South African Womxn Writers – Day 16: Coloured literature and the chance to be remembered – Terry-Ann Adams

I remember the day I read a poem written by a Coloured woman in Kaaps. That day was the start of my process of becoming. I felt like I had just been reborn into a world where it is okay for me to be seen. Before that day, I didn’t think that my culture or language was something to be taken seriously let alone something that can be studied in the great halls of academia.

The poem was by Ronelda Kamfer from her debut anthology, Noudat Slaapende Honde (ISBN: 9780795702730 GoodReads). I was a first-year student at the University of Pretoria. The first woman in my working-class family to go to university. I was to learn all the things that would make me a complete human.

On my first day in the Afrikaans class, I was asked whether I am sure I am in the right venue. There it was the ever-present reminder that I did not belong. It did not matter that my ancestors invented the language. Much of our history is lost, our culture is not widely documented. I learned the importance of a culture being memorialized in literature in those cold and distant Afrikaans lectures. I could see the pride well up in the White students when we did Andre P. Brink or NP van Wyk Louw. It did not need to be said. They knew that their existence was valid. They knew that they would forever be remembered.

I grew up in a house full of readers. Yes unbelievers, working class people read. The books we had at home ranged from thick serials written by Afrikaans author Ena Murray to fundamentalist Christian literature. For all the books that I had access to, I was still missing something. I wanted to be seen in the pages. I also wanted to read something that felt like home, something written by one of my own.

After reading Noudat Slaapende Honde, I went on a mission to find more books written by Coloured people. I wanted more of that familiar feeling. The feeling of seeing yourself on a page. I discovered Chris Van Wyk, who lived in a township not so far from mine. I was delighted. I also found Rayda Jacobs, whose novel, Confessions of a Gambler was a big source of inspiration for my own debut novel.

Seeing what is becoming the cannon of Coloured literature is a great source of joy for me. Now more than ever, Coloured writers are having our work published in our language and marketed to the mainstream. Our boys and girls won’t have to go on the hunt anymore.

  • Rehana Rossouw: New Times: ISBN: 9781431425808 GoodReads
  • Nadia Davids: What Remains: ISBN: 9781776142774
  • Mia Arderne: Mermaid Fillet: ISBN: 9780795709760 GoodReads
  • Rayda Jacobs: Confessions of a Gamblers: ISBN: 9780795701603 GoodReads

They will be able to find young bold writers like Mia Ardene, Lynthia Julius, Chase Rhys, Jamil F Khan and more seasoned writers like Nadia Davids, Pamela Jooste and Rehana Rossouw. They will be able to read about their townships, their mothers and aunts, their food and their culture. Our experiences are being etched into the halls of collective memory. Our lives are finally being validated.

Terry-Ann Adams is a writer and commentator from Johannesburg. She has an honours in history from the University of Pretoria where she focused on the disability rights movement in South Africa and Disability Representation in American Film. She has spoken and written on ableism and feminism. 

Terry-Ann is the author of Those Who Live In Cages, a novel that explores the lives of Coloured women in Eldorado Park.

This month’s blog is curated by Jen Thorpe.

Jen Thorpe is a feminist writer. Her first novel, The Peculiars (2016), was long listed for the Etisalat Prize for Literature (2016) and the Sunday Times Fiction Prize (2017). Her second novel, The Fall, was published in July 2020. Thorpe has edited three collections of feminist essays – My First Time: Stories of Sex and Sexuality from Women Like You (2012); Feminism Is: South Africans Speak Their Truth (2018) and Living While Feminist (2020). Her writing has been published in Brittle Paper, Saraba Magazine, Jalada, and Litro. Find out more via Jen is also the host of the Living While Feminist Podcast available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Anchor, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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