South African Womxn Writers – Day 17: An interview with non-fiction publisher, Na’eemah Masoet

For Feminism Is and Living While Feminist I had the ABSOLUTE pleasure of working with Na’eemah Masoet, non-fiction publisher at Kwela Books. I am a massive fan of Na’eemah’s energy, approach, and books. So, I thought I’d give myself some extra time with her by doing a little Q&A.

Enjoy!

Why did you get into publishing?

I had just graduated my undergrad and always wanted to pursue a career in English but I was too young to think about what that actually meant. I ended up going into teaching English, and started at a high school in Somerset West. I really enjoyed it, and I felt like I connected more with my learners when we were doing South African literature/poetry and our discussions often went beyond the text and classroom (I assume this is the case in most English classrooms).

I realised that I still wanted to pursue my English goal. I left teaching to do my Honours in English and that really sparked an intense love for South African literature. I wanted to be part of that landscape and part of creating the very books I so much enjoyed and I thought that if I went into publishing (South African literature), I could do that. Mid-year through Honours, I decided to look into the SA publishing industry in greater detail. I started at Modjaji Books the year after I graduated from Honours. 

How long have you been a publisher and where have you worked?

This will be my sixth year of being a publisher. I started working for Modjaji Books (2013) (A publisher that focuses on exclusively Southern African women writers) and stayed there for a year and a half. I then moved to NB Publishers, working for Kwela Books as a junior editor, doing fiction and non-fiction. NB decided to split the fiction and non-fiction in 2015, and I’ve been doing non-fiction ever since.

What sparks your interest in a submission? 

I think the concept and how you approach your topic are very important, and if the author is authentic and well-versed in the topic that all adds up to a good submission.

Good writing is essential. If we’re looking at memoirs, I think a remarkable personality and interesting life is key.

However, each submission is assessed individually, and there are many factors that come into play. 

Can you list all the books written by womxn that you’ve been the publisher for?

Wow, I would need to consult the archive for this one. At Modjaji, we only published Southern African women and I looked at many submissions in my time there. There were also a few books that came out after I’d already left that I had suggested we publish. I didn’t keep a list of them so I can’t really speak for Modjaji Books or my early Kwela days where I wasn’t a publisher but a junior editor who worked with a team of people.

From 2015, at Kwela non-fiction, here are some of them (collections are marked with *, we had some women contributors):

  • Papwa: Maxine Case [ISBN: 9780795707117 GoodReads]
  • Fatima Meer: Memories of Love and Struggle: Fatima Meer [ISBN: 9780795707889 GoodReads]
  • Colour Me Yellow – Searching for my Family Truth: Thuli Nhlapo [ISBN: 9780795708107 GoodReads]
  • Feminism Is*: Jen Thorpe (ed.) [ISBN: 9780795708275 GoodReads]
  • If This Be Treason: Helen Joseph [ISBN: 9780795708176 GoodReads]
  • Sala Kahle, District Six: Nomvuyo Ngcelwane [ISBN: 9780795708466 GoodReads]
  • Holding the Fort: Toni Strasburg [ISBN: 9780795709128 GoodReads]
  • Yellow and Confused: Ming-Cheau Lin [ISBN: 9780795709203 GoodReads]
  • They Called Me Queer*: Compiled by Kim Windvogel and Kelly-Eve Koopman [ISBN: 9780795709173 GoodReads]
  • Impossible Return: Siona O’Connell [ISBN: 9780795708961 GoodReads]
  • Balance of Power: Qaanitah Hunter [ISBN: 9780795709234 GoodReads]
  • Living While Feminist*: Jen Thorpe (ed.). [ISBN: 9780795709418 GoodReads]
  • Lansdowne Dearest: Bronwyn Davids. [ISBN: 9780795709807 GoodReads]
  • Femicide in South Africa: Nechama Brodie [ISBN: 9780795709388 GoodReads]
  • Quirky Quick Guide to Having Great Sex: Tiffany Kagure Mugo [ISBN: 9780795709449 GoodReads]
  • Heart of a Strong Woman: Xoliswa Nduneni-Ngema and Fred Khumalo [ISBN: 9780795709838 GoodReads]
  • Coming in February 2021 – The Big South African Hair Book: Janine Jellars [ISBN: GoodReads]

What are you looking for in the future (book wise)?

Great writing, great stories, interesting and dynamic authors. I’m also looking to building my stable of authors, looking for authors who are keen to keep producing books on interesting topics that reflect the demographics and current issues in South Africa.

Do you have a favourite book (doesn’t have to be one you’ve published but can be)? What is it?

ISBN: 9780795701092

So many to be honest. I think it’s easier to go with a childhood classic because I keep reading and re-reading it: The Outsiders by SE Hinton.

If I had to choose one of my favourite South African books, David’s Story by Zoe Wicomb. But I really have many favourites, it’s the reason my bookshelf is never big enough. And then all the books I’ve published are always special to me.

What are your goals as a publisher in SA?

Hopefully, I can continue publishing books that interest the public and that people want to read. My answer is very similar to question 5: I want to keep telling South African stories and make sure we publish diverse authors and content. I’m keen to keep producing books on interesting topics that reflect our country’s demographics and contemporary South Africa. We have so much to learn from each other and I hope we can do that through reading and learning from one another.

Na’eemah Masoet is a non-fiction publisher at Kwela Books and has a passion for South African stories. She has a Bachelor’s in social science, post-graduate certificate in education and an Honours in English, all from the University of Cape Town. She lives in Athlone, Cape Town with her husband and two cats.

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 https://jen-thorpe.com. 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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