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Bessie Head
Posthumous Literary Award
 Bessie Amelia Head was born July 6 1937 in a mental hospital in Pietermaritzburg. Her mother, Bessie Emery, a patient in the Fort Napier Mental Hospital , came from a wealthy white family and had been in a relationship with a black stable-hand who worked for her family. Bessie Head was placed in foster care and was educated at St Monica’s, an Anglican boarding school for “Coloureds” in Durban . She obtained a teaching certificate in 1955 and taught in Durban from 1956 to 1958. When she turned 21, she left for District Six in Cape Town and became the only female journalist for Golden City Post. In 1959 she left for Johannesburg to join Drum magazine. In 1960, she joined the Pan Africanist Congress and when she got arrested tried to commit suicide. Thereafter she suffered periodic attacks of schizophrenia throughout her life. After spending time in hospital, she went back to Cape Town , where she published her own newspaper, The Citizen. She also wrote for The New African and in 1962 and finished her first novel, The Cardinals (published posthumously)Bessie Head married Harold Head but divorced in 1964. She took her son, Howard and left for Serowe in Botswana on a one-way exit permit, which meant she could never return to South Africa . In Botswana she became a teacher and taught at Tshekedi Memorial School in Serowe. Her first published novel, When Rain Clouds Gather (1968), is the story of a political refugee from South Africa who escapes to Botswana after serving time in prison. He moves to a rural town named Golema Mmidi (“to grow mielies”) and finds it populated with people who, like himself, are seeking a better life.

They set up an agricultural project and a cattle cooperative against opposition from the local chief welded to the status quo. When his obstructionist tactics fail, he commits suicide. This event liberates the main characters and the village. Her next novel, Maru (1971) deals with the experiences of racism among the Basarwa or San people in Botswana . Head’s best known novel, A Question of Power (1973), revolves around an expatriate in Botswana , but is considerably more autobiographical. Her other publications include The Collector of Treasures, he short story collection; Serowe: Village of the Rain Wind (1981); and A Bewitched Crossroad (1984). In her works Bessie Head writes about Botswana as a way of talking about South Africa , an environment she admits defeated her as a creative writer. Her work is highly individualised, rather than explicitly political. Bessie Head died on 17 April 1986 in Sekgoma Memorial Hospital , Serowe , Botswana .

In 2006 she was honoured with the Literary Posthumous Award by the South African Literary Awards, a project of the wRite associates in partnership with the national Department of Arts and Culture and Sowetan.