#TranslatedLit An Introduction to Modjaji Books by Colleen Higgs

Since 2007 Modjaji Books has been pushing the boundaries of publishing in southern Africa. We put women’s writing and experiences at the heart of our work. We publish everything from poetry and short stories to novels and memoirs. We publish women of all cultures, races and ages.

We have published books on themes such as gender based violence, stillbirths, gender and sexual orientation, female sexuality and the experience that women of all backgrounds share – living in a partiarchial world. Some of these things had not been published in South Africa before. Our catalogue encompasses a wide range of women’s experiences including, but not limited to, motherhood and sisterhood, documentary film-making and journalism, teaching and art, bread making, marriage and partnerships, acting and playwriting, activism and mentoring. 

Our authors are southern African women and women born in other parts of the world who live here now.

We love making our book covers beautiful by using original artworks by local artists (mostly women) and we often use hand lettering for the title and author name.

Modjaji’s work has been risky and underfunded, and has made our ongoing survival precarious and stressful. We survive because we have had some angel investors and brilliant young interns (who are paid a stipend). In spite of our makeshift existence, Modjaji has been warmly welcomed and supported by the literary community, both in South Africa and internationally. We’ve been invited as a guest to many book fairs – in particular Frankfurt, Geneva, Doha, Nairobi and the South African Book Fair. Our readers, writers, book designers, cover artists, distributors, booksellers, printers, media and other vital parts of the literary world, have all been part of ensuring our survival and presence in the literary world.

African Books Collective is an important partner for us, where we have world rights they distribute our titles internationally using Print on Demand technology and via e-books. They represent us at conferences on African literature – our books being visible and available for international purchase has helped us build our readership and provides a welcome additional income stream. It also means we can get books sent to book fairs and for international award submissions more easily than from here.

(Modjaji author: Trifonia Melibea Obono)

A number of our authors have won awards and this has boosted their careers. Most of our writers have enjoyed new opportunities as a result of their book/s being published with us: writers’ residencies, being picked up by agents, movie rights optioned, invitations to literary festivals here and abroad, job offers, new ways of earning an income, being included in prestigious anthologies, writers in residence, lecturers on MFA courses.

We’ve sold rights to some of our titles to presses in Brazil, Canada, Mozambique, Norway, Germany, France, the US, Nigeria, the UK, and Australia. Our writers have had the pleasure and experience of their books being received by international readers and those who have read in languages other than English, and in some cases have enjoyed being invited on book tours and to events in countries in other parts of the world.

We are proud to belong to the International Alliance of Independent Publishers and to participate in bringing diversity to the literary world along with fellow publishers globally who are also committed to this goal. As independent publishers we make a difference to what can and what is published, and to representing views and experiences which are local, controversial, critical, particular.

(Colleen Higgs started Modjaji Books in 2007. Colleen also wrote A rough guide to small-scale and self-publishing (2005, Centre for the Book) and the South African Small Publishers’ Catalogue (edited with Maire Fisher, 2006, Centre for the Book) and has consistently championed small-scale, self and independent publishing in South Africa.)

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