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"We think it’s important that the world becomes more aware of what readers in Africa are thinking" - a Q&A with the Johannesburg Review of Books editor, Jennifer Malec

By Carla Lever

Originally published in the Sunday World: 28 January, 2018; Daily Dispatch: 29 January, 2018; Herald: 1 February, 2018. (Nal’ibali Column 3: Term 1).

Jennifer Malec, editor of the Johannesburg Review of Books

 
The Johannesburg Review of Books was introduced to local (and international!) bibliophiles in May 2017. Carla Lever recently conducted an interview with editor, Jennifer Malec, discussing the impact of an African critical voice, why they don’t italicise South African languages in their stories, and how we can get more South Africans to start reading for pleasure:

What is The Johnnesburg Review of Books and how did it come about?

JRB is an independent monthly literary review based in Johannesburg. We publish reviews, essays, poetry, photographs and short fiction from South Africa, Africa and beyond. You can subscribe for free at http://bit.ly/thejrbsubscribe.

There are many hugely respected reviews of books globally – the Paris or New York reviews spring to mind – but this is the first African city to claim a space. What kind of impact does the presence of an African critical voice have?

When a new ‘big’ international book is published, we know very quickly what the ‘big’ literary centres of the world think of it. But there is no city-based literary review in Africa, so we don’t hear the opinions of Lagos, Cairo, Kinshasa and so on. We think it’s important that the world becomes more aware of what readers in Africa are thinking.

What role do you see The JRB playing in global and African cultural debates?

In a global context we like to think we are writing back to centres of power as well as demonstrating the value of African voices.

You have an interesting editorial policy about not italicising South African languages in stories. Can you tell us a little about the thinking behind that?

In South Africa most people understand two if not three or four languages, so the question becomes, to whom are these words ‘foreign’? In South Africa, non-English words are not adding ‘flavour’, they are simply a demonstration of how we speak.

We want to give our writers and readers the opportunity to inhabit the story. And our philosophy is, if you don’t understand something, you can always ask. We’re readily available on Facebook and Twitter, and on our website comment section.

What has reader response been like?

Very positive! It’s great to see people responding to longer writing online, when the dominant view seems to be that people want their reading shorter and simpler.

Tell us a little about the kind of work you’ve been able to feature.

We have a number of established literary voices as regular contributors. Soweto-based author Niq Mhlongo is our City Editor. In our June issue he wrote about how he was the one to name Joburg’s famous Maboneng district, inspired by a line in one of his novels. Bongani Madondois a Contributing Editor, and we’re very proud of his explosive review of Koleka Putuma’s debut poetry collection Collective Amnesia, which we featured in our first issue. Other regular contributors are Percy Zvomuya, who is our literary detective, finding fascinating and obscure African books to highlight, and Efemia Chela, who writes a regular series called the Temporary Sojourner where she ‘travels’ throughout Africa by reading the best fiction from around the continent. We also regularly feature Wamuwi Mbao, who we count as one of South Africa’s top reviewers, and have published some wonderful poetry, curated by our Poetry Editor Rustum Kozain.

What have been some of the most exciting moments or stories for you personally?

Some of our biggest thrills have come from publishing new and emerging voices. We were delighted to be the first to publish Love Back – a short story by East London-born writer Julie Nxadi in our July issue. It’s truly remarkable, and was extremely popular with our readers. We since featured Julie again in our December Fiction Issue, and she’s currently working on an anthology. One of the stand-out moments was publishing our first piece entirely in a language other than English, namely Fred Khumalo’s first-ever published story in isiZulu, which we featured in our January Conversation Issue. We hope to be able to do more of this in future.

How do we get more South Africans reading for pleasure?

We’re starting to see if that if stories are good, people will read them. Now it just remains for us to establish what ‘good’ is for a current South African reader, because it may not be what has been considered ‘good’ in the past.

Also, the importance of reading aloud to children and introducing children to books they enjoy cannot be overstated. A common thread in many of the interviews we do with African authors is that they fell in love with reading as a child, usually through reading ‘popular’ books like Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl or Sweet Valley High, and then solidified that love when they were teenagers through books they could relate to in some way. What that says to me is that if we create children’s books that children can relate to, we can get them hooked on reading.

Help Nal’ibali read aloud to one million children this World Read Aloud Day, Thursday 01 February! Visit the Nal’ibali webpage at www.nalibail.org to sign up and download the brand-new story by acclaimed South African author, Zukiswa Wanner, in any official South African language. You’ll be joining a wave of adults across the country reading to children and raising awareness of the importance of this simple yet effective activity.

Call for Submissions - Poetry Potion 13 (CLOSED)


“Life is a moving, breathing thing. We have to be willing to constantly evolve. Perfection is constant transformation.” 
-Nia Peeples

This call asks for submissions that speak of transformation. Personal and universal. It speaks of the new and evolved, the upgraded or reimagined. What transformation have you undergone? What transformations have you facilitated? Who facilitated your transformation? What was your process of metamorphosis? What was the outcome?

The Theme is:

Transformation

 

Poets are encouraged to submit no more than three poems. Please refer to our submissions guidelines to ensure that you submit correctly. We are looking for new poems- poems that have not been published elsewhere.(Poems published on Facebook Twitter and Instagram are considered published)

The best poems will interpret the theme in a refreshing and unique way. The selected poems will avoid the standard and mundane. It will explore the creative use of language, subtle complexities, and include form (stanza, rhyme syntax aesthetic language etc).The best poems will inspire the reader. It will transform the reader. It will describe the process of transformation to the reader. It will present the transformed in all its newness.

Deadline 11 February 2018 11:59

To submit poems visit poetrypotion.com. Make sure to familiarize yourself with our submission guidelines before submitting.

For queries, please comment below or on our Facebook page or via Twitter or send an email.

Do not submit poems via email.

 

Watch Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's 200 Women interview

“You can’t empower women without listening to their stories” – Gloria Steinem

 
200 Women200 women from a variety of backgrounds are asked the same five questions. Their answers are inspiring human stories of success and courage, love and pain, redemption and generosity. From well-known activists, artists, and innovators to everyday women whose lives are no less exceptional for that, each woman shares her unique replies to questions like “What really matters to you?” and “What would you change in the world if you could?”

Interviewees include US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, actor and human rights activist Alfre Woodard, and Nobel laureate Jodi Williams, along with those who are making a difference behind the scenes around the world, such as Marion Wright Edelman, head of the Children’s Defense Fund.

Each interview is accompanied by a photographic portrait, resulting in a volume that is compelling in word and image – and global in its scope and resonance. This landmark book is published to coincide with an immersive travelling exhibition and an interactive website, building on this remarkable, ever-evolving project. With responses ranging from uplifting to heartbreaking, these women offer gifts of empowerment and strength inviting us to bring positive change at a time when so many are fighting for basic freedom and equality.

Local interviewees include Graça Machel, Caster Semenya, Zelda la Grange, Mpho Tutu van Furth, Hlubi Mboya, Sahm Venter, Joanne Fedler, Ingrid le Roux, Gillian Slovo and Zoleka Mandela, among others.

A minimum of 10% of the project’s revenue will be distributed to organisations devoted to protecting and advancing the rights of women. Each interviewee can nominate an organisation (or themselves if they are in financial need) to receive their portion of the charitable pool or they can select the principal charitable partner, the Graça Machel Trust.

Here, acclaimed author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie answers “What really matters to you?”

Book details

#SaveOurStories: Storied’s crowdfunding campaign is live!

 
 
Jacana Media presents Storied. The project aims to create a long-term impact of keeping African stories thriving and reaching worldwide audiences. Through your investment, Storied will raise the money to help publish more African fiction and poetry which will cater for a diverse reading community and audience scaling up sales margins which will be shared with investors.

As Jacana Media publisher, Bridget Impey, explains:

We came up with this idea of Storied, and Storied is going to be the mechanism for changing fiction publishing in this country; not just for us, but for writers, for other publishers, for everybody.

This is what started it all…
 


 

Making Marigold explores the creative practice, and sustainability, of a women's beading co-operative in Bulawayo

Making Marigold: Beaders of Bulawayo is a portrait of a women’s beading co-operative specialising in loomed beadwork, based in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.

Over 200 photographs reveal the sumptuous glamour of the Marigold beadwork and necklaces. Short, stand-alone narrative vignettes offer background insights into the making and development of the Marigold co-operative.

How did these women, whose skilled practice and creative impulses evident in every necklace, perfect this practice?

And what has sustained their efforts across the decades?

Making Marigold will be launched at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art in February.

Joni Brenner is an artist who revisits the same subject – whether live model or skull – over and again, a practice that informs her understanding of learning through doing, looking closely and recognising shifts.

Her belief in the value of repetition underpins her fascination, and her collaboration, with the Marigold beading co-operative.

She is a Principal Tutor in History of Art at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.

Elizabeth Burroughs is a researcher and writer whose interests include the role of languages in culture and identity, the nature of consciousness, and the processes of making.

She has worked primarily in the field of education, lecturing in English Literature and Linguistics, and as senior manager for Umalusi, the quality council for schools and college education in South Africa.

She now works as a freelance consultant and writer.

Book details

The humble home: four books that celebrate simple and eco-friendly abodes

Published in the Sunday Times

By Roberta Thatcher

Simple Home: Calm Spaces for Comfortable Living
By Mark and Sally Bailey
Ryland, Peters & Small, R499

For Mark and Sally Bailey, British designers and furniture makers, the three words you should be thinking about when decorating your home are: “repair, reuse, and rethink”. The duo, who have collaborated with the likes of Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan, Liberty, Conran and Habitat, believe a simple home should be “calm and uncluttered with each item carefully chosen”. In this book, they share tips and advice on how to achieve this effect, from buying well-made, well-designed items that will age gracefully, to looking to nature for inspiration when it comes to your colour scheme, sourcing from artisans where possible, and recycling furniture to make it meaningful and lasting. Their take-home message is that surrounding yourself solely with objects that you really love will allow you to enjoy the beautiful calm of an uncluttered home.

150 Best New Eco Home Ideas
By Francesc Zamora Mola
HarperCollins, R495

A fabulous review of 150 forward-thinking eco-friendly house designs, this beautifully presented book showcases the work of internationally renowned architects and designers who have achieved practical, innovative and beautiful solutions around the globe. Think a rammed-earth desert retreat in Arizona, US, with a huge rainwater harvesting and filtering solution, or a house in the woods in Sardinia, Italy, which was built without a single tree in its dense forest surroundings being cut down. If you’re looking to build or renovate your home with a minimal carbon footprint, consider this the ultimate gift to yourself.

Handmade Houses
By Richard Olsen
Rizzoli, R795

If there’s a book that will make you want to go out into the woods and build yourself a cabin, this is it. Author Richard Olsen features around two dozen hand-built homes around the globe, all of which celebrate the return to “low-tech” or even “anti-tech” building techniques and slow architecture. All the homes are made from natural and reclaimed materials, and while wood and salvaged metals are the heroes of the pages, more unconventional materials such as boulders, driftwood and even old wine vats show face too. Olsen introduces us to the owners, too – professionals and amateurs who personally designed and built each home, and their passions and vision is contagious. It’s inspirational reading for anyone interested in environmentally friendly design, craft, and the expression of personal style in the home.

Small Homes, Grand Living
Editors: Gestalten, Gestalten, R950

The opening pages of this beautiful book share a quote worth thinking about: “If you are able to live in a smaller home, then your rental costs will be lower. Renting or owning a smaller space means you need to earn less money, which results in the possibility of working fewer hours and having more time available. In other words, the luxury of time is a value that can replace the luxury of space if you are willing to live in a smaller, more compact home.” The book duly goes on to share an assortment of projects and homes that pay homage to creative usage of space, as well as useful advice for creating small homes that are as comfortable as they are functional and beautiful.

Book details