Noni Jabavu’s Words and Worlds: Black British-South African Literary Pioneer

28 October 2021
13:00 pm - 14:00 pm

 

Noni Jabavu as editor of New Strand magazine, 1961. Photo: Getty ImagesOn Thursday 28th October, we had the opportunity to learn more about the black British-South African writer Nontando (Noni) Jabavu (1919-2008), whose compelling life and work deserve to be better known.Jabavu spoke of being part of ‘two worlds with two loyalties; South Africa where I was born and England where I was educated’. In addition, Jabavu visited and lived in scores of countries during the course of her eventful and influential life, writing of ‘the peripatetic print’ of her feet. She worked as a BBC broadcaster, columnist, literary editor, and author of two memoirs, Drawn in Colour and The Ochre People.

With special resonance for the north of England, Jabavu completed her schooling at The Mount School in York in the 1903s where she developed her literary and musical talents, the Quaker connections which had brought her to the UK, and the shaping of an expansive transnational outlook. Following her schooling and a brief period back in South Africa, she enrolled at the Royal Academy of Music before leaving to pursue a career in media, while contributing to the War effort as a semi-skilled engineer and welder.

Our speakers shone a spotlight on this outstanding figure – the first black woman to become editor of a British literary magazine, The New Strand, and one of the first African women to gain global literary prominence – and explored questions of identity, belonging, and mobility.

Our event featured leading scholars of black feminist intellectual history: Makhosazana Xaba of the University of Witwatersrand and Athambile Masola of the University of Cape Town, both in South Africa. It presents too the archival insights of Charles Fonge of the Borthwick Institute for Archives at the University of York and it is chaired by Janet Remmington of the Humanities Research Centre, also of the University of York, whose research focuses on black South Africa travel and textual cultures.

Makhosazana Xaba is an award-winning poet, writer, and scholar based at the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa, working on a biography of Noni Jabavu as well as an array of literary and translation projects. She has worked for a range of NGOs and media organizations, spending time in exile in late apartheid

Dr Athambile Masola is a leading writer, poet, researcher, and educationalist, working as a Lecturer in Historical Studies at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. Widely published in academic outlets as well as the press, her research focuses on black women’s historiography, life writing, and cultural production.

Dr Charles Fonge is the University Archivist and Records Manager at the University of York’s Borthwick Institute for Archives and a keen contributor to SCOLMA (UK Libraries and Archives Group on Africa).

Dr Janet Remmington is an Associate of the Humanities Research Centre at the University of York, with a PhD from the same institution on a black South African literary history of travel. She is co-editor of the prize-winning volume Sol Plaatje’s Native Life in South Africa: Past and Present (2016).

The video of the event is available here:

 

 

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