Read Women Write 2014/15: Book 16: Sindiwe Magona: To My Children’s Children

sindiwe magona

Once I went to an American Embassy organised event and of the over 100 people who were there, they asked me and Sindiwe Magona to stand up as the two writers in the room. At that point I thought ‘shit, I better start taking myself seriously if I’m going to be able to stand up with great women writers like Magona.’ My memory of her from that event was of a woman who radiated calm. It felt wonderful just to be in her presence.

To My Children’s Children is a letter, or memoir, from a Xhosa grandmother to her grandchildren – a project undertaken with the desire that as the world changes, some memories and rituals should not be forgotten. The story follows her life up until she is 23 years old. She asks in the preface

“How will you know who you are if I do not or cannot tell you the story of your past?”

Her prose is lyrical and what is perhaps most magical about is the way that the story is written – when she writes of her childhood you feel as though you are listening to the words of a child, the world takes on a mystical and innocent quality. As Magona tells of her adulthood the issues tackled and descriptions used become more serious, more analytical. She is self-deprecating and very very funny. I love sarcasm, always, and Magona’s sense of humour had me smiling.

I also value the book as a project. Both of my grandmothers have passed away and I feel sad that their stories were never documented. All we have left now are stories about them, and as is normal, grandparents always seem old in a child’s mind. This means that we missed out on knowing about their youth, their hopes and dreams as children. More than one of us at the AWDF and FEMRITE women’s writing workshop this year spoke about documenting the stories of older women, and I think it is really an essential project.