Fish Hoek Library and its Friends have recently lost a good friend in the death of Professor Kossick. She has been generous in her giving to us – giving of her books, her time, her knowledge and her wit. We shall miss her greatly.

Shirley Kossick had a very successful career in advertising but gave it up in favour of further study and her great love – books. When she retired from lecturing on English Literature for Unisa she was honoured with the title Professor Emeritus.

She and her dear friend Claudia came to Fish Hoek and Shirley immediately started to use her knowledge to benefit others. I first met her in 1998 when she was offering lectures on Women’s Writing at the Natale Labia Museum. At first we met in a reception room with a beautiful moulded ceiling but very little ventilation and the room was sometimes so packed that people found chairs and crowded round the doors.

She chose topics such as ‘Children in Literature’, Anglo-Indian Writing, Biography or Literary Prize-winners. She would give us a general introduction, telling us about the genre or encouraging discrimination e.g. “Don’t believe all you read – even, or especially, in Autobiographies”. Then she would give us a list of 15 – 30 books, telling us a bit about each, so that we came away inspired with ideas of new authors to read and challenged to read more intelligently.

Incidentally, the Labia benefited financially from these lectures as Shirley had a strong social conscience

After a few years, the Museum was no longer a suitable venue and Friends of Fish Hoek Library persuaded her to come and lecture to us. We had a series of Literary Tea parties once a month, six times a year. Once again, Shirley insisted that all donations from those attending went straight to the Library. We used it for buying books she had recommended and, since 2006, added over a hundred worthwhile new books to the Library shelves.

Shirley usually spoke about comparatively recent books and we were always in awe at the number she had managed to read. She was scrupulous about telling us if she hadn’t yet managed to read a particular book. e.g. a book called  La Cucina,  which the selection committee felt was ‘too sexy’ for Fish Hoek. She concentrated on women writers because even Professor Kossick could not keep up with the enormous and growing number of books published each year.

Not only were we stimulated and challenged by our Professor’s talks but we also laughed. She told us, in connection with reading biographies with critical discernment, that “some authors are entertaining liars!” In the same talk, she mentioned Bombay Anna, the true story of The King and I and said “Forget Yul Brynner. The king was 57 and lame”.

Prof Kossick was a Book Critic for the Mail and Guardian and wrote several valuable articles for the Cape Librarian magazine. She was in demand for introducing authors,  Jodi Picoult for one, at Literary Festivals and lunches. And she gave generously of her time and encouragement to aspiring authors. She spoke at the Union of Jewish Women and for a short time, at Tokai and Bergvliet Libraries. For a while, she ran a Book Discussion Group in Constantia and was instrumental in us setting up the Book Discussion group which meets at the Library. Many of the books we discuss were recommended by her.

Despite the illness she had been battling for some time, Shirley was still hoping to do her series of talks this year. Instead we will be holding a Memorial Tea Party for her on Friday 24th March at 10 a.m. at the Library Hall in Fish Hoek. All are welcome. There will be no charge for attendance but donations towards a ‘Kossick Shelf’ will be very acceptable. We are planning to allocate a special shelf, or shelves, to books Prof Kossick has recommended in the past and future publications that we know she would have recommended.

Submitted by Jenny Strickland, Friends of Fish Hoek Library