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One feminist hails another

- Wits University

Professor Pumla Gqola revisits the impact that Miriam Tlali had on black writing.

Guests attending Professor Pumla Gqola’s inaugural lecture received a rare glimpse into her life outside of her remarkable profile as a gender activist, author and professor of African Literature.

Gqola began her lecture by paying tribute to her family, friends and supervisors who have shaped her journey.

A respected scholar, Gqola admitted that she always knew that she wanted to be a professor – something that she formulated at the age of five growing up at the University of Fort Hare.

“I imagined my discipline would be organic chemistry only so that I could have an office next to my father, whom I stalked regularly.”

It wasn’t long before she found her own interests which have brought her to the height of academia and the presentation of her inaugural lecture titled Writing Miriam Tlali: Authority, Voice and Black Feminist Imagination.

Literary scholarship records Tlali as the first black South African woman to publish a novel in English inside apartheid South Africa. Tlali was also a regular contributor to Staffrider magazine and her books published by the iconic press Ravan as part of the Staffrider series, placing her firmly within the "protest" canon.

Gqola revisited some taken for granted aspects of Tlali's writing and relationships to writing, representation of intersectionality in her work, and the specific way in which her work  (the published novels Muriel at Metropolitan, Between Two Worlds, Amandla, her short stories Footprints in the Quag, her missing novel, and her columns in the first five years of Staffrider magazine) surface relationships between writing, gender and publicness.

The lecture interrogated the ways in which Tlali has been written into literary publicness, including her unhappiness with the publication of Muriel at Metropolitan. It also examined her explicitly gendered relationship to writing as presence and as linked to other women's writing practices, and third, the representational choices staged in her literary expression.

Tlali was born on 11 November in 1933 and studied at Wits University before moving to the National University of Lesotho. She, however, did not complete her education due to lack of funds, and became an office clerk. Her novels describe experiences of being black and female in apartheid South Africa.