Sunday Times Books LIVE Community Sign up

Login to Sunday Times Books LIVE

Forgotten password?

Forgotten your password?

Enter your username or email address and we'll send you reset instructions

Sunday Times Books LIVE

Modjaji Books

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Archive for the ‘Awards’ Category

Poetry in South Africa – New Coin 50th Anniversary issue

New Coin 50th Anniversary issueGary Cummiskey, the editor of New Coin asked several people to write about the state of SA poetry as they see it. One of the people he asked was me. So here’s my take, I urge those of you who are interested in poetry in South Africa or in the world at large to subscribe to New Coin and in particular to order this copy from the ISEA.

The other participants in The State of South African Poetry: A Symposium are Mxolisi Nyezwa, Kobus Moolman, Kelwyn Sole, Dashen Naicker; Raphael d’Abdon, Lesego Rampolokeng, Colleen Higgs, Denis Hirson, Haidee Kruger, and Allan Kolski Horwitz.

As the publisher of Modjaji Books I don’t want to discuss the state of South African poetry at a macro level. What I want to do is to invite you to look at the Modjaji Books and Hands-On Books poetry lists. As of the 30 June 2014 we have published 27 new collections of poetry. All of these titles can be seen on our website where you will see the range, depth and variety of voices that we have published since 2007. Our very first title was a poetry collection, Megan Hall’s Fourth Child; it went on to win the Ingrid Jonker prize in 2008. Since then Beverly Rycroft was also awarded the Ingrid Jonker prize in 2012 for her collection, missing. We have had our poets receive other prizes and honours. Phillippa Yaa de Villiers won the 2011 SALA poetry prize and she is the Commonwealth Poet for 2014.

However, what I’m most proud of is that Modjaji Books has continued to publish and sell collections of poetry in a tumultuous and uncertain period in publishing and in a time of economic downturn globally. The rewards that poets receive for writing their poems and publishing collections are not monetary, but rather the same rewards that poets have enjoyed for centuries, the sense that there are readers who are hungry for their words, their images, the articulation of something that speaks to others. The unexpected emails and letters, the selection of a poem to be studied in schools, the invitation to read, the look on the face of someone in an audience listening to the poet read – these are some of the small, rich rewards for poets, apart from the making of the poem itself.

One of the threads I’ve tried to pick up in publishing collections has been to push the publishing boundaries of language and identity. For example Life in Translation by Azila Talit Reisenberger, Bare & Breaking by Karin Schimke, and Beyond the Delivery Room by Khadija Heeger – all feature poems in more than one language and in different varieties of language.

Another thread has been to interrogate ‘what is poetry’, for example, in Malika Ndlovu’s book – Invisible Earthquake: a woman’s journey through stillbirth – a book of poems, journal entries, essays and resource lists.

Investing time and money into publishing poetry is a somewhat odd enterprise, it is not at all rewarding financially, but somehow it seems necessary for me to do this work. Part of why I started Modjaji Books in 2007 was to claim space for voices that would not otherwise be published, and the voices that particularly concerned me were the voices of women. I will not go into a long argument explaining what I mean, those who know what I mean, know already. Those who don’t can go and research this and read about the feminist politics of publishing argued by much more sophisticated and scholarly writers. I saw that something needed to be done, so I have tried to do it, and I will continue to do this as long as I am able.

It is strange to me that something like poetry is such a contested space, but it is. And so I find it important to enter that space and open doors which were firmly shut. And if it wasn’t for Modjaji I fear many of those doors would still be firmly shut.

» read article

Till next year in Franschoek

Arja SalafrancaKhosi XabaYewande OmotosoFor someone who spends most of her time, quietly working away at her desk and laptop at her home office, the Franschoek Literary Festival is strong medicine. Those of you who have been will know what I mean. For three days it is all about books, writers, publishers, wine, booksellers, critics, wine, prizes, books, discussions about books, wine, beer, strong drink, books, arguments, wine, poetry, poems, writers. Laughter, hugging and kissing. Did I mention the wine?

Here’s what I especially loved this year’s Franschoek festival.

Dave Ferguson, played at the launch of Carapace 100, a tribute to his dad, Gus Ferguson, the generous, snail-loving, cyclist, poet, publisher, pharmacist.

Dave Ferguson, played at the launch of Carapace 100, a tribute to his dad, Gus Ferguson, the generous, snail-loving, cyclist, poet, publisher, pharmacist.

Franschoek highlights

The free Lindt balls.
Dave Ferguson playing at the 100 issues of Carapace gig – celebrating Gus Ferguson and all his amazing work. Did I mention Dave Ferguson?
Meeting people I’d only met online before.
The glorious Autumn days.
Seeing how Yewande Omotoso has become a literary celebrity.
Seeing writers from Joburg from Joburg, Mossel Bay and Amsterdam. And lots of other places too.
Lunch with the Bookslive bloggers from the early days.
Prominent piles and shelves of Modjaji titles at the Town Hall EB pop up bookstore.
An almost EXCLUSIVEly South African BOOKStore.
Lunch at La Quartier Francais.
Bumping into lots of writers, writer friends, being introduced to people’s friends and families as “this is my publisher”.
Finding out how old Sophy Kohler is. (Your secret is safe with me).
Sharing a Rugga Basket at The Elephant and Barrel pub.
All the huggings and kissings.
I’m not going to mention names of who I saw, as I will be sure to leave people out. But it was lovely to see all of you who were there. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

I loved the session with Chris Nicholson (No Sacred Cows), Edwin Cameron, Richard Calland, and Andrew Brown – Literary Lawmen. For a bunch of white men, they were pretty impressive. They blushed, they made jokes, they were earnest and thoughtful and sensitive, they were funny (different from making jokes), they deferred to each other with humour. They were amazingly bright eyed and witty for the Sunday 10am session.

They were serious and dealt with some difficult questions and topics, like the Zuma rape trial judgement (Chris Nicholson), should sitting judges write about the law, their own personal lives and positions on different issues (Edwin Cameron and Chris Nicholson).

The friends and writers who weren’t there.
Missing a session I’d booked to attend. (poor time-keeping, wine, lunch, food, laughter, oh dear).
Feeling sad that none of my authors were shortlisted for the Sunday Times awards this year. But feeling sadder for them, than for me.
The piles of Modjaji books that were still on the Exclusive Books pop-up store shelves on Sunday at lunchtime.
Not having a camera, dropped my phone so often and broke the camera lens … so none of my own photos.

Thank you Jenny Hobbs for the festival and the robustness of it, and to Ann Donald, Finuala Dowling and all the others who work so hard behind the scenes to make it happen.

And personally, thank you to Megadigital for managing to do a very fast reprint of some titles to meet the orders for the festival.

Till next year in Franschoek.

No Sacred Cows

Book details

» read article

#ModjajiBooks #flf2014

Yewande OmotosoAzilaReisenbergerKarin Schimke

Catch some Modjaji authors at the 2014 Franschoek Literary Festival this May. You will get sightings, signings and maybe even meetings of/with these writers, check the programme to see what they are doing and with whom.

Phumzile Simelane KalumbaMakhosazana Xaba

All of these writers and many more will be in Franschoek, come and listen to them read, debate, discuss,and engage with each other.

Yewande Omotoso, author of Bom Boy, will be there. So will Karen Jennings (Finding Soutbek), (she’s not a Modjaji author) but both she and Yewande were short-listed for the inaugural Etisalat Prize for Literature this year, along with No Violet Bulawayo, who won the prize.

Phumzile Simelane Kalumba, author of Jabulani Means Rejoice – Dictionary of South African Names will be there, so will poet, Khadija Heeger (Beyond the Delivery Room)

Come and meet the multi-talented Makhosazana Xaba, author of Running & Other Stories and co-editor of Queer Africa: New and Collected Stories.

Arja Salafranca, whose collection of stories, The Thin Line, we published in 2010. We’re also publishing a new collection of her poems, in collaboration with Dye Hard Press. Due out soon.

Meg Vandermerwe, first published by Modjaji Books in 2010, with her collection of stories, This Place I Call Home, has a novel out with Umuzi, Zebra Crossing.

Karin Schimke, poet – whose debut collection, Bare & Breaking was published in 2012.

Azila Talit Reisenberger‘s collection, Life in Translation was published in 2008 and was one of the first books we published. She’s since published another collection of poems and a novel.

Finuala Dowling, award-winning novelist and poet, (published mainly by Kwela and possibly Penguin) is also the editor and compiler of Difficult to Explain, is a collection of poems by various poets, and which includes an essay about teaching poetry by Finuala is published by our Hands-On Books imprint.

Christopher Nicholson, author of the collection of short stories, No Sacred Cows (also a Hands-On Books publication) will be there too.

Life in Translation Difficult to ExplainBare & BreakingNo Sacred Cows
Bom BoyJabulani means RejoiceFinding Soutbek
Queer Africa
Beyond the Delivery Room

» read article

Yewande Omotoso talks about shortlisting of Bom Boy for the Etisalat prize

YouTube Preview Image

Bom Boy

Book details

» read article

Yewande Omotoso’s fabulous Bom Boy on Etisalat prize shortlist

Bom Boy by Yewande OmotosoYewande Omotoso does it again, Bom Boy has been shortlisted for the inaugural Etisalat Prize. My inbox has been pinging with queries from agents, requests for review copies from places as far afield as the UK and Ghana, and the Nigerian press is full of the short-list story. The other two authors and books that are on the list are No Violet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names and Karen Jennings’ Finding Soutbek. The short-list thrills me because all of them are women. And they are all wonderful women. Karen Jennings worked for Modjaji as an intern a couple of years ago, and she is still a firm friend of mine and of Modjaji Books. I would be thrilled if any of the authors won.

I really commend Etisalat and the prize organisers for the way they have thought through the prize, they are taking the three short-listed writers on a three city book tour. The books they are buying are creating distribution pathways within Africa, so that links are built up and the way is paved for future book sales into the sites that are identified.

This is a big deal for Modjaji Books, especially as the prize organisers have decided to, as part of the prize, buy 1000 copies of the three short-listed titles for book clubs, libraries and other institutions all over Africa. Usually only the authors get a prize, and in South Africa, being short-listed or even winning a prize doesn’t necessarily mean that sales shoot up. Sure – you might sell an additional 50 or 100 copies of a ‘literary’ novel, but never 1000 copies.

The Nigerian press has taken up the prize with great gusto, here is a link and here is another. Because of Yewande’s Nigerian origins – she seems to be their favourite.

The Blogosphere has lit up with news of the shortlist too. 9jaFlave has carried the story, and so has Kinnareads. James Murua’s blog features the story too.

Now we wait till the 23rd February, Lagos, to hear who is the winner. But so far, all three authors and their publishers are winners.

Bom Boy

Book details

eBook options – Download now!

» read article

Extreme summer special offer on all titles for two weeks only

Check out the Modjaji Books website first – click on titles and Hands-On titles to see what is available. Email me if you want to take up any of these offers.

All books are ON SALE for the next two weeks till November 22nd, 2013. (Postage excluded unless you select a package deal)


Novels are R130
Longer Non-Fiction – R150
Shorter Non-Fiction – R100
Short stories – R110
Poetry – R100

3 POETRY titles for R200 (including postage for South African addresses only)
3 SHORT FICTION titles – for R250 (including postage- for South African addresses only)
2 NOVELS for R250 (including postage – for South African addresses only)
2 longer NON-FICTION titles for R250 (excluding postage)
2 shorter NON-FICTION titles for R150 (excluding postage)


Jabulani Means Rejoice – Dictionary of South African Names – R150 (usually R250 in stores) Excl postage.

Small Publisher’s Catalogue: Africa, 2013 – R60 incl postage

New titles:

The Turtle Dove Told Me by Thandi Sliepen R100 incl postage (usual price R150)

Pleasure-in-Relating by Susan Groves (R100 incl postage – usual price R150

» read article

Forthcoming attraction: Fractured Lives by Toni Strasburg

Award-winning film-maker, Toni Strasburg‘s memoir, Fractured Lives is coming soon to a bookstore near you.

Toni Strasburg was born in South Africa and was exiled to Britain in 1965. She studied at London University and worked in various jobs before becoming a filmmaker. She has documented apartheid-era wars in southern Africa concentrating largely on the effects on women and children. Her award-winning films include Chain of Tears and its sequel, Chain of Hope, The Other Bomb, An Act of Faith and A South African Love Story. She has served an International Peace Monitor and Election Observer for the United Nations and has consulted to and run training workshops for UNESCO and other NGO’s in southern Africa.

Fractured Lives is a memoir of one woman’s experiences as a documentary filmmaker covering the wars in southern Africa during the 1980s and 1990s.

Part autobiography, part history, part social commentary and part war story, it offers a female perspective on a traditionally male subject.

Growing up in South Africa in a politically active family, Toni went to Britain as an exile in 1965 in the wake of the famous Rivonia Trial, and in the years to follow, became a filmmaker.

Despite constant difficulties fighting for funding and commissions from television broadcasters, and the prejudices of working in a male-dominated industry, Toni made several remarkable films in Mozambique and Angola. These bear witness to the silent victims of war, particularly the women and children.

Fractured Lives paints the changing landscape of southern Africa: Namibian independence and the end of the war in Mozambique bring hope – but also despondency. Yet there is also the possibility of redemption, of building new lives for the victims of war. In its final chapters, Fractured Lives traces the power of survival and the opportunities for new beginnings.

Fractured Lives concludes with Toni’s return to South Africa after nearly three decades in exile. However, the joy following the demise of apartheid is tempered by the poignancy of returning to a place that for so long had existed in her dreams alone and the realization that home will forever lie somewhere else.

Praise for Fractured Lives:
“An eye opener! Not much is known about what transpired on the ground in our neighbouring countries during apartheid. This memoir tears into your comfort zone by means of the crackling story behind fluent documentaries on these places and times. Some of the details make your hair stand on end!” Antjie Krog

“It gave me a powerful sense of life in the Frontline States: the difficulties as well as the pleasures at a moment when the future of South Africa was still in the balance. At the same time it highlighted the emotional experiences of a woman facing her own challenges in the male world of documentary filmmaking. Toni Bernstein has integrated complex and difficult themes into a well written and fascinating account of her unique experiences in a time of personal and social conflict.” Lesley Doyal Emeritus Professor of Health Studies – University of Bristol

» read article

Modjaji authors at the Cape Town Book Fair: Yewande Omotoso and Tracey Farren

Bom BoyGem Squash TokolosheSnake

Rachel Zadok (Gem Squash Tokoloshe) will be in conversation with Tracey Farren (Snake) and Yewande Omotoso (Bom Boy) about their new books and their lives as writers at the Cape Town Book Fair on 16 June. Both authors have been shortlisted for the Sunday Times Fiction Prize for their debut novels – Farren was shortlisted in 2009 for Whiplash and Omotoso is on this year’s shortlist for Bom Boy. They will talk about how this has affected them.

Event Details

Book Details

eBook options – Download now!

eBook options – Download now!

Photo courtesy BBC News

» read article

Modjaji Poets are reviewed in Litnet

Fourth ChildPlease, Take PhotographsStrange FruitThree Modjaji poets, Helen Moffett, Sindiwe Magona and Megan Hall have all had carrotty reviews in the past couple of weeks on Litnet. The Strange Fruit review was posted by Sophy last week over here on BOOK SA. But if you want to see what Karlien van der Schyff has to say about Magona’s Please, Take Photographsclick here or what Grace Kim’s thoughts on Hall’s Fourth Child are, click here.

I’m really pleased to see reviews of the poetry collections, as there aren’t many publications that carry reviews of Poetry. So thanks for that Litnet. I look forward to seeing reviews of Oleander and Burnt Offering in due course.

Talking of which Joan Metelerkamp read from Burnt Offering at Wordsworths in Knysna last evening. Joan let me know today that the event was well attended, and Gillian Carter introduced Joan. I will see if I can get a copy of her talk and post it. I’m longing to hear Joan read from Burnt Offering. She did read at the Cape Town Book Fair last year, but only one poem.

Book details

» read article

After the Sunday Times party

Tracey FarrenWhiplashOn Saturday night Tracey was at home with her newborn baby boy, I was at the Sunday Times Awards Evening. I asked Tracey to write something for the evening, just in case. As you all know, Anne Landsman’s book The Rowing Lesson took the Fiction Crown. Tracey and I join everyone else in congratulating Anne Landsman and Kwela on this fine and well deserved achievement. We were thrilled to be ‘invited the party’, to be on the list. It still seems extraordinarily wonderful, especially as we’ve struggled to get Whiplash read, seen and heard by a range of those that matter. But what mattered to us over the past exciting few weeks was that Whiplash was seen and heard and read and taken seriously by the 2009 Sunday Times Fiction Judges.

This is what Tracey had to say on Saturday about Whiplash:

I asked for a whole lot of things at once, but thought it too presumptuous to specify the timing. So I am at home with a dim night lamp and a week old baby boy, feeling utterly blessed and gladly imagining the evening glitter.

Thanks to my vaudeville publisher, Colleen Higgs, who obeys the whisperings of her cheeky guides. Thanks to my original agent, Ron Irwin and my editor and agent, Maire Fisher for sticking their necks out and defending ‘Tess’ (the character) at every turn.

The shortlisting/award says a lot about our creative freedom in the country. It says that we truly can use whatever language we choose. We can tell a story in beautiful word strokes, like many of the gorgeous books on the list, or we can punch it out from the pavement. Either way, our readers sense beyond the intellect, and allow their hearts resonate with the force of the story.

To the people who loved Whiplash, thank you for acknowledging the passion and the pain that it took to write the novel. Thank you, too, for turning your ear to one of the ‘untouchables.’ Whiplash is about a fallen character living a sordid life, but her readers listened for her spark of laughter, they waited for glimpses of her true beauty, then gladly forgave her mistaken belief about what she was worth.

The recognition of Whiplash says something wonderful about the capacity of South Africans for compassion. We live in a crazy place, where good and evil are hugely amplified. It takes a big heart and an open mind to negotiate healing here. It takes much more than judgement. In a tiny way, this recognition of a fictional, drug addicted prostitute shows the rare ability of South Africans to heal, to see the humanity in even the darkest places and to shine a light on it.

For those who’ve read Whiplash it really felt as though like Tess, we too had made it into the VIP Tent at the J & B Met and then some.

» read article