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Noni Jabavu 1919-2008


This virtual panel from the York Festival of Ideas shone a spotlight on the black British South African writer Noni Jabavu (1919-2008), whose work and fascinating story deserve to be better known.

It was fascinating to hear about Noni’s years as an international student at The Mount School where she developed her literary and musical talents, the Quaker connections which had brought her to the UK and boosted her own networks, and her extraordinary adult life on the go. Working as a BBC broadcaster, columnist, literary editor and author of two memoirs, Noni visited scores of countries, writing of the ‘peripatetic print’ of her feet. She also spoke of being part of ‘two worlds with two loyalties; South Africa where I was born and England where I was educated’.

Khosi Xaba gave a biographical and literary overview of Noni and Athambile Masola led a discussion around key questions that arise about Noni’s life and work. Sarah Moore, our school librarian, and Charles Fonge provided a brief historical context about school life at The Mount in the 1930s and its Quaker ethos and drew attention to traces of Noni in the archives.

The audience were left with a lasting impression of girls’ education at that time being progressive with an emphasis on social awareness within the community and the wider world. They were also able to see what the archives can offer. In the future is it hoped that resource packs for schools exploring Noni’s story will be available. This would bring to life part of York’s little known black history, while exploring questions of identity and belonging in a life and world on the move.

We also look forward to hearing more about Noni’s work in years to come.