South African Womxn Writing – Day 19: 245 South African Womxn’s novels you should read now (2015 – 2019)

In early 2020 I started making a list of all the fiction novels written South African women writers published between 1994 and 2019. I wrote more about this project, here. When I began I thought it would be labour intensive, but not overly complicated. I was right in one respect.

Making a list of the incredible books produced did take time, but not for the reasons I expected. I thought I’d be spending all my time emailing publishers and then translating those emails into excel spreadsheets for analysis. In fact, when I did reach out to publishers many did not have a list of the books they’d published going back as far as 1994. Those who did had not created a gender-disaggregated list, so there was no way to tell who had written the books without researching each individual author. Publishing houses had closed, some been amalgamated, or changed computer systems. The reality was that I was going to have to make the list myself, rather than collate various other lists.

I began the old fashioned way. I went to my local library. There I browsed the shelves and wrote down the titles and names I thought met my criteria. Then I used the publishers list to augment it. I googled authors I knew to see if their websites listed other books. I looked on Twitter. Then I made a fantastic discovery – South Africa’s Museum of Literature, the Amazwi Museum, in Grahamstown.

According to their website:

Amazwi South African Museum of Literature collects, conserves and promotes the literatures of all of South Africa’s official languages.  Previously the National English Literary Museum (NELM) –  the museum was founded with a small collection of South African manuscripts by the late Professor Guy Butler of Rhodes University in the 1960s.  Butler had a vision of a national repository for South African literary manuscripts, and this was the genesis of NELM. The Thomas Pringle Collection for English in Africa was founded in 1972. In 1974 this became the National Documentation Centre for English.  It became a Declared Cultural Institution in 1980, funded by the Department of Arts and Culture. Although autonomous, the museum is an associated research institute of Rhodes University.

In 2017 the number of literary artefacts in the museum’s collection stood at over 100 000. These include authors’ manuscripts, printers’ proofs, diaries, correspondence, publishers’ archives, photographs, posters, play-scripts, theatre programmes and cultural artefacts. The museum’s collection of published poems, short stories, novels, plays, autobiographies, travel writing and children’s literature exceeds 30 000.

The museum offers excellent research facilities for visiting researchers. The Education and Public Programmes Division offers a range of activities for schools, and regularly hosts book launches and other events. The museum’s facilities are available for hire to the public, including an indoor theatre, outdoor amphitheatre and two activity rooms.

I lived in Grahamstown in South Africa’s Eastern Cape for six years as a student, but during that time I had no idea that the country’s museum of literature was right on my doorstep! It was the first green museum in Africa too. I contacted them immediately and received a long list of books to add to the list I already had. Then my process of collation began.

I collated the names for a first year and shared it via my website, inviting people to add names that I might have missed. I had excluded self-published authors thinking that to find that list would be impossible and beyond my scope. Then helpful self-published authors started to get in touch and send me their own lists of books, and so my list grew again.

I’ve now collated lists from 2011 – 2019 and I’m still going. You can see lists by year via my website, here.

I discovered 245 books published by 122 authors between 2015 and 2019, a huge range of self-published books (mostly in the romance and crime thriller genres), and many many authors that I wasn’t aware of. I discovered how many of SA women authors are on GoodReads and realised that we need to go and rate their books to encourage awareness of their writing beyond SA!

Who were the lucky publishers to publish these writers? Themselves, mostly. 50 self-published books over the last five years (that I could find). It really inspired me. Umuzi (20) and Penguin (15) (both PenguinRandomHouse publishers) and Kwela (10) (NB Publishers) were the top three local publishers of SA Women’s English novels in this five year range.

And here you have a list from 2015 to 2019 for your reading pleasure. I hope you find something you like! You can keep following my project via my blog.

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.

4 thoughts on “South African Womxn Writing – Day 19: 245 South African Womxn’s novels you should read now (2015 – 2019)

  1. Ah, this is what I’ve been waiting for… my favourite kind of reading is literary fiction.
    I have reviewed some of these on my blog:
    In the Garden of the Fugitives by Ceridwen Dovey
    Johannesburg, by Fiona Melrose
    The Yearning, by Mohale Mashigo, and
    The Woman Next Door, by Yewande Omotoso
    and I have a couple you might have missed because the authors now live in Australia but are from SA:
    Shadow Sisters, by Shelley Davidow (oops, no, that’s a memoir).
    Life After truth, by Ceridwen Dovey (2020)
    Blood Kin, by Ceridwen Dovey (2007)
    Cheers, Lisa Hill, ANZ LitLovers


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