“Just a book by itself, if it has the right messages in it, can change a whole human being. It can remake a person.” – Miriam Tlali
Country: South Africa
Why We Love Her: Mama Miriam was the first black woman in South Africa to publish a novel; talk about trailblazing! Originally she wanted to study literature at the University of the Witwatersrand but due to it being closed to Black students she was unable to. Instead she found a job as a bookkeeper. Muriel at Metropolitan, was the semi-autobiographical book she published in 1975 and 4 years later it was banned by the Apartheid government. It experienced success overseas though where it was published as Between Two Worlds and widely translated. The novel drew from her experiences working under a white employer at the time, the crises of poverty and the insecurity black people felt under Apartheid.
Amandla (her second book) was also banned by the Apartheid government because it was written from the perspective of young revolutionaries during the 1976 Soweto Uprising. It was also unique as it highlighted how the liberation struggle was highly gendered and experiences of black consciousness felt differently for men and women.
Apart from writing fiction, Mama Miriam expanded intofounding the magazine, Staffrider and a publishing house. As a member of the Women’s National Coalition, she also helped draft the Preamble to the South African Women’s Charter.
Sitting with these women, I was thinking of Daisy. Why should she sit sweltering behind the steel cabinets on the other side, less than six feet away from us, while we were cool and comfortable? Why should I be the only one feeling uneasy? Or was I the only one? Maybe if one of them had felt like helping Daisy she was afraid of being considered a k****r-boetie as much as I feared being accused of being an agitator. – Miriam Tlali, Muriel At The Metropolitan/ Between Two Worlds
Mama Miriam has received many accolades for her literary work and pioneering spirit and these include honours from the Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology, a Literary Lifetime Achievement Award as well as the Presidential Award, Ikhamanga Silver. We thank her for being brave enough to be the first and look forward to her autobiography, that she is working on currently.