Nal’ibali Column 4, Term 1, 2018: Published in Sunday World (04/02), Daily Dispatch (05/02), Herald (08/02)
How was the idea for Kwasukela Books born?
It was after seeing so little new isiZulu fiction published and marketed, and having nowhere to submit my own isiZulu fiction.
It seems quite unbelievable that there are not more indigenous language publishers in South Africa. Why do you think English is assumed to be the only marketable language for cultural expression?
African-language literature is not yet seen as a valid expression of culture. It is seen, by those who can’t or don’t read literature in South African languages, as more of a curiosity. Retailers have only just caught on to the huge possibilities in the local market – I think publishers haven’t quite caught up yet.
Do you plan to expand into other indigenous languages or are you solely an isiZulu imprint?
It’s definitely an idea we’ve thought about a lot, and I wouldn’t rule it out, but for now we want to focus on quality isiZulu literature.
Your first title is a collection of short stories titled Izinkanyezi Ezintsha (New Stars). What kinds of stories can readers find inside?
Readers can expect to find an interesting mix of seven stories. Fans of Nnedi Okorafor-style fantasy will like uZuzile and uNtsika eZweni leseThembiso. Another story iMpi kaSikhulumi noHlokohloko is a lot like a Southern African Lord of the Rings. And, of course, we have Fred Khumalo’s Kwakungcono eGibhithe – his first published isiZulu short story.
How hard was it narrowing down your selection?
The submissions we received made it very easy for us. We were sent a number of well-written, compelling stories, but ultimately it was the writers who followed the speculative fiction theme that produced the most standout work.
You’ve talked a little in a previous interview about “colonial economies” embedded into the publishing industry. What kinds of sticking points did you encounter with publishing your first isiZulu short story collection?
Well, we have only just begun on our journey, but so far the biggest obstacles are people’s assumptions. Oddly enough, you have to convince them that complex isiZulu literature exists and deserves to be appreciated.
Tell us a little about the kinds of existing opportunities and communities for indigenous-language writers and readers in South Africa?
For creative writers there are radio dramas, screenwriting, and school set works. But these are highly competitive and there is not much space for new authors. For readers there are public libraries and, slowly, retail stores that sometimes stock copies of local indigenous-language literature. There are also thriving communities of tens of thousands of isiZulu writers and readers on Facebook who support each other, provide feedback, and hungrily await the next serialised installment in their groups.
How are you distributing and selling the collection?
We do direct sales at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we are currently working on getting our books into more and more independent bookstores. Bridge Books and MyAfricanBuy.com will soon be stocking Izinkanyezi Ezintsha, so you can follow us on social media to find out when that will be.
What has the response been like so far?
It’s been exhilarating – not too long ago this was all just an idea, and now it’s real. I’ve had so many ideas come and go that when people just acknowledge Kwasukela Books and Izinkanyezi Ezintsha I want to ask, “Who told you?” People are excited and so am I!
What’s up next?
We have more titles that we’re working on getting published, including Izinkanyezi Ezintsha Volume 2 and a collection of short stories by a familiar writer. You’ll have to follow us on social media to keep up with what we’re doing next.
Why is it important for people to have access to quality literature in their mother tongue?
Art is a way of breathing. As far as art in our own languages goes, in South Africa we are gasping.
Reading and telling stories with your children is a powerful gift to them. It builds knowledge, language, imagination and school success! For more information about the Nal’ibali campaign, or to access children’s stories in a range of South African languages, visit: www.nalibali.org.