This is also your reminder that books heal; they weave people together; they create legacies; and the people who make them, especially in this country, are EXTRAORDINARY.
Helen Moffett wrote on Facebook:
Sunday marked the 80th birthday of my dear friend and teacher, Sindiwe Magona. Her friends gathered at Artscape on Saturday to celebrate her, and to surprise her with a book of essays written by her close friends, family members and colleagues.
The official line was that we were launching a book of Sindiwe’s essays (I Write the Yawning Void, published by Wits UP), but we had another one up our sleeves: this one, Sindiwe’s Gift, was published by Karavan Press, the indie imprint established by my wonderful friend, the tireless Karina Szczurek Brink.
I had to keep pinching myself at the presence of the great and the good in one room. Mamphela Ramphele sat next to me; Marie Philip was across the aisle, next to Robin Malan; Tanya Barben, daughter of Ray Alexander and Jack Simons, was there as a fellow contributor.
It was another of what my sister calls my “Forrest Gump” moments. Except that I’m acutely conscious of how extraordinary these confluences are. The story of my friendship with Sindiwe, and the strong ties that criss-cross between her and other friends and mentors who have changed my life, are in my essay in the book (“Skipping Uphill Backwards: Lessons learned from Sindiwe Magona”), and you can read it there (the collection is bookended with poems by Finuala Dowling and Antjie Krog – better than that it doesn’t get).
That weekend also marked the 30th anniversary of the killing of Amy Biehl. These milestones, these women, are more closely tied than some realise.
I was moved to tears at the sense of torches being passed, comfort given, and of the long and transcendent reach of love.
Sindiwe is known for many achievements (although the fact that almost no author on the African continent has written and published more children’s books, in all languages, is invariably overlooked – over 130 at last count). She set the gold standard for black women’s autobiographical writing with the publication of To My Children’s Children in 1990, helping build a launchpad for post-apartheid writing by black women, and directing readers to her writing foremothers. But on a world stage, she is probably best known for Mother to Mother, a fictional letter from the mother of Amy’s killer to the woman who lost her daughter that terrible day.
This “novel” was subsequently staged as a one-woman play, with veteran actress Thembi Mtshali-Jones rending hearts with her performance, and made into a film. The book is widely prescribed, and so it tends to eclipse Sindiwe’s poetry, short stories, further memoirs, and her magisterial novels, some of which I have been unbelievably lucky enough to edit. Sindiwe, Linda Biehl and Marie and the late great David Philip (who first published Mother to Mother) bonded over the project with great generosity on all sides. And so Linda, out here to commemorate her daughter’s anniversary, was at the party, as full of love and warmth as she has been through the decades. There was a moment when Linda took Karina by the hand as Marie Philip stood with them – she who first published Sindiwe, and who also published Andre Brink – Karina’s late husband – in South Africa. I was moved to tears at the sense of torches being passed, comfort given, and of the long and transcendent reach of love.
This is also your reminder that books heal; they weave people together; they create legacies; and the people who make them, especially in this country, are EXTRAORDINARY. We are so fortunate to have them, and each other.
- Photographs by Helen Moffett