During the month of November, we are placing pieces in a celebratory key on the life of Stephen Gray.
The first, from Rosemary Gray:
Although we share both a name and year of birth, Stephen and I are not related.
We are both professors of English. But Stephen was also a good friend; he dined out on many an occasion by retelling of a hotel booking in Montpellier when Lewis Nkozi was accorded the freedom of the city. I had arrived first and was happily installed in my room and had just got out of the shower, still wrapped in a towel and bare footed, to answer a loud and persistent knocking on the door. There was Stephen informing me that I was in HIS room! I am not sure who was more shocked! Evidently, management had assumed that we were husband and wife and so had not made a separate booking for me! Had they looked at the addresses, they would have noticed that Stephen was from Johannesburg and I was from Pretoria but, of course, few knew much about South Africa back then! Stephen was gracious enough to allow me to stay put even though the room had been especially ordered by him as it had an outside door that led into a beautiful rose garden. As the hotel was full, they had to find him alternative accommodation at a nearby B&B.
Over the years, we have recalled the incident and even had a good laugh over a shared pasta meal with a mutual friend not so very long ago.
From Mbongeni Malaba:
Ours was a decades-long friendship. If my memory serves me well, we first met at a conference in Essen, hosted by Prof. Dr Elmar Lehmann, who had established a wonderful Centre for Southern African Literary Studies. We kept in touch over the years and it was a pleasure to welcome Stephen to the University of Zimbabwe as our external examiner. Some colleagues, who were hesitant about casting aside the boycott of South African institutions, were won over by his charm. An inveterate traveller, I used to meet him at the railway station and take him to his hotel. One could never guarantee it would arrive on time, so one went hoping it might be so, as the Railway Office could not always tell when it was due! But he would be on it, smiling broadly, as he loved trains.
Read the full note, “Farewell“, here.
From Nick Meihuizen:
The first time I met Stephen Gray was at the 1988 Association of University English Teachers of South Africa (AUESTA) conference in Potchefstroom. It was memorable for me not only because it was there where I delivered my first conference paper (in a small, prefabricated building), but because of the presence of such luminaries as Don McLennan, Cherry Clayton, Armando Pajalich, Michael Chapman, and, of course, Stephen. At a poetry reading on (as far as I can remember) the last evening of the conference, Stephen performed several of his poems in a café-type venue in a very lively, engaging way that delighted all of us, especially the students present. He’d dramatize a persona, pose stock still, declaim loudly, whisper, snap his fingers – bringing some of the best contemporary South African poetry in English to vibrant life.
Click here to read the rest of Nick’s note
From Gerhard Hope:
Anyone who has studied English at a tertiary level is likely to have encountered Stephen Gray’s seminal work as an editor. For me, it was The Penguin Book of Southern African Stories (1986). Gray takes the mickey out of his own reputation in his novel Born of Man (1989). He refers to this particular title as having being edited by Michael Chaplin, who received the Human Sciences Research Council Medal for Social Sciences and Humanities in 2018. ‘What’s this? … Believe me, I can tell you some they haven’t heard’, the epistolary narrator says archly. Incidentally, about The Golden Notebook, he avers: ‘Believe me, I can do the same in a lot less words’. And describes it as: ‘A sensitive novel by Nadine Gordimer about Rhodesian women going mad’.
Here’s the rest of Gerhard’s celebratory note
From Ian Bekker:
I got to know Stephen Gray late in his life, mainly as a result of my attempt to launch the Herman Charles Bosman Memorial Lecture Series at the Potchefstroom Campus of the North-West University. My first contacts in the world of Bosman scholarship were Annette Combrink and Craig MacKenzie (who also happened to be our two first lecture-series speakers in 2012 and 2014 respectively), but it was of course only natural, given the incredible work that he has done over the years on Bosman’s life and oeuvre (not least of which is his extensive, definitive biography of Bosman, Life Sentence) that I would eventually also cross Stephen’s path and shortly after ask him to present a lecture for the series as well, which he eventually did in 2018.
Click here to read Ian’s note.
From GALA, torchbearers of South African LGBTQIA* memory:
The GALA Queer Archive in Johannesburg holds a small Stephen Gray Collection amongst its holdings. Gray donated the material to GALA in 1999. The collection includes seven books, a play and an article written by Stephen Gray. Also, some other publications, notably Equus, an early South African gay magazine (1979), and some unpublished creative writing. The collection also includes numerous press clippings and production ephemera relating to gay and lesbian theatre in South Africa between 1972 and 1996, as well as local and international press clippings relating to homosexuality, 1972 to 1998, and some gay and lesbian organisational records.
Read GALA’s note, here.
And from Charika Swanepoel, a poem entitled ‘Something of a song for Stephen Gray’
Your stance and the ferocity of your frown
shows that you know, that you’ve always known,
exactly who Stephen Gray should truly be.
I envy you this surety of self
but, of course, that’s only the Italian you.
The ‘accident of your birth’, here at home,
still ripples on, still doubts itself sometimes,
still stumbles, yet shares that same forthrightness.
Between local talk, Adamastor, and Shelley,
I’ve found you and have made you my own.
Though I hate your love of popular politics
and complacent academic air,
I look at you there,
in that photo Giovanni took,
and I see my own truth,
(previously appearing in Literator, but reposted here on request of the poet)
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