Report from the Indie Book Fair: Launch of African Narratives and Discussions Around the “Small Voice”
The first annual Indie Book Fair kicked off on Friday with an impassioned discussion about the role of books in social development and the importance of starting grassroots literature from the ground up.
During the afternoon sessions, Porcupine Press launched a new imprint and Shafinaaz Hassim spoke about the return of the “small, personal voice”. The first day ended with a panel discussion on women in independent publishing. Throughout the day independent authors, publishers and campaigns such as Nal’ibali showcased their work in the exhibition hall.
Book lovers gathered in the Sunnyside Park Hotel on Friday afternoon for the launch of African Narratives, a section 21 not-for-profit organisation committed to the development and growth of grassroots literature in South Africa.
Board member Obakeng Gaitate spoke about the challenges new authors face when they have a good book with a new message but they are rejected from big publishing houses. The author of The Science of Success said his book received many rejections before it was finally published.
“African Narratives can help new authors to make sure the quality of their books is proper and appropriate,” he said. “It fills the gap between big publishers and author trying to do it on their own.”
Clare-Rose Julius, marketing manager at Porcupine Press and director of African Narratives, explained how the idea came about. She said they often receive manuscripts of merit from authors who don’t necessarily have money to fund the project, so three years ago they decided to create a new imprint to provide for that need in the market.
Julius said she deals with independent authors on a regular basis and they often tell her that they don’t know where to go to sell their books. African Narratives aims to be a body with lobbying power to convince major book retailers to stock the work of independent authors by being a recognised and weighted stamp of approval.
Porcupine Press owner David Robbins said that the recent trend to publish a book in sections on the internet is not a new phenomenon, Dickens used to distribute his books chapter by chapter on the London streets. He spoke about the Australian film industry and how serious filmmakers emerged from the state’s investments in small local production companies. “That is how literature will be built in this country,” he said.
Gail Robbins, chairperson of African Narratives, explained that they planned to create alternative distribution channels, for example book spazas. “If you can sell an orange through a spaza shop you can sell a book,” she said.
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Full time writer and publisher Shafinaaz Hassim spoke about the return of the small personal voice. The author of SoPhia said that a book creates its own audience and that writing is a fluid conversation.
Hassim explained how blogs and social media allow the smarter voice to develop and shared a story of how Qaanitah Hunter’s book, Diary of a Guji Girl, flourished from blog posts to book form and continues to thrive. “Indie publishing takes on social media spaces and forces them to connect the dots,” she said, adding that it’s a powerful network to share thoughts and ideas.
Writing thus becomes a vehicle of healing and a maker of change. “The power of the independent literary voice can be stretched to create shifts in society,” she said.
“I believe that all authors should be able to market their own books,” Hassim said. It’s important because they are “writing for audiences that are often left out of the traditional publishing industry”.
In conclusion, Hassim recalled a conversation she once had with Zukiswa Wanner, who asked her why it is that at book fairs in Kenya or Ghana people are walking around with bags full of books, while here they walk around with bags of fashion.
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- SoPhia by Shafinaaz Hassim
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