Life and a love for literature

2018-04-17 09:16
Photo: Nancy Richards

Photo: Nancy Richards

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A clairvoyant once foresaw Nancy Richards “surrounded by books”, which may have been an insight into the decades-long love affair she would come to have with literature.

But more likely, it was her early introduction into the magical world of literature as a child that charted the course of her adult life.

“I was read to a lot as a child, though Mother used to weep a lot at the sad bits. And I had the most extraordinarily huge and impressive English teacher at school who breathed fire and life into words. I was lucky – reading was an everyday thing growing up.”

It’s still an “everyday thing” for Richards, who has made a career out of her love for literature: as a print and radio journalist and presenter of SAfm Literature.

“I arrived in SA with a very mixed bag of qualifications – but they got me a job as assistant to Lin Sampson at Fair Lady in the ‘living’ department schlepping props around and dreaming up whacky articles. Seventeen years later I’d learnt a little about a huge amount – from stain removal to styling, strong personalities to social politics. Later as decor editor I wrote a book called Beautiful Homes. Radio presenting came my way when Hilary Reynolds interviewed first my mother then me. ‘Would you be interested in doing some interviews?’ she said afterwards. ‘Okidoke’ I replied.”

Her journey in literature has been what Richards describes as a “consistent and enriching mind expander and side step into other worlds over the years”.

“Our house is bursting with books as a result. I haven’t always been a voracious novel reader – but books and book references have crept into everything I do. Studying graphics in the UK, the first project I did was to embroider book illustrations. What was I thinking! When I started presenting the women’s show on SAfm, it was much more cerebral than visual and I got to speak to lots of writers. But the real book tsunami came when I stood in as presenter for SAfm Literature – eventually I became a fixture and books, authors, writers and readers of all sorts and disciplines flooded my life.”

Every interview Richards did counts as a highlight to her, in both her literature and women’s interest segments on air.

“[It was] the opportunity to listen, to have a one-on-one conversation with a people of all backgrounds – from cleaners to creatives to captains of industry. What they call a Human Library. [It’s] impossible to pick out anyone, though Salman Rushdie was a win … and talking to Archbishop Thabo Makgoba about his book was an honour. Putting together a book to mark 50 years of the women’s show on radio was also quite something – Woman Today: A Celebration. It nearly killed us, but what an experience.”

Her love of books also saw Richards being instrumental in creating a women’s library through Woman Zone, an organisation she was part of creating.

“It was born out of hearing so many women’s stories on the air. The power it gives a woman to tell her story, the understanding that comes with listening to someone else’s story. So it grew out of ‘storysharing’. Woman Zone guiding principles are to bring women of different cultures and backgrounds together to know one another better and to celebrate women’s achievements – and more recently in these divided times to unite this Mother City of ours through her women,” Richards explains.

“During the magazine and radio years I amassed a huge amount of books by, for and about women – and often dreamt about starting a women’s library. Now we’ve done it! It’s on the ground floor of Artscape. We’ve brought out a book called Being a Woman in Cape Town, we have a guided woman’s walk called Circle in the City, and we’re busy with the Everywoman Project – a collective textile artwork.”

Despite recently leaving SAfm, Richards will still have a foot in the world of literature.

“The book world still beckons. I’m working on a great project with Quivertree Publications, compiling South Africa’s cultural legendary stories. I’m doing some sessions at the Franschhoek Literary Fest and other book ‘discussions’. There’s another book project rumbling – and for heaven knows how long I’ve been planning to write about my mother’s journey across the world with her ship’s captain father. I hope still to be making radio documentaries – my best thing – and there’s also Woman Zone … ”

And between all those projects, she will be the MC of the Perfectly Posh High Tea Party taking place at the Kelvin Grove Club in Newlands on Thursday moring.

The beneficiary of the Perfectly Posh High Tea is The Life Matters Foundation, which improves literacy among children from disadvantaged communities.

To Richards, the value of literacy is “measureless”.

“Reading takes you to new places, into the shoes of others, and writing deepens understanding.

“I expect [the Perfectly Posh High Tea Party is] going to be the most fabulous and fun event – show me a gathering of women that isn’t. And I am so looking forward to hearing the stories of everyone who comes over a cup of tea!”

Limited tickets are left for the Perfectly Posh High Tea Party at R250 from Webtickets. The event will feature fashion by Ruff Tung and Danielle Margaux modelled by Ace Models, stylish shades by Spec-Savers, makeup trends by Cosmetix, guest speaker Cathy Steed and Russel Fox (Magician Insane). Decor for the event will be done by Lol’s Flowers and audiovisuals by AV Staging Worx.


Follow the Perfectly Posh High Tea Party event on Facebook. 


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