Linda Press Wulf’s first book, The Night of the Burning, won awards and inclusion in annual lists of the best fiction for young adults. She grew up in South Africa, at a time when there was no TV to distract budding readers. She lives in Berkeley, California, with her husband and two sons, and is at work on a novel for adults.
I grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa, and read vociferously throughout my childhood. My mother encouraged my love of old-fashioned children’s books by Gene Stratton Porter, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Ethel Turner, and the two L.M.s - L. M. Montgomery and L.M. Alcott; my father showed me how to polish both writing and speechmaking; my brother influenced me to love history; and my sister told me that I was too young to get the Inner Meaning of the adult books I was reading. Growing up in an apartheid society was a soul-twisting experience even for whites. It is a toss-up as to what was more damaging - the sick feeling of revulsion and helplessness at each incident of verbal or physical dehumanizing of blacks OR the institutionalized prejudice that cannot but infiltrate impressionable young minds.
On a visit to Harvard years later, I wept when I witnessed black students ascending the stage in graduation gowns. The most educated blacks I ever met in South Africa were 16-18 year old kids whose high schools had been closed after the Soweto riots in 1976. They hung around on my university campus, where I eventually took over as head of a student-run volunteer tutoring group, pairing white university students with black high school students.
I - and most of my friends - left South Africa as soon as we could. We were convinced that either blacks were going to be suppressed ever more brutally or whites were going to be killed en masse, and we didn’t want to be around for either. We hadn’t factored in the extraordinary gentle power of Nelson Mandela. After I’d obtained a B.A. majoring in English and it was my time to leave the country, I chose the most liberal campus in America that I’d heard of - UC Berkeley - to do a graduate degree. But just as I arrived, in September 1977, the Bank of America branch near campus finally removed the wooden boards from their windows, the protective boarding which had been put up a decade earlier during the student protests. I was years too late for the hippy revolution. Nevertheless, I enrolled to do a teacher’s credential. Ten years in Toronto followed, during which I was trained as an editor at Macmillan of Canada. Toronto is a wonderful city - civilized, cultured, and clean, but with so many cohesive immigrant populations that it is never dull. Driving with Italian friends through Little Italy just after Italy won the World Cup in soccer was an unforgettable experience of uninhibited jubilation. Partway though my Canadian decade, I took off for Japan in search of adventure, sans companion, sans a fulltime job offer, sans a place to stay or a friend or acquaintance to contact. My Year of Living Dangerously - a truly great year, actually. In 1988, I moved to Israel and decided to finally put down roots. But the South African man I met there — and was engaged to after only 5 weeks together — had decided he wasn’t yet ready to settle in Israel. After our wedding, we ended up, for various reasons, in the San Francisco Bay Area. Both of my sons were born here in Berkeley and we are part of a close, caring community.