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Phillippa Yaa de Villiers

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Notes on Original Skin

Biographical sketch that first appeared in the Mail & Guardian – and more information about Original Skin, on at the Market Theatre until 22 June, from Litnet.

After a number of incidents in my childhood — when I was expelled from the movies, teased at school and asked personal questions about my origins — I demanded photographs of my mother, pregnant. Then, when I wanted to see pictures of myself as a newborn, there weren’t any. I rifled through my mother’s papers looking for some official document explaining me. I never found one.

In retrospect it all makes sense. At the age of 20 my father told me that I was adopted and that my biological father was possibly aboriginal. It took 14 years for me to discover the true story and an additional nine years to write it down. Original Skin, which opens at the Market Theatre this week, is the culmination of this process.

Adoption is difficult to describe because it is loaded with guilt. In her book, Twice Born, author Betty Jean Lifton writes: “Adoptive parents demand that their stories end happily ever after, although they must know that even families with blood ties cannot be promised such a simple-minded plot. Even blood children must one day go off on their own lonely journeys of self-discovery.” This form of emotional bondage robs many adoptees of the words to describe themselves and their situation. This becomes untenable for a writer.

More info on Original Skin

With an extraordinary one-woman multi-character performance by Phillippa Yaa de Villiers, Original Skin is a riveting autobiographical narrative about a mixed-race baby whose white Australian mother decides to give her up for adoption in Verwoerd’s early 60s South Africa.

Told with humour and compassion, this richly poetic script traces echoes of bigotry in Australia while also representing South Africa’s own ‘big racial tension story’ through one child’s often ironic and remarkable journey to adulthood. This brilliant memoir reflects South Africa’s present struggle with ongoing prejudice.


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