The biggest events came last during the Old Dominion University leg of our trip, in Norfolk, Virginia: the launch of the photo exhibition at the Goode Theatre (see pic above) and the Literary Festival talk, the main event on the book front.
Eric and I were nervous. These events would sum up what we had been up to for the past four years, and give an indication of how the university’s enduring support had born fruit. We scratched hard at our notebooks for hours beforehand in planning our speeches and put text and photos together for our presentations.
We needn’t have worried. It was all marvellous. A big crowd came to the exhibition launch, where Eric gave an address, describing how we had worked on several newspaper and magazine stories before the photo exhibition and book began, and what the project had meant to us over the past four years – this having been the longest project either of us has ever worked on. Vivienne and Thelma talked about Gapa, and raised the roof at the end with the Nevergiveups song.
We could hardly tear him away to go to the talk, because people kept wanting to talk to him.
That night, the lecture theatre was packed, with over 200 people, for the Literary Festival talk. Eric’s photos were thrown up on the huge wall at the front of the lecture theatre, as I described the thunderbolt moments that had made us realise a book wanted to be written, how the grandmothers’ stories give the rest of us a window into South African history and changing cultures, and why we put the book together as we did, with various writing styles giving windows into each women’s personality. I also read some excerpts. ‘Riveting’, was how one lecturer at ODU described it afterwards.
‘These stories are so powerful that they rub off on you,’ said a student.
‘I am amazed you had to work hard on the text, because it didn’t seem like you talking at all, it seemed like the grandmother herself. I could even hear her voice,’ another student, Dana, had previously said.
I think that one of the biggest challenges as a writer is the imaginative leap needed to shed your own thoughts and personality and hop deep inside someone else’s head, to see things in a completely fresh way. So thank you, Dana, for giving me the best possible compliment.
Other events followed: a reception at the ODU president’s home, talks with more student classes, including a filmmaking class. Perhaps the most memorable was on the very last evening, where we all gathered at Kathy Williamson’s house to eat Chinese take-aways and look back on what this Nevergiveups rollercoaster tour had meant to us all: grandmothers Thelma and Felicia, Gapa executive director Vivienne, journalists Eric and I, and Jen and Kathy. Kathy’s husband Perry, Eric’s wife Laurine and my husband Simon, were also there. We were people of extremely diverse backgrounds, but had extremely hard worked together for weeks on the tour, and been connected for years before that, as the Nevergiveups project gained a life of its own, our hands moulding it.
In her intro to the book, Sindiwe Magona writes that the grandmothers’ lives have become consumed by fulfilling “their duty: Sacred.”
“And the name of that duty is Love,” she concludes.
Kathy’s dining room was so thick with love born by our common purpose, and our hard-earned respect for one another, that none of us wanted to leave that night.
Thank you, dear Nevergiveups team, for the journey of a lifetime.