[Patrick Cullinan is 72 and lives in Cape Town. Cape Town is also where he met Bessie Head in the early 1960s, when she was a writer for The Golden City Post and other Drum publications. We hope the publishers will soon send us a brief biographical note].
Death of Ronald Emery
Although it is not widely known, Bessie Head had an older, white half-brother, Ronald Emery, who died recently (February 2005) at the age of 86 in Nelspruit, South Africa. He is survived by his Canadian-born wife. According to a relative who knew him well, in his final decade he was disillusioned and embittered that his grandmother Alice Birch had prevented him from meeting the young sister of whom he had heard only rumours.
Gillian Eilersen has written about the lifelong separation of this brother-sister pair:
"In April 1992 six years after her death Ronald Emery was contacted by a cousin, Kenneth Birch. The latter had received my letter requesting information about 'the South African writer Bessie Amelia Head (born Emery)'. Birch phoned Ronald and told him: 'I've just had the strangest letter. It refers to a famous South African writer with the same name as your mother.' The men responded to my request, both wishing to recognize this unsettling woman, half-sister and cousin, and to honour her memory."
Gillian Eilersen's complete memoir is available at
Two lecturers in English at the University of Botswana are collecting written and visual works about Bessie Head from persons living in Botswana. The intention is to publish a commemorative volume in the near future. Please send your original ideas to either Mary Lederer (username ledererm) or Seatholo Masego Tumedi (username tumedism) @mopipi.ub.bw.
Clouds of correspondence
Professor Linda-Susan Beard, currently teaching at Bryn Mawr College in the USA, has for several years studied the collection of Bessie's letters held in the Khama III Memorial Museum. She plans to a publish a volume of excerpts in the next year or two under the provisional title A Cloud of Witnesses. We have asked her for several snippets to whet reader appetites.
Films and theatrical pieces
Only rumours, but we believe that a UK studio has plans to make a biographical and/or documentary film about Bessie Head's life. Similarly, a South African television production company is studying how to turn several of Bessie's fictional works into evening entertainment.
If you are organising, or if you know about, any Bessie Head-related event or literary work, please send an announcement to email@example.com [firstname.lastname@example.org]. As the Hopkins poem says, "For this we came!"
The 20th anniversary of Bessie Head's death falls on 17 April 2006. It would be a fitting occasion to remind the world of her life, her work, and her "people religion". Most of her colleagues have now retired and some are quite frail. Do we hear volunteers to organise a commemorative hurrah?