.”

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