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The Pietermaritzburg Seminar and Naming of Library

On Thursday 12 July 2007, the Centre for African Literary Studies — University of KZN, Pietermaritzburg campus — hosted a day-long seminar, "Bessie Head: Celebrating 70 Years". Download the programme here.

The day was notable for a photo exhibition, the official renaming of the Bessie Head Library, and the launch of Bessie's biography, second edition.

Several people who knew Bessie were present, including Professor Mbulelo Mzamane, director of CALS, and Patrick van Rensburg, who often befriended her in Serowe.

The extraordinary work of organising the conference and the photo exhibition was undertaken by one of Bessie's most sympathetic editors, Margaret Daymond, who first prepared The Cardinals for publication. The Pietermaritzburg city manager, Rob Haswell, coordinated the celebration at the library and the upscale free lunch. Thanks!

Note: The papers from the Pietermaritzburg conference will be published next year together with those of the Gaborone symposium. Watch this website for details.

 Bessie Head: Celebrating 70 Years
for the conference at CALS, UKZN, 12th July 2007

8h00    Tea and Registration at Centre for African Literary Studies
           Exhibition of Photographs: "Bessie Head: People and Places"

8h45    Move to Leeb du Toit Auditorium for conference proceeedings

Bessie Head’s Life

9h00    Prof Mbulelo Mzamane (Director, CALS), Formal Welcome and Memories
           of Bessie Head

9h30    Patrick van Rensburg (founder, Swaneng School, Serowe) in conversation
           with Gillian Stead-Eilersen (Bessie Head’s biographer)

10h45  Tea at Leeb du Toit Auditorium

Bessie Head’s Writing

11h00   Cheryl-Ann Michael, "Childhood and Reading in the Writings of Bessie
           Head and Doris Lessing"

           Modhumita Roy, "Everyone Had a Place in My World: Bessie Head’s
           Utopia in When Rain Clouds Gather"

           Gillian Stead-Eilersen, "Miss Marpling Round Southern Africa: The
           Confessions of an Amateur Researcher"

12h30    Into Town

13h00    Opening of the Bessie Head Library at the ex-Natal Society Library,
            followed by lunch at the Tatham Art Gallery, Pietermaritzburg

15h00    Back to Campus

Bessie Head’s Writing, cont.

15h30    Sisi Maqagi, "Epistolary Transgressions: A Study of Selected Letters
            of Bessie Head"

            Linda-Susan Beard, "The Magic of Bessie Head's Epistolary Art"

17h15    Move to CALS for Book Launch

17h30    Launch of Gillian Stead Eilersen’s republished biography, Bessie Head:
            Thunder Behind Her Ears
, Wits University Press, 2007.

Photos from Pietermaritzburg (all photos courtesy Ann Langwaldt)

The Bessie Head Library is the previous Natal Society Library, a magnificent scholarly and educational resource in the heart of Pietermaritzburg. It has recently added a striking new wing in glass and steel. Large numbers of students now enjoy its multiple resources.
John Morrison, left, is Librarian of the BH Library. He has overseen its recent expansion and diversification. Mbulele Mzamane, right, is the director of CALS and a well-known writer. He first met Bessie at a famous writers workshop in 1975, Bessie's first academic event. They remained good friends thereafter.
This quotation from Bessie's writings was selected by her old friend Randolph Vigne. Quite likely it appeared in one of the letters he published in the collection A Gesture of Belonging.
The final event of the conference was the launch of the second edition of the biography, Thunder Behind Her Ears, Wits University Press. Photographed together at the launch were Patrick van Rensburg, Margaret Daymond, Gillian Eilersen, and Mbulelo Mzamane.

Do you have additional photos from the conference? Please send them in!

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