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A Tribute to the Community Publishing Project

2007 Arts and Culture Trust Awards - Winners!Alert! As noted in BOOK Chat, the publishing initiative begun by BOOK SA’s own Colleen Higgs (of Modjaji Books fame), the Community Publishing Project, has won an Arts and Culture Trust Award. (That’s Colleen third from right in the photo, next to Ronnie Govender.)

Today we present this short history of the CPP, which incorporates tributes from many personalities in the world of SA publishing and letters (and which conveniently arrived in my inbox this morning).


    What do you do if you know you have written a great book, but the chances are it will never be accepted by a mainstream publisher? What are your options if you wish to publish poetry or a novel in isiXhosa, isiZulu or another South African language other than English? How can a community ever hope to publish a collection of oral histories, faithfully transcribed for posterity? Where do you turn for support if you need questions about writing and publishing answered helpfully and constructively? More and more, questions like these are being answered with: ‘Have you tried the Community Publishing Project?’

    In the words of Robin Malan, writer and editor, ‘The CPP has been doing valuable work in helping self-publishing writers’ work see the light of day. We would be the poorer without this assistance in terms of both expertise and funding.’

    The Community Publishing Project, (CPP) an initiative of Centre for the Book in Cape Town (a specialist unit of the National Library) has been managed since its inception by Colleen Higgs. The project provides advice, funding and technical support to writers and writers’ groups in South Africa, to help them develop publishing skills and to undertake the publishing and marketing of works produced in their communities.

    Last week, the fine work done by this project was recognised by the Arts and Culture Trust when the CPP became the proud winner of the ACT Cultural Development Award 2007 sponsored by Distell.

    Commenting on the award, Mail and Guardian Books editor, Darryl Accone said: ‘Guided and inspired by Colleen Higgs, the CPP plays an invaluable role in enlarging the world of words, ideas and stories in South Africa. It advises, mentors and brings to publication a wide range of writers who are excluded from the publishing mainstream. In that, the CPP performs a national service that deservedly has been recognised with the ACT Cultural Development Award for 2007.’

    For many writers, a grant from the CPP has proved a vital stepping-stone in promoting their writing careers. A great example of this is Arik Reiss, for whom many and interesting doors have opened since he first published with a grant from the CPP. ‘The CPP provides unpublished writers not only with funding but more importantly with moral support. The kind of encouragement the CPP gave me is vital for stimulating a creative culture in South Africa. Since publishing my own work with a CPP grant I have been contracted to produce a book with a R250 000 budget, and a video project which the CPP has funded has lead to my current career in computer animation. Thank you, CPP!’ says Reiss.

    These sentiments are echoed by Nelleke de Jager of Kwela Books who, in commenting on the award, says: ‘Since its inception the CPP has filled a gap in the South African writing and publishing industry that no other organization has been able to do. It is through the commitment of someone like Colleen Higgs, who truly believes in enabling authors to document stories that would otherwise not have appeared in print, that a culture of more readers (and hopefully more book buyers) is developed.’ De Jager herself has committed time over the years to participating in the CPP selection process.

    Thirty books have been published with grants from the CPP. In an interesting synchronicity, the new Head of the Centre for the Book, Mandla Matyumza, was an early recipient of a CPP grant with which he published Qomani, a collection of short stories in isiXhosa by writers from the Umzimkhulu area of the Eastern Cape. Writers and writers’ groups from all regions and working in a range of indigenous South African languages have received grants and have independently published their books.

    According to Robert Berold, ‘The CPP works on a simple concept — sponsoring a writer or group of writers to publish their own book. Colleen Higgs wrote “A Rough Guide to Small Scale and Self-Publishing” and midwifed the home birth of 30 books through the CPP process. Her demystifying of publishing and distribution is a huge gift to South African readers and writers.’

    The Community Publishing Project was initiated by Hannes van Zyl when he was MD of NB Publishers, with an initial donation over three years from Via Afrika. It is currently funded by Nasou Via Afrika and has also received funding from the MAPPP Seta and the Mpumalanga Provincial Library Service.

    Higgs was thrilled when she learned that the CPP had been nominated for the Cultural Development Award. ‘I am delighted that the CPP has been recognized in this way,’ she said. ‘It has been my privilege and enormous pleasure to manage the project and to see each book take shape at its own pace. I have travelled to remote corners of South Africa and have met writers in all these places. The Community Publishing Project gives people a foot in the door of the big world of publishing.’

    Hannes van Zyl’s vision in 2001 was to make it possible for books to be published that otherwise would not have seen the light of day. This vision and the work of the CPP are changing the literary landscape in South Africa in small but important ways. Writers who have valuable manuscripts, but which are not commercially viable, now have the possibility of receiving a grant to self publish their own work. Commercial publishers can’t always justify the publication of books that would probably only have limited markets, especially in a country like South Africa where the book-buying market is very small. A project such the CPP makes possible the publishing of more marginal works.

    The CPP challenges the idea that self-publishing is second best. As Monde Ngonyama, an early grantee says, ‘the bread I bake at home is no less important than the bread I buy from the shelf. Given the apathy of publishing literary works in African Languages in particular, anyone undermining the self publishing route would be denying a slice of bread to the hoping hungry weeping child’.

    Writers who have not been published are often critical of publishers’ lack of interest in their writing. However, working as small publishers means writers will begin to understand the collaborative relationship that publishers, writers, booksellers and other actors in the book chain need to have. Writers and community publishers learn about the crucial importance of marketing and distribution of books. It is not enough to get a book printed; publishing also means marketing and selling. The project aims to develop new small publishers filled with enthusiasm and imagination in the marketing of the books they produce. Many of the recipients of Community Publishing Project grants have enjoyed the process of publishing as much as the writing of the original manuscript, and found it at least as demanding and fulfilling.


Again, congrats Colleen! To get in touch with the CPP, contact the Centre for the Book:

Telephone: (021) 423 2669
Fax: (021) 424 1484


Recent comments:

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Matome</a>
    November 9th, 2007 @15:03 #

    We want to have those books what do we do?


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