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*On this date in 1937, Bessie Head was born. She was one of Africa's most prominent writers, and teachers.
From South Africa, a child of an "illicit" union between a Scottish woman and a Black man, Head was born in a mental asylum to which her mother was committed and where her mother died. She was taken from her mother at birth and raised in a foster home until the age of thirteen. Head then attended missionary school and eventually became a teacher.
Abandoning teaching after only a few years, Head began writing for the Golden City Post. In 1964, personal problems led her to take up a teaching post in Botswana, where Head remained in "refugee" status for fifteen years before gaining citizenship. All three of her major novels 'When Rain Clouds Gather, 'Maru', and 'A Question of Power' along with other works was written in Botswana during this period.
The writings of Headcover many aspects of her personal experiences as a racially mixed person, growing up without a family in South Africa. Her material deals with issues of discrimination, refugees, racism, African history, poverty, and interpersonal relationships. A hint of autobiography is present in much of Head's writing, which often deals with poor and emotionally abused Black women dealing with both racist and sexist discrimination. Head's characters are young, old, male, and female: this variety allows her to approach the themes from different perspectives, but the focus is always on the struggles and hardships of life in post-colonial Africa.
She was an untiring writer who captured those realities of life, which others often passed by. In looking at her own life one can easily see how she could write as she did. On April 17th, 1986, Bessie (Emery) Head died of hepatitis in Botswana. She was 48 years old.
The Encyclopedia of African American Heritage
by Susan Altman
Copyright 1997, Facts on File, Inc. New York