We had a great day in Peterlee last week when South African author Beverley Naidoo visited the North East to celebrate 30 years of her modern classic – Journey to Jo’burg.  Over 200 pupils from County Durham primary schools joined together in a special event with the award-winning author.

Over the last year, Seven Stories has been working with secondary school students of The Academy at Shotton Hall to unpack the issues and themes of Beverley’s brilliant story as part of innovative and creative classroom learning.  Students also gained unique access to Beverley’s extensive archive which has recently become part of Seven Stories’ collection. We were all treated to a truly moving performance by Shotton Hall’s year 8 drama club who had interpreted Journey to Jo’burg into a beautifully acted assembly piece.  The drama was rich with African music and extracts directly from the text.  The students had worked with organisation, The Forge to produce their twenty minute drama which was an innovative interpretation of the story bringing its powerful message about Apartheid to life and cleverly weaving in more contemporary racial struggles.


Year 7 English students also displayed their Arts Award work which was their creative interpretation of Journey to Jo’burg.  The quality and variety of their work was very imaginative – it was great to see yet another way Beverley’s book could be artistically interpreted.

The main event was an inspiring talk by Beverley about how she wrote Journey to Jo’burg and the unsettling historical context of the Apartheid that forms the backdrop to the whole story.  It is incredible to think that the novel was banned in South Africa until as recent as 1991. The children in the audience were clearly moved to ask lots of questions and were impacted by having the special opportunity to spend an afternoon with an author.  They all left brilliant feedback on their way out of the session: When asked “What will you take away from this event?” “…the fact that I have had a chance in a lifetime because you wouldn’t normally meet a real life author” “…to remember to treat people the same no matter who they are” “…it’s important that everyone is equal as an human being” ”…that I hope apartheid never happens again” Beverley quite rightly pointed out that “the students’ drama interpretation just shows the exciting journey a book makes. We need imagination to take us beyond our own experiences.”  The event was a brilliant celebration not only of Journey to Jo’burg but also an impressive demonstration of how a book can inspire drama, art, a love of reading and a better understanding of different cultures.

If you would like to read more about the event and Beverley Naidoo’s collection, click here. Beverly also blogged about her experience here.