Invitation to a memorial lecture

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.

I clearly remember meeting Stephen for the first time at his flat in Killarney; the charm, warmth and hospitality of the man and the rows and rows of books which festooned every room of his large flat are the first things that pop into my mind. I was, to be honest, expecting to meet someone rather old-fashioned (especially after it became clear that Stephen only communicated via landline and had no time for cellphones!), but I was soon struck by his wit, his clear-sighted awareness and knowledge of most things contemporary and – this I was expecting, and was not disappointed – his incredible, encyclopaedic knowledge of all things literary.

Naturally we began with pleasantries and Bosman, but the following wide-ranging conversation continued unabated for hours. It might sound a little hackneyed but it is perfectly accurate to say that I left the flat feeling enriched. It was also, as mentioned above, crystal clear to me that I had to have him for the lecture series.

The title of Stephen’s lecture, the 4th Biennial Herman Charles Bosman Memorial Lecture, delivered on Wednesday evening 19th September 2018, was At Home with Herman Charles Bosman: Using Literary Biography to Interpret His Works. Unfortunately Stephen did not write this lecture ‘up’ (relying as he always did on notes) but it was, in essence, a fascinating and humorous account (a ‘highlights package’ if you will) of Bosman’s life and the connections one can make between the life of the author and the fictional works themselves. Given that the lecture was being delivered in Potchefstroom there was also a conscious, kind effort on Stephen’s part to highlight this connection (Bosman having spent some of his childhood in Potchefstroom).

I did not know Stephen well, but now wish I had been blessed with more opportunities to know him better.