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Archive for the ‘Biography’ Category

FIVE Modjaji titles shortlisted for 2014 SALA Awards

Makhosazana XabaC A Davids, author of The Blacks of Cape TownReneilwe Malatji Toni Strasburg giving Rusty Bernstein Memorial lectureThandi SliepenWe couldn’t be more thrilled with this year’s SALA Award Nominees’ List. We’ve got FIVE titles listed in four categories. As a small press, this is extraordinary good news for us. In past years we have had one or two nominees at most. Although our authors have gone on to win SALA Awards, so we are holding thumbs for this year. Some of our most illustrious past winners are Yewande Omotoso for Bom Boy and Phillippa Yaa de Villiers for The Everyday Wife. Yewande’s Bom Boy went on to be shortlisted for the first Etisalat Prize and Phillippa was made this year’s Commonwealth Poet!

This year we have two authors who are shortlisted for the Nadine Gordimer Short Story Award, Makhosazana Xaba’s collection of stories, Running & Other Stories is on the list. AND the title story in the collection was selected as one of the 20 in Twenty best stories in English published since 1994. Xaba’s whole collection is being read on SAFM in their reading slot at 11.45 each weekday. And Khosi as she is known to her friends and fans, has also been nominated for a Mbokodo Award.

Reneilwe Malatji’s collection of stories, Love Interrupted, is also in the running for the Nadine Gordimer award. AND WE heard in the past weeks, that this collection has won the 2014 Aidoo-Snyder Award.

Toni Strasburg’s memoir about her life as a documentary film-maker in the front-line states during the apartheid years Fractured Lives is shortlisted in the Creative Non-Fiction category. CA Davids’ debut novel, The Blacks of Cape Town has been nominated in the First Time Published Author category. Davids was at the Edinburgh Festival and the Open Book Festival in the past few months. And last but not least, Thandi Sliepen has been shortlisted in the Poetry category for her debut collection, The Turtle Dove Told Me.

Here is the full list of nominees for these awards. We are delighted to see that another small, independent publisher, Dye Hard Press has three titles short-listed. Viva! Small publishers, viva!

Congratulations to all nominees and their publishers.


Poetry Award

Themba Patrick Magaisa, Mihloti ya Tingana (Xitsonga, published by TP Magaisa)
Khulile Nxumalo, Fhedzi (English, Dye Hard Press)
Kobus Moolman, Left Over (English, Dye Hard Press)
Thandi Sliepen, The Turtle Dove Told Me (English, Modjaji Books)

Nadine Gordimer Short Story Award

Gary Cummiskey, Off-ramp (English, Dye Hard Press)
Makhosazana Xaba, Running and Other Stories (English, Modjaji books)
Reneilwe Malatji, Love Interrupted (English, Modjaji Books)

Liesl Jobson, Ride the Tortoise (English, Jacana Media)

K Sello Duiker Memorial Literary Award (For Young Writers)

Marli Roode, Call it Dog (English, Penguin Books)
Jason Staggie, Risk (English, Umuzi Publishers)
Jamala Safari, The Great Agony and Pure laughter of the Gods (English, Umuzi Publishing)

Creative Non-Fiction Award

Sihle Khumalo, Almost Sleeping My Way to Timbuktu (English, Umuzi Publishers)
Toni Strasburg, Fractured Lives (English, Modjaji Books)

First-time Published Author Award

Claire Robertson, The Spiral House (English, Umuzi Publishers)
Carol-Ann Davids, The Blacks of Cape Town (English, Modjaji Books)
James Siddall, Dystopia (English, Jacana Media)

Lifetime Achievement Literary Award

Nuruddin Farah
Njabulo Ndebele

Literary Translators Award

Nhlanhla Maake, Malefane (Sesotho/English, Ekaam Books)

The Blacks of Cape Town

Book details

Love Interrupted

The Turtle Dove Told Me


Fractured Lives

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Reclaiming the L-Word reviewed in Agenda

Wonderful to see that a book published in 2011 is still being reviewed. Here’s a review in Agenda of Reclaiming the L-Word edited by Alleyn Diesel.

Diesel’s effort in garnering the writing together and the creative expression that the collection includes deserves credit. She has brought together the untold stories or at least those only told over dining room tables, in therapist’s chairs and other safe spaces for gay women. This book, however, is not only for lesbians, those thinking that they might be, or those that are just ‘curious’. It is a book for families and friends of gay women and anyone who loves a good South African story (although some are more readable as ‘good stories’ than others). It is an important textual work for our time, awakening the soul to ‘ordinary lives’ in an extraordinary country.

Reclaiming the L-Word

Book details

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Frankfurt revisited

I’ve had the wonderful good fortune of going to and being part of the Frankfurt Book Fair three times. This year was the first time as a trade visitor and ‘on my own’. I was lucky enough to be on the Invitation Programme in 2011 and 2012. I remember how daunting and overwhelming the Fair was, especially the first time. I almost had a panic attack when I went to my first appointment in Hall 8, where the publishers from the English-speaking world converge. This year I found the Fair familiar, easy to navigate.

Frankfurt is different for everyone who goes there. Each person has a particular reason for being there and a particular place in world of books and publishing. The most important thing is developing relationships and building on them. If you are a bookish person, it is an absolute thrill to meet like-minded folk from all parts of the world. I love the “United Nations of Publishing” atmosphere, especially in Halls 5 and 6 where most of the international publishers are based. I shared accommodation with friends I made in the 2012 Invitation Programme, publishers from Brazil and Croatia.

At first I was sorry not to have a stand. But as I got comfortable with being a trade visitor in some ways it was better. I was lucky to have the Invitation Programme in Hall 5.0 as a home base for storage and warm welcomes from the organisers, Corry von Mayenburg and Doris Oberländer made me feel at home. I was also delighted to see Benoit Knox from Pretoria on the invitation Programme in Hall 5.0, and to reconnect with friends I’d made in the previous two years. In the end it was valuable for me to attend meetings, seminars and talks without worrying about my stand.

Corry von Mayenburg and Gustavo Faraon at the party on the boat on Monday evening

The Frankfurter Hof

A few highlights for me: I met Mieke Ziervogel from Pereine Press in London at the Frankfurter Hof on Tuesday evening before the Fair started. She publishes only three books a year, all novellas translated into English. These titles are carefully curated each year, and sold individually, but also as a set. She uses all kinds of innovative marketing and sales approaches, including salons at her home, a pop-up shop and a UK tour. I was thrilled to meet her, and although I’ve been following her for a couple of years on Twitter, a mutual Twitter follower introduced her to me, and she suggested we meet in Frankfurt. I was also quite awed at the idea of actually setting foot in the Frankfurter Hof, where all the important publishers meet after the Fair. As a publisher from a tiny press in South Africa, I feel quite marginal to the main goings-on in Frankfurt, so I set off to the Frankfurter Hof on Tuesday evening with some trepidation. Apart from one glass of wine costing 12 Euros, it was a delightful evening, and not nearly as intimidating as I expected it to be.

On Thursday evening, I was invited to three parties all happening at the same time at 5.00, there was the Whisky party of US Small Presses in Hall 8, the Australian Party also in Hall 8 and the LGBTI party in Hall 4. I went to the Small Press party first to say hello and thank Jeffrey Leppendorf for assisting me with sharing information about the Small Publishers Catalogue: Africa, 2013 with the publishers who are part of CLMP or The Council of Literary Magazines and Presses. Then I went to the LGBTI party in Hall 4. Jim Baker fom Quer Verlag in Berlin was incredibly generous and introduced me to people he thought might be interested in Queer Africa (MaThoko’s Books) and Reclaiming the L-Word. I was lucky to meet the man who runs the biggest and best gay bookshop in Europe, and also a wonderful resourceful writer/small press publisher based in Spain, who has proved to be a fund of information and knowledge and shared resources.

I was blown away by the possibilities of digital printing at a semiar I attended called “The Beauty of the Book”. My mind was racing and I looked forward to sharing my ideas with colleagues back home.

Every conversation you have with anyone in Frankfurt has the potential to offer up an insight, a new perspective an idea of how to do things differently or better. I was also able to ask Benoit and Bibi Bakare Yusuf of Cassava Republic Press (also on the Invitation Programme and my friend) to stock and sell the African Small Publishers’ Catalogue, 2013 on their stands. I also met new publishers to feature in the next edition of the catalogue.

Other highlights for me were visiting the best designed books exhibition in Hall 4.0 and visiting the Brazilian exhibition, as Guest of Honour, the dinner and party on the boat on the Monday night, meeting people from the Alliance of Independent publishers and going to their party, some sightseeing around Frankfurt. For more pictures on the Modjaji Books Facebook page click here

A tip for those going to Frankfurt for the first time, get a German sim card with unlimited wifi. Last year having my phone on roaming cost me over R4000! An unpleasant bill at the end of November.

Queer Africa

Reclaiming the L-Word
Book details

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My First Time reviewed by Agenda

Unathi Nopece reviews My First Time: Stories of sex and sexuality from women like you in the July 2013 edition of Agenda. Jen Thorpe compiled and edited the collection from the blog she set up. She selected stories from the blog and commissioned a few pieces too and then edited them and worked with Nella Freund to make the collection cohere.

Overall, the book is a provocative and engaging women’s read and will undoubtedly make the reader recall his or her own first time experiences.

The book provides an insightful and qualitative perspective, adding to the existing research on women’s sexuality. Furthermore, it aims to remove the secrecy, apparent self-loathing and shame that surrounds women and their sexuality, as reflected in stories such as ‘My first time getting rid of the shame of a woman’s sexuality’ by Karabo Kgoleng (p 80).

To read the full review click here

My First Time

Book details

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Toni Strasburg’s address as part of Rusty Bernstein Memorial lecture at Wits

Toni Strasburg, author of Fractured Lives and oldest daughter of Rusty and Hilda Bernstein spoke alongside Professor Ananya Roy at the Wits Architecture School last week, for the Rusty Bernstein Memorial lecture.

Toni’s talk was published in The Cape Times last week. If you want to read the whole speech click here

She ended her speech,

My father believed in humanity, he stood by his beliefs throughout his life and spoke out against injustice even when doing so threatened his life. We still need people like him in South Africa today, people who will speak out against oppression and injustice and not turn a blind eye, no matter who the perpetrators are.

Fractured Lives

Book details

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Modjaji authors at the Franschoek Literary Festival

Team TrinityMy First TimeEloquent BodyLava Lamp PoemsLooking for Trouble
Difficult to ExplainDifficult GiftsMissingThese are the Lies I Told You

We’re delighted that Jenny Hobbs has invited us to join in the lit fest party again. Here’s a round up of events that Modjaji authors are taking part in. We’ve got a plethora of poets featured, including Ingrid Jonker award winners Beverly Rycroft (missing) and Megan Hall (fourth child), as well as Kerry Hammerton (These are the Lies I told you) and Dawn Garisch (Difficult Gifts). I’m looking forward to Franschoek, it’s a lovely combination of seeing friends from all over, catch up, gossip, books, reading, delicious food, wine, and more books. Although Modjaji didn’t publish any novels last year, we have three authors who have been invited to the Sunday Times Shortlisting announcement on Saturday evening. I will wait for the actual longlist to post who they are, but you might be able to figure it out.

Friday the 17th May is our busiest day at the FLF.

[Session 9]: Rising eighteen (New High School Hall) 11h30 to 12h30
Samantha Page, editor of From Me to Me, is joined by comedian and author Nik Rabinowitz (South Africa: a long walk to a free ride), writer and writing mentor Osiame Molefe, author Fiona Snyckers (Team Trinity) and high school teacher Athambile Masola (a contributor to My First Time) to talk about strategies for surviving the final years at school.

Fiona Snyckers (Team Trinity) is also featured in this event:

[Session 24]: Trial by twitter (Church Hall) 14h30 to 15h30
Tweets are an instantaneous news medium with growing influence on public opinion. Fiona Snyckers quizzes Julian Rademeyer, Sam Wilson and non-tweeting journalist Ann Crotty about the pros and cons.

I’m in this session which will be very useful for writers, newish editors and anyone who wants to know what editors and publishers do to make a manuscript fit to go out in public.

[32]: Fiction editing in South Africa (Church Hall) 16h00 to 17h00
On a more serious note, John Linnegar of the Professional Editors’ Group talks to editor Maire Fisher, author/critic Brent Meersman (Reports Before Daybreak) and publishers Fourie Botha (Umuzi) and Colleen Higgs (Modjaji) about the local state of the art.

[33]: Writing a path through grief (Congregational Church) 16h00 to 17h00
Sean Davison (Before We Said Goodbye, After We Said Goodbye) has been much in the news since his house arrest in New Zealand . Here he talks to Mignonne Breier (Letters to my Son) about the healing process of writing, chaired by Dawn Garisch (Eloquent Body).

[36]: Poetry in the Screening Room 16h00 to 17h00
Mellow out for the evening with tasters of poetry by Oswald Mtshali (Sounds of a Cowhide Drum), Kerry Hammerton (These are the lies I told you), Justin Fox (The Marginal Safari) and Gus Ferguson (Holding Pattern).

On Saturday 18th May

[42]: Flash Memoir workshop (Library) (double event till 12.00, R120)
Learn tools to access the core of your life story – giving equal weight to the facts and the poetry of the matter – with Dawn Garisch.

On Sunday the 19th May

[85]: Poetry in the Screening Room 13h00 to 14h00
Three winners of SA’s prestigious Ingrid Jonker prize in conversation. Finuala Dowling (I flying) asks Bev Rycroft (missing) and Megan Hall (Fourth Child) why grief, love and dark wit make the best poems.

Book details

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Celebrating World Book Day

To celebrate World Book Day and our 6th Birthday, we’re making the following offer. Buy one of our books direct from us and Modjaji will donate a book to Westridge High, the Book Lounge’s 2013 Library project school. You can buy any title – we will post it to you. And then you can either choose a Modjaji title of similar value or leave us to choose the title and we will donate that book to the school.

We will also have a lucky draw and one of the people who plays the game will get to choose a free book for themselves in addition to the book they bought.

When I started working at the Centre for the Book in 2001, we worked hard on World Book Day, getting a poster together, organising events in schools, collating all the related happenings around the country. This is my small contribution to this year’s World Book Day events.

If you want to participate email me at cdhiggs at or call at 0727743546

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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

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Late summer special offer on new Modjaji titles and more!

Lots of new Modjaji titles will be heading out to bookstores and into the hands of readers everywhere soon. Here’s a great opportunity to get the books as they come out and even better – at a discount. This offer is available till the 20th February only!

Also we increasing prices on most of our titles in March, to keep up with inflation, printing price increases etc. So all our titles are available at the old price less 15% till the end of February.

Here they are:

Maren Bodenstein‘s debut novel Shooting Snakes: Recommended retail price: R200, special offer R170. In Shooting Snakes the past is a powerful and insistent presence. In the beguiling rhythms of the narrative, its carefully plotted to-and-fro chronology, lies a profound understanding of the vexed relationship between past and present. In this skilfully wrought novel, Maren Bodenstein brings to light a little-known aspect of South African history. David Medalie

Celebrated poet, Makhosazana Xaba‘s debut collection of short stories, Running and Other Stories. RRP R160, special offer R145. This collection unapologetically centres women’s voices and experiences at the same time as pushing the boundaries of what this ordinarily means. Xaba has never been content in her writing to simply present the unconventional, she re-imagines the very notion of what we expect from a short story, from a woman, from a girl. In Running and other stories, she raises the bar on what is conceivable for creative writers and imaginative readers. With the generosity of a novelist and the precision of a poet, Running and other stories is a gem of a collection. Pumla Gqola

Award winning, documentary film-maker, Toni Strasburg‘s memoir, Fractured Lives RRP R200, special offer R170. 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

Coming out together are Hester van der Walt’s English version of the very popular, fascinating & exquisitely written memoir & bread book, called Hester’s Book of Bread and a New, Revised Afrikaans edition of Hester se Brood, Both books have a RRP of R205, but are available on special offer at R170.

Debrah Nixon‘s debut novel, One Green Bottle RRP R200, special offer R170 about a woman living with mental illness, her breakdown, diagnosis, and admission to a mental institution. The telling is honest, courageous and compelling reading.

Popular performance poet, Khadija Heeger‘s long awaited collection of poems, Beyond the Delivery Room, RRP R145, special offer R120.

Modjaji Books special offer is on our new list and backlist. If you buy 5 books at once, you can choose one poetry title for free, a Valentine’s Day gift from us. Or you can pay R1000 for all 6 books (you would choose between the English and the Afrikaans version of Hester’s Book of Bread/Hester se Brood).

Email me at cdhiggs at to take advantage of this special offer.

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Happy Birthday to The Book Lounge and hip, hip hooray!

From one five year old to another “Happy Birthday!” (Modjaji Books also turned five this year).

The Book Lounge is our go to book store for launches. We had our first launch at an art gallery in October 2007, a couple of months before the Book Lounge was born. That launch was for Fourth Child, by Megan Hall which went on to win the Ingrid Jonker prize.

Almost all of our books which were written by Cape Town-based authors have launched at The Book Lounge, and many by authors from other parts of the country have also launched there. The launch team has always been incredibly efficient and generous. It was mostly Mervyn in the early days, and usually included a gorgeous touch from Verushka (for example, I’m thinking of the cookies she made for our Bed Book of Short Stories launch) and above and beyond the call of duty involvement from other staff (again the Bed Book launch – where Werner and another staff member – apologies for forgetting who – organised, fetched and returned a double bunk bed from the Kimberley Hotel). We’ve had huge launches (Reclaiming the L-Word) and small ones, and many in-between ones.

I can’t imagine what Cape Town would be like without The Book Lounge. What an amazing store, what incredible service, you are living legends. You have built a community around books, a place for “us” to go, to meet, to launch, to buy books, many of which we can’t buy anywhere else. You sell poetry! You have poetry readings and launches. Here is to long life, survival, thriving, and continuing to do what you do.

Modjaji Books would not have been able to survive and thrive without your being there. Thank you, Thank you, Mervyn, Johan, Verushka, Megan, Werner, Lwandiso, and Sebastian and others who work part-time and who used to work there, but don’t anymore. Thank you for all you do, for being your fabulous, creative, imaginative, enthusiastic selves. For going the extra mile. For caring about books and reading. For caring about school libraries. For making authors feel special. For keeping on keeping on. For making a place in Cape Town that is full and rich and just right for us readers of all interests and age groups, publishers, and writers. Your “can do” approach to book-selling, all things bookish and events is inspiring!

Happy Birthday Book Lounge and many many more!

By the way I was feeling tired and somewhat down at heart – been a tough year personally and as publisher (in spite of lots of prizes and other successes) but after being at your 5th birthday party, I felt cheered up, a little more confident and feeling strengthened to keep on keeping on what I do too.

Reclaiming the L-Word
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