‘Let Me Tell a Story Now’ by Bessie Head

I would never have heard of Bessie Head if she hadn’t been strongly championed by Alice Walker, who particularly admires her devastating novel “Maru”. Bessie Head also wrote many short stories, of which this is among the shortest. It relies on a rhetorical device which is hardly new, but the timing is really well judged. She begins by decrying the frustrations that go with any identity once it has been imposed upon you: her identity as a writer and the identity chosen for her by the state mean, she says here, that limits are put by others on what she can and cannot do, on what she can write. Here comes the device: “For instance, I would like to write the story about a man who is a packing hand at the railways…” and then she writes the story, or most of it anyway, before saying that she can’t write it. Apart from the obvious joke here, there is a powerful sense of a writer working against the times and against the form of the story itself.

(Heinemann African Writers Series, 1989; again, out of print I’m afraid.)