South African Womxn Writers – Day 4: Reflections by Thabiso Mahlape, Publisher at Blackbird Books

In 2015, Evera Publishing went into a joint venture with Jacana Media to create a publishing imprint called Blackbird Books. It was exciting for me as a young black woman to take these strides.

In 2020, Blackbird Books became an independent publisher, an even more exciting journey for me to embark on. But before Blackbird Books, there was Seriti sa Sechaba –a publishing company founded by one black woman named Dinah Lefakane, and there was Rose Francis’s African Perspectives, and again Seriti sa Sechaba by Christine Qunta.

I write about these women first because my mission as a publisher who is a black woman is linked to the mission of these women. My recognition cannot be sufficient until it is largely embraced that there have been several efforts by black women in publishing history.

“The only thing that separates [black women] from everyone else is opportunity” – Viola Davis

This Viola Davis quote is significant because the main problem we encounter as a publisher is lack of financial resources. In an industry that generally struggles, save for the large, international publishers, existing as a black woman publisher compounds this issue, and makes the business more punishing.

The reward of being a home for African writers is in creating enduring, groundbreaking offerings that should be difficult to erase from history. Just this year, Blackbird Books published Exhale: Queer African Erotic Fiction—this anthology collects queer writers across Africa and amplifies their experiences of their sexuality.

At Jacana Media, Nadia Goetham works to publish stories that mainly reflect coloured South African experiences. Recently, Terry-Ann Adams opens Those Who Live in Cages, her ode to Eldorado Park, in Kombuistaal – the Afrikaans that coloured people still fight so desperately to reclaim. At Tafelberg, I was happy to learn that Mbali Sikakana had been the commissioning editor of Patric Tariq Mellet’s The Lie of 1652 – a book that inserts itself into the significant discourse on the land dispossession of Africans.

As a black, woman, independent publisher, it often feels lonely and trying. But I move forward, always with the knowledge that I am onto something big, and I carry with me some courageous black women publishers.


Some recent titles by BlackBird authors include:

Corridors of Death by Malaika Wa Azania: The post-apartheid dispensation that has seen Black people continue to be hurled at the margins of existence has crystalised mental pathologies that have their roots in our violent and amoral past. Millions of Black people in South Africa are battling with a range of mental health challenges resulting from a complex interplay between biological, psychological, social and environmental factors. In Corridors of Death, the lived experiences of Black students in historically White universities is explored, exposing how structural violence, racism and a culture of alienation are pushing them to the edge of depression and increasingly, suicide. The book contends that urgent structural and institutional interventions need to be made, the centre of which must be transformation that reflects the demographic and socio-political construct of the South African society. Unless and until this happens, Black students will increasingly reach an unendurable level of invisible agony, and die in universities. ISBN: 9781990977152. GoodReads.

Exhale: is a queer anthology wrapped in the idea of a release, a letting go, breathing out. An orgasm. These are the stories that come out when you play sip or spill, truth or dare, never have I ever and lasts longer than 7 minutes in heaven. With sexual experiences from all over Africa, this anthology introduces some exciting new literary voices and brings you some of your established favourites. ISBN: 9781990977145. GoodReads.

If You Keep Digging by Keletso Mopai: is a moving collection of short stories that is an essential addition to current and on-going discussions that affect the youth including those around migration, gender, sexuality and identity. The selection of stories highlights marginalised identities and looks at the daily lives of people who may otherwise be forgotten or dismissed. ‘Monkeys’ is a skillful commentary on domestic violence, toxic masculinity, patriarchy (and how it is racialised), power dynamics between white and black men and how children come to ‘know’ that they are white or black. ‘Skinned’, whose protagonist is a woman with albinism, is a powerful story about learning to accept that you deserve love when the world constantly tells you otherwise. In ‘Fourteen’ the author deftly demonstrates the ability to play with concepts of time and reality. It is a compelling story about potential and how one can feel unfulfilled despite having hopes and ambitions. ISBN: 9781928337812. GoodReads.

Siren: Meet Zinhle, the glamorous Siren, as she reels through the highs and lows of fame-seeking in Jozi. Zinhle lives through a sham marriage, a stint as the lover of a Nollywood high-roller, sex parties, and an affair with a football star. She bed-hops from man to powerful man, overcoming cattiness, rivalry, cheating and dodgy agents, to nab a starring role in Heritage, a highly successful soapie. She has attitude and sass in bucket loads and is never far from the latest front-page scandal. Siren, Kuli Roberts’s gripping debut novel, is a classic rags-to-riches tale, jam-packed with drama, hot sex and reversals of fortune that will keep readers zipping through the pages until the very end. ISBN: 9781928337935. GoodReads.

Thabiso Mahlape is the Founder and Managing Director of Blackbird Books. Thabiso was born in Polokwane, South Africa. At six years old, she took up reading to teach herself English, and that journey with words would carry her to lead a successful, independent publishing house in South Africa; Blackbird Books, which she founded in August 2015. She is columnist and a speaker who speaks globally on the future of both global and African publishing. She is currently working on creating an African literary gateway through Blackbird Books.

This month’s blog is curated by Jen Thorpe.

Jen Thorpe is a feminist writer. Her first novel, The Peculiars (2016), was long listed for the Etisalat Prize for Literature (2016) and the Sunday Times Fiction Prize (2017). Her second novel, The Fall, was published in July 2020. Thorpe has edited three collections of feminist essays – My First Time: Stories of Sex and Sexuality from Women Like You (2012); Feminism Is: South Africans Speak Their Truth (2018) and Living While Feminist (2020). Her writing has been published in Brittle Paper, Saraba Magazine, Jalada, and Litro. Find out more via Jen is also the host of the Living While Feminist Podcast available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Anchor, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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