Readers gathered last night at Exclusive Books Cavendish for a live literary event: a discussion of Death and the After Parties by Joanne Hichens. I (Karina) had the great privilege of interviewing Joanne and the occasion gave us a wonderful opportunity to talk about the path our friendship has taken through first encounters at launches and festivals, reading of each other’s stories, grieving the sudden deaths of our husbands, drinking many bottles of pink bubbly and working on several literary projects together – Short.Sharp.Stories and the HAIR anthology among them – before most recently publishing this exquisite memoir at Karavan Press.
Our gratitude to Linda and the wonderful team of booksellers at EB Cavendish – your support for local authors is exemplary. Thank you also for making us all feel safe during these difficult times. And thank you to everyone who attended the event, especially readers who had loved the book and came to listen to Joanne talk about it. Last but not least, thank you to all readers who bought the book and had it signed – your support is what keeps us going.
Should you wish to attend the event, be sure to pop an email through to email@example.com alternatively send Exclusive Books a DM on Instagram, Facebook or call the store at 0216743030.
Exclusive Books is committed to hosting responsible events and observes strict Covid-19 health protocols, this includes but is not limited to: – ensuring customers and event goers are wearing their masks at all times; – event seating is spaced for social distancing.
‘Death and the After Parties’ Thursday 27/05/2021 @ 18h00 RSVP: firstname.lastname@example.org
Joanne Hichens has been extraordinarily brave in excoriating her soul in a searing and honest memoir about her attempts to survive the unendurable. In Death and the after parties – one of the best titles I’ve heard in a while, by the way – Joanne doesn’t spare herself as she examines the brutal rites of passage which death inflicts on her life.
The first death she endures is the expected decline of her own mother, who is diagnosed with a terminal illness. While this is a difficult and heart-rending experience, she is able to process it fairly well, as the months leading up to her mother’s death are preparation for the inevitable. By the end of this process, Joanne believes she “can do death”.
Fate has other plans for her, however. The mind-numbing shock of her husband’s heart attack and almost instantaneous death destroys the very fabric of her known world. She finds herself reeling with denial, guilt, despair and total devastation as her reality is ripped asunder. Her husband, Robert, a powerful personality and energy who filled up the space in her life as well as his children’s, is gone in a matter of hours. The loss is so enormous that Joanne cannot regain her equilibrium. Unflinchingly, she describes her descent into the deep depression experienced only by the truly heartbroken …
My mother’s garments
never seemed to grow old.
Slack suits and twin sets
from the seventies,
woven from some synthetic
substance that did not wear
or tear, unlike the natural fibre
of her skin. My aged mother’s
delicate covering bled
every time she stumbled.
Worn out; worn to shreds.
— "Going home", Disturbance, Dawn Garisch
It has just gone six a.m. I walk my son down the road to the corner where we wait for his lift. The sun is rising, the light streaking the horizon gold. I comment on the morning buzz, the company we keep, power-walkers, the dog walkers, workers and school kids heading for the train. ‘The day carries on.’
Without you, the day must carry on.
Al says, ‘Of course, but let me remind you that you’re wearing pyjamas.’
— Death and the After Parties, Joanne Hichens
They fled with nothing, never stopping. Not even when his mother tripped, his sister, tied to her back, knocking her head so hard that a bump rose immediately. She had been crying, now she screamed. Yet still they ran, amid their own blood and spittle, as the black cloud of the burning valley hunted them, chasing them forward, forward, towards the blue sky.
— An Island, Karen Jennings
Now Shirley, you know, became a mother quite young – sixteen or something like that. She ran away from home with newborn Jason; his naeltjie at his belly hadn’t even fallen off yet. Came to Cape Town where she thought no one would find her. The Northern Cape was far.
— "Homeful", Let It Fall Where It Will, Lester Walbrugh
Lexi shrugged off her coat. She heard the rustle of beads as her mother, Sandra, came through the hippie curtain from the kitchen at the end of the long hallway. Like the town was bisected by a highway, so was their house by the passage.
‘I thought you would be asleep by now.’ Lexi feigned surprise.
‘I waited up. You’re my responsibility now.’ Her mother was in a kaftan, her hair long and loose. She looked like she’d escaped from the Mamas and the Papas.
‘Yay.’ The joys of being dumped and fleeced by her husband never ceased.
— A Fractured Land, Melissa A. Volker
I still remember my mother’s words when we got in the car to go to mass. ‘It’s Christmas, Mary, not a funeral.’ But I’ve always worn black. I would have said she was tempting providence, if that wasn’t exactly the sort of thing she would say. I should have, though. When we got home, a bunch of armed response cars were blocking the gates to the complex. The police were there. Men in bulletproof vests. Guns.
— A Hibiscus Coast, Nick Mulgrew
Not a word was exchanged between us as my mother and I made our way home. She must have seen how disappointed I was for, as soon as we walked into the house, she turned to me, demanding – ‘Where is the form?’
Puzzled, I looked at her. What use was that form now? What would she do with it? Only my father could sign it; and he had flatly refused, hadn’t he?
‘Give me the form, Thembi.’
My mother forged Baba’s signature.
I applied for a passport, astounded by my mother’s actions. She had shown me a side of her I didn’t suspect existed.
— Theatre Road, Sindiwe Magona
The lagoon has
like a son
forgets his father
but never his mother
— "Port is red and starboard green", For Everything That Is Pointless and Perfect, Stephen Symons
But tell me this: where is his irrepressible, eternal soul? Because that is what interests me more. Where is his spirit, free of the gritty, grey residue of his body, which I have felt with my own hands? Because I, with the five senses of a woman, and undeniable sixth one 16 of a mother, cannot fathom the dimension within which my child now exists.
— "Lost", Earth to Mom, Sue Brown
This is the 20th year of the fiction prize. The criteria stipulate that the winning novel should be one of “rare imagination and style … a tale so compelling as to become an enduring landmark of contemporary fiction”.
KEN BARRIS – CHAIR
Barris is a writer, editor and former academic. His fiction has been translated into German, Danish and Turkish, and he has won various literary awards for novels, short stories and poetry. These include the Ingrid Jonker Prize, the M-Net Book Prize, the Thomas Pringle Award, the University of Johannesburg Prize and the Herman Charles Bosman Prize.
Richards is an independent journalist with experience in radio and print. Founder of NPO: Woman Zone and the Women’s Library at Artscape, she’s author of Beautiful Homes and co-author of Woman Today: 50 Years of South African Women on Radio and Being a Woman in Cape Town. She is a speaker, media trainer and podcasts under Woman Zone Stories and Books Stories People on pointview.fm.
Mbao is a writer and essayist. He reviews fiction for the Johannesburg Review of Books and teaches South African literature at Stellenbosch University. His short story “The Bath” was listed as one of the 20 best stories of SA’s democracy, and he has compiled and edited the poetry collection Years of Fire and Ash: South African Poems of Decolonisation.
The award will be bestowed on a book that presents “the illumination of truthfulness, especially those forms of it that are new, delicate, unfashionable and fly in the face of power”, and that demonstrates “compassion, elegance of writing, and intellectual and moral integrity”.
GRIFFIN SHEA – CHAIR
Shea is the founder of Bridge Books, an independent bookstore in downtown Johannesburg, and the author of a young adult novel, The Golden Rhino. Bridge Books focuses on African literature, and on finding new ways of getting books to readers. The store’s non-profit African Book Trust is the lead partner in the Literary District project, a collaboration among booksellers, city agencies, businesses and other volunteers. Before opening Bridge Books, Griffin worked as a journalist for 15 years, mostly with the international news agency Agence France-Press (AFP).
Mathiane has been a journalist for more than 35 years. Her writing career began in 1975 as a reporter at The World newspaper, and she later joined Frontline magazine where she specialised in writing about life in South African townships. Since then she has worked for most of SA’s major newspapers. She has written three books: Beyond the Headlines, South Africa: Diary of Troubled Times, and Eyes in the Night: An Untold Zulu Story. She currently teaches isiZulu at a private primary school.
Ngqulunga is director of the Johannesburg Institute for Advanced Study at the University of Johannesburg. He is the author of The Man Who Founded the ANC: A Biography of Pixley ka Isaka Seme, which won multiple awards, including the Sunday Times Alan Paton Award for non-fiction in 2018. Ngqulunga was educated at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and at Brown University in the US, where he obtained a doctoral degree.
Joanne Hichens’ Death and the After Parties is a story about what happens when we lose someone we love and we’re broken beyond repair.
Two weeks into lockdown, my Dad took ill. A month later, he was dead. In the months that followed, I spiralled into a dark pit of nothingness. Consumed by loss, I journeyed into the underworld, my only solace being stories about death. This is how I came across Joanne Hichens’ Death and the After Parties – a story about what happens when the matrix shifts – when we lose someone we love and we’re broken beyond repair.
Hichens writes, ‘How do we keep in mind how fast time diminishes for us, that the years left become a smaller and smaller percentage of time compared to what we have already lived?’
This is at the heart of the book – the fact that time is a narrow bandwidth. We live. We love. We lose loved ones …