The past few months have seen a wave of discussion about race and South Africa’s literary landscape. Perhaps, the most well known, was writer Thando Mgqolozana’s comment “I will never be seen at another literary festival unless it is a black literary festival.” The sentiment was/is that many literary festivals parade black authors for the amusement of a mainly white audience. The fact that the country’s main publishers are mostly white owned, is another indictment on the literary landscape.
But, local publishing company, Jacana, is hoping to change this, by launching a new imprint next month, run by a skilled, black publisher, Thabiso Mahlape. BlackBird Books hopes “to provide a platform and a publishing home to both new voices and the existing generation of black writers and narratives”, a statement by Jacana reads.
Mahlape’s successes include critically acclaimed bestsellers such as Redi Tlhabi’s Endings & Beginnings, McInstosh Polela’s My Father My Monster, and Malaika wa Azania’s Memoirs of a Born Free.
In a press release, the 31-year-old Mahlape describes BlackBird Books as a ground-breaking move in the South African literary landscape, and says that her inspiration and direction comes largely Nat Nakasa’s dream of launching a literary magazine for black writers, similar to Drum, something that was never realized. She also cites Nina Simone’s writing about “the pain of knowing that the world wouldn’t allow a ‘blackbird’ to fly”.
The imprint will be launched on the 12th of August. It’s first books published will be Stevel Marc’s The Refined Player: Sex, Lies and Dates, Nakhane Touré’s Piggy Boy’s Blues, and Panashe Chimugadzi’s Sweet Medicine.