The Born Frees

A creative writing group unites and inspires girls of the first South African generation "born free."

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When Kimberly Burge organized a writing group in the township of Gugulethu, South Africa, she discovered a group of extraordinary young women who belonged to the first generation born into a post-apartheid world. Though they were “born free,” the young women of the townships around Cape Town still face daunting challenges. Their families and communities have been ravaged by poverty, violence, sexual abuse, and AIDS. Yet, as Burge quickly learned, the spirit of these girls outshines the often extremely difficult circumstances they share with so many of their peers throughout the world.

The group is made up of girls with wide-ranging personalities and varying levels of education—girls such as the irrepressible Annasuena, whose late mother was one of South Africa’s most celebrated singers; bubbly Sharon, already career-bound; and shy Ntombi, determined to finish high school and pursue further studies—all of whom find reassurance and courage in writing. Together they also find temporary escape from the travails of their lives, anxieties beyond boyfriends and futures: for some of them, worries that include HIV medication regimens, conflicts with indifferent guardians, struggles with depression. Driven by a desire to claim their own voices and define themselves, their writing in the group Amazw’Entombi, “Voices of the Girls,” provides a lodestar for what freedom might mean.

Filled with compassion and hope, The Born Frees is a testimony to the necessity of empowering girls, and to the role writing can play in reimagining one’s own life.

Praise for The Born Frees

"In this compelling and personal book, Kimberly Burge takes us deep inside the hearts and minds of a group of extraordinary young women whose struggles and courage epitomize what South Africa is like today."

- Jim Wallis

New York Times best-selling author of The (Un)Common Good and president of Sojourners

"In her stirring, enlightening and engaging book, Kimberly Burge has gathered together a 21st century group of young Scheherazades, saving their lives and engaging ours with their stories and talents. Wise, observant, compassionate, and free of sanctimony, Burge does a lovely job of skillfully—and respectfully—weaving the girls’ narratives into the larger story of a radically changing society still burdened by the wounds of an oppressive system. The Born Frees would be my pick for a book to give young women and girls (and the males in their lives) to inspire them to activism and hope."

- Julia Alvarez

New York Times best-selling author of In the Time of the Butterflies and A Wedding in Haiti

"Readers will take the stories in The Born Frees with them forever. It is especially important for young people to know about and discuss, to build a wider world awareness and ignite passionate exploration of what matters."

- Rosalind Wiseman

New York Times best-selling author of Queen Bees and Wannabes