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Piece Work and Lava Lamp Poems launch at Grahamstown Festival at National English Literary Museum

Piece WorkLava Lamp Poems: Colleen Higgs
Modjaji Books, Hands-On Books and the National English Literary Museum are delighted to invite you to a Grahamstown Festival celebration of new poetry books by Ingrid Andersen and Colleen Higgs, Piece Work and Lava Lamp Poems respectively.

Phillippa Yaa de Villiers will introduce Ingrid Andersen and her work, while Lynette Paterson will introduce Colleen and hers.

Join us for a feast of poetry and a glass of wine before you rush off to your next show.

For more information about the authors and their books and reviews click here:

Event Details

  • Date: Thursday, 07 July 2011
  • Time: 5:30 PM for 6:00 PM
  • Venue: National English Literary Museum, Beaufort Street, Grahamstown
  • Guest Speakers: Lynette Paterson and Phillippa Yaa de Villiers
  • Refreshments: Come and join us for a glass of wine and a snack
  • RSVP:, 046 6227042

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Bed Book of Short Stories rocks Love Books in Jozi

The Bed Book of Short StoriesFacebook is full of pictures and “love” comments about last night’s Bed Book launch. The Bed Book was one of Modjaji’s first projects, it took two years+ to come to fruition and the events around the country and into Namibia and Botswana too are joyous occasions so far of writers meeting each other, forming connections, reading stories, and generally having a good time. All the books that Kate Rogan of Love Books ordered in for last night’s event were sold. All the wine was drunk and new friendships were made (from what I can gather). Thanks to Nia Magoulianiti_McGregor for taking the initiative and organising the launch and to all the writers who were there, thanks for your stories and for being there. The Arts and Culture Trust generously sponsored the publication of this book.

Bed Book LaunchThe Bed Book launch in JoziThe Bed Book of Short Stories

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A Bevy of Bed Book launches

The Bed Book of Short StoriesThe Bed Book of Short Stories has already been welcomed into the world with two events, one was a small charming affair at the Franschoek Literary Festival.

The second event was on the 20th July in Windhoek. On Wednesday morning I got this wonderful email from Sylvia Schlettwein, a contributor to the collection, who lives in Windhoek. Her own story in the collection is called: ‘To Own A Bed’.

The reading/launch of the Bed Book of Short Stories yesterday evening was a great success! The Book Den was packed (although there was another book launch elsewhere the same evening), the 20 books we had were sold out and more were ordered, my reading went down very well and generally the feeling was one of “we want more!” Everyone who bought a book wanted it signed and I was even approached by another bookstore to possibly do another.

After I was introduced by Erika von Wietersheim, a fellow Namibian writer and journalist, I talked about the book (and Modjaji) and then read excerpts from “The Outsider” ( Isabella Morris), “A Capable Wife” ( Rita Engelbrecht Britz) and “In the Spirit of McPhineas Lata” ( Lauri Kubuitsile). I then went on to read my story, “To Own a Bed”. I was overwhelmed, almost embarrassed, by the huge applause I/we got afterwards…

I posted Sylvia’s good news on Facebook and Jane Katjavivi wrote this in response:

I woz there! It was a great launch. Sylvia is right, there was a very positive response from a wide range of booky people. The gluhwein (mulled wine to those of you who are not of Namibian German descent) mellowed us all. Sylvia read well, enticing us with well chosen extracts of very different stories, and she read her own story very well, which is not always easy. A great step forward for Modjaji in Windhoek. Proud to be associated with this group of wonderful women – publisher and authors! Got back home and straight into a hot bath with the book. Now there’s a thought for another themed collection of stories…

Sylvia has promised pictures, but still it doesn’t end there – Nia Magoulianiti-McGregor has taken the initiative and organised a celebratory event in Jozi on the 4th August at Love Books in Melville. All the Joburg contributors will be there reading their stories, they are Nia herself, Arja Salafranca, Novuyo Rose Tshuma, Karabo Moleke, Jayne Bauling who lives in White River might be able to get there, and Rita Britz who lives at Val in Mpumalanga (near Greylingstad) will also be there. Isabella Morris is in Egypt currently so she won’t be at the Joburg launch.

Lauri Kubuitsile and Gothataone Moeng from Botswana are planning an event in Gaborone in August, watch this space for details.

And last but not least, the Book Lounge (in Cape Town) will be hosting a Beddish event on the 26th August at the usual time. Cape Town contributors Sarah Lotz, Liesl Jobson, Marina Chichava (from Mozambique but in Cape Town currently), Ginny Swart, Joanne Hichens (editor and contributor), Erika Coetzee, Bronwyn McLennan, Luso Mnthali, Pamela Newham, Rose Richards, Helen Walne and Anne Woodborne will be there to raise high the roofbeams. It should be a fun evening and there may even be a real Bed present. More of that later. Unfortunately for us Rosemund Handler will be in the United States at the time.

Oh yes and three contributors are in London at present Margot Saffer, Melissa Gardiner and Ellen Banda-Aaku – they are plotting some kind of event in London.

I hope the Arts and Culture Trust are as pleased as I am, with the way The Bed Book has been taken up and is being celebrated. It was thanks to ACT that the book saw the light of the day as they provided funding towards the publication of the book. Who says dreams don’t come true?

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Melissa Butler is ‘a blithe and compassionate nomad’

As mentioned in my earlier post, Gus Ferguson introduced Melissa Butler at the launch of her chapbook, removing, at the Book Lounge last Wednesday evening. Gus kindly let us have the notes from which he spoke, partly a review of Melissa’s work. This is some of what he said:

Melissa Butler is a poet of great charm and style. She writes with deftness, her poetic diction is flawless.

But it is her scope of interest and metaphoric ease that is so very appealing.

I must direct you to the blurb, which is often the least reliable comment on the poems but, in this instance, I have to fully agree with both Stephen Watson and Finuala Dowling. In addition, and not mentioned is Melissa’s occasional touch of endearing sentimentality.

This is a collection that is rhythmically coherent and thematically strong and can be read with guiltless delight.

And what a relief to escape (for a bit) the confessional and lyric and get into the head of a spider or muse on the inner life of a dassie.

Melissa’s work deals with edges and transitions – move and remove physical and metaphysical.

She is a blithe and compassionate nomad, intensely alert, with pen and notebook at the ready.

This book has to be bought! It can’t be skimmed in a bookshop. You might miss out on ‘Hadeda Geographies’, the longest poem in the collection which is an ambitious, whimsical bestiary containing, interalia, comment on beavers, ants, spiders, birds, mollusks, dassies, and reflexively, our own sorry species.

Her range is surprising – the prose poem on page 16 echoes Heraclitus, who’s odd genius was to recognise that all is flux.

If you want to see more of the pictures from Melissa’s launch click here


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Jen Crocker chats London Book Fair in Cape Town with Damon Galgut and Colleen Higgs

If you’re feeling a bit wistful that you won’t be at the London Book Fair in two weeks time, come along on Thursday 8th May to the Gardens Wordsworths. You will get a taste of the excitement that is building up around the LBF for those of us in the SA Book World. Jen Crocker will be chatting to Damon Galgut and me about our expectations, great or other, re the upcoming 2010 London Book Fair. It’s the year of the South African Market Focus, so there will be more South Africans swarming around Earls Court than you can shake a stick at. I’ve never been to the LBF, so I’ve had to do all sorts of intricate figuring out. I’m sure Damon has been to the LBF before, and to other international Book Fairs and Literary Festivals.

I’ll have most of the new books that I’m taking to the Fair at Wordsworths on Thursday evening, such as Arja Salafranca’s The Thin Line, Meg Vandermerwe’s This Place I Call Home.

This is the Modjaji Books link on the London Book site website.

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Double birthday poetry party at the Book Lounge

On Wednesday night, the 2nd September, the Book Lounge and Modjaji Books hosted a fabulous party for two Cape Town poets, Sindiwe Magona and Helen Moffett. Veruschka and her team outdid themselves with the decor. The “Please, Take Photographs” installation, the balloons, the festive party atmosphere. Thanks so much for pulling out all the stops.

Helen and Sindiwe both read their poems with great style and verve. The BL was full to capacity, there were people sitting on the stairs, on the floor, standing. Many glasses were broken. Sorry Mervyn….

It was one of those memorable nights, a night of poetry and magic. Helen’s birthday was yesterday, the 2nd September (Happy Birthday, Helen) and Sindiwe’s on the 27th August (Happy Birthday to you too, Sindiwe – she is 66 – she told us, and puts many younger people to shame with her beauty, dynamism, humour, vibrant presence).

Sindiwe started the reading with the first poem she ever wrote, her coming out as a poet poem. She also read “For Maria”, the mother of a friend, an Italian woman, in honour of her 80th birthday. As Sindiwe could speak no Italian and Maria could speak no English, Sindiwe said she didn’t want to be a ‘foei tog’ (sp?) at the party. Somehow I can’t picture Sindiwe ever being a foei tog. She finished her reading with the title poem of her book, ‘Please, Take Photographs’ written about South Africa’s HIV/AIDS crisis while she was still living in New York, working at the UN.

Helen read from Strange Fruit, she told us she was reading ‘the sentimental ones’, some of which were written for members of the audience that evening, two dear friends and her niece. She finished with a poem for Pushkin, a cat that has since passed away but is sorely missed. When the readings were over, we all longed for more. She stuck to the ones which weren’t PG rated as her niece was there.

The birthday celebrants were given big ‘book cover’ cards signed by most of the people at the Book Lounge last night and flowers. The rest of us got soul food, cake and lots of other yummy eats and wine from Leopard’s Leap. Five lucky folk got free tickets to see Sindiwe’s play, “To My Mother’s Mother” which is opening at the Baxter in mid September.

To see more photographs click here

(Co-written by Bontle Senne and Colleen Higgs. Photographs by Bontle Senne.)

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Fast Forward Catch Up

Rapid Express, Fast Forward, doesn’t begin to describe the past few months for me and Modjaji Books.

The Cape Town Book Fair
Sharing a stand with LiveWriting and ‘back room renting’ to Wordsetc and Chimurenga was fabulous, because even though we only had a klein standtjie in the Small Publishers’ Pavilion there was always a buzz at Stand J8.3 and a small crowd of animatedly chatting people in the aisle.

The 4 new poetry books were launched at the Book Fair and were ready two weeks before the Fair, thanks to MegaDigital’s efficiency, and Natascha Mostert who did the book design for the 4 poetry books worked to very tight deadlines and did a brilliant job of the books, including designing the covers of Oleander and Please, Take Photographs. My friend Colleen Crawford Cousins made a beautiful cover for Burnt Offering that I think breaks new ground for poetry book covers. Hannah Morris, once again did a beautiful job of all the hand lettering and of the cover for Helen Moffett’s book, Strange Fruit.

The launch of the 4 new poetry books was a Book Fair hit. It happened at the end of a long two days at 5.30 pm at the DALRO space. All 4 poets were there, 2 of them travelled some distance to get there. Fiona Zerbst flew in from Rustenberg and Joan Metelerkamp drove down from Knysna. Thanks to the Cape 300 Foundation and to MegaDigital for sponsorship and support in publishing these books.

After the launch, a few of us had a post-launch celebration. We, that is to say, Helen, Fiona and some of her friends, Lauri Kubuitsile, Khosi Xaba, Phillippa Yaa de Villiers, Anne Landsman and I celebrated poetry, life, and friendship with bubbles at the Westin Hotel (used to be the Arabella Sheraton).

On the Saturday afternoon of the CTBF I facilitated a discussion and reading organised by the British Council. It featured Sindiwe Magona, Phillippa Yaa de Villiers, Khosi Xaba, Malika Ndlovu and Zena Edwards (UK). Lauri Kubuitsile who stayed with me over the Book Fair loved this session. Here’s her blog. It was wonderful and frustrating, like being at a 45 minute banquet and you don’t have plates. Each poet read one poem and spoke briefly about their work, their inspiratio and what they love. I could have listened to each one for hours. Because it was organised quite late in the day it featured in the programme, but only mentioned Zena Edwards. Lots of people who might like to have been there missed out, although the room was pretty full.

The last 6 weeks or so has seen a lot of publicity for Modjaji authors that I haven’t had time to put up here. So now I am making up for lost time. The Friday before the Book Fair, Gary Cummiskey had 2 articles in The Business Day, one of which was all about small publishing and Modjaji Books. It’s thrilling for me that what I am trying to do with Modjaji is supported so kindly by journalists and media people like Gary, Janet van Eeden, Ben (editor), and Phakama.

During the Book Fair I battled with laryngitis, but managed to keep the upper hand. But afterwards I was brought down with a deep exhaustion – was it the flu or just Post Cape Town Book Fair Stress Syndrome? Finally feeling myself again.

Brilliant to see Hilda Twongyeire from Femrite, Uganda at the Book Fair. I have some Femrite books available for sale if anyone is interested. I will do a separate post one of these days.

Invisible Earthquake

Malika Ndlovu’s Invisible Earthquake has been doing really well. We’re into a second print run. Every month since the book has come out, Malika has done a public appearance. In spite of the Book Fair being quite a manic space, there were many in her audience who were so moved by her reading that they were in tears. Litnet, 2nd July 2009 features a wonderful Janet van Eeden interview with Malika about Invisible Earthquake, why she wrote it and how she has experienced the publication of it.

Whiplash has been ordered into lots of book stores in numbers unheard of before for this small publisher.

Interested noises coming in for buying the foreign language rights for Whiplash. Please hold thumbs.

Hugh Hodge has kindly offered August to Modjaji poets, so each Monday in August will see a Modjaji poet at the mic in Obz at Off the Wall.

August will also see Modjaji Books at the Jozi Book Fair, I’m taking a stand there. It will be wonderful to meet up with Jozi bookish peeps and indie publishers. Nice for me to go back to Jozi, it’s my old home town.

August 1st is the date that the Sunday Times Literary Awards announces the winner. Modjaji Books is on the guest list for this occasion. I have to remind myself to breathe. It is a huge honour and thrill to have Whiplash and Tracey Farren on the shortlist. Makes me feel that all I have put into Whiplash was worth it after all.

Other good news for Modjaji Books – the Hiemstra Trust has awarded a small publishing subsidy for the book, Hester se Brood by Hester van der Walt, so that book will definitely be rolling off the presses before the end of the year. It’s great to get the support of a donor with such gravitas.

I’m sure there is more, but it will keep for another post.

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Stretching small resources as far as they will go

At last Whiplash face out in an Exclusive Books - Dec 2008

At last Whiplash face out in an Exclusive Books - Dec 2008

As a new small publisher, Modjaji Books, I have found the internet invaluable in meeting some of the difficulties and challenges that I face. Creating a name for the company, limited resources, unknown authors, new titles, being outside of the mainstream of publishing and the book world are a few of the challenges.

Ben Williams of Book SA has kindly let me host a micro-site for Modjaji Books within the Book SA site. As a fledgling publisher I aim to make small resources stretch as far as they will go. I know In the future I plan to develop a Modjaji Books website as well, where I can list my books, sell them even, but for now, which has been almost two years, is a good place to be. The blog is an excellent forum to post reviews, news, questions, and information. Because of the blog I have received wonderful letters from possible new authors and people in Book development in other African countries.

I have used the internet to maximise Modjaji’s presence online and to multiply the effect of any PR that my books have received. For example, any time there is a review or an honour for one of my books such as Tracey Farren’s Whiplash being shortlisted for the Sunday Times Award and getting a White Ribbon Award from the Women Demand Dignity advocacy group or Megan Hall winning the Ingrid Jonker prize for Fourth Child – I blog about it on Book SA, and then I put the link to the blog onto my Facebook profile and I paste it to the Modjaji Books group on Facebook. I also Twitter about things I want to publicise like events at the Cape Town Book Fair.

The other bloggers on Book SA act as a kind of support group, most of them are writers. I am a writer and publisher. I see that most publishers don’t blog on Book SA themselves, they use Book SA for PR. Louis Greenberg (who was at Exclusive Books when I wrote the article) is also an author, who blogs on Book SA – he kindly sent me the Exclusive’s Homebru call for submissions for 2009. I found out about them last year, but somehow slipped off the mailing list. I was delighted to be able to submit Whiplash for consideration, it was ‘long-listed’, which means that all the Exclusive Books managers will be looking at Whiplash as a serious contender for Homebru. Sadly it wasn’t selected, but a great many more managers will be aware of Whiplash.

Although I’ve been fairly successful in generating awareness of my authors and their books, I don’t have the resources to market directly to booksellers to the extent that I might like. I did use Bookmark to advertise Whiplash towards the end of last year and I use a distributor. But unfortunately for Modjaji Books my distributor sells over 200 other books, so their reps don’t focus on my books in the way that I would like them to. Direct communication with bookstore staff and managers is a key challenge and one that I haven’t been able to overcome yet. I hear that managers are overwhelmed with emails, so that is not necessarily a good route to go. I wish I could get bookstore managers to visit the Book SA site regularly. The internet doesn’t solve the problem of meeting managers personally and developing a relationship. If anyone has ideas about how to meet this challenge I would love to hear about them.

The internet is also useful for doing research, finding out about trends, authors, issues, making valuable connections with people, sending out information about calls for submissions. Once every couple of weeks I search for reviews of Modjaji’s books for example, I recently came across the African Writing Online review of Megan Hall’s Fourth Child.

Facebook is a useful place to publicise reviews, news, new books, prizes, events. Modjaji Books has a Facebook group of 259 at last count and it continues to grow. I post all my blog entries onto my Facebook group. In January this year I used Facebook, BookSA and direct emailing to advertise the Modjaji Subscription Offer. In this way I have been able to build up a modest cash reserve to offset some of the production costs of my books in advance. The discounts which one has to pay to one’s distributor and to bookshops, and VAT on production costs even when one isn’t VAT registered make the margins very narrow for a small publisher. So doing some direct selling is hugely helpful as here the margins are much higher.

As a new small publisher I have had to think creatively how to make my books visible and to be patient. For example, I published Megan Hall’s book in October 2007, she wanted the book out before she had her baby, due towards the end of November. I knew she wouldn’t be up for major PR, but it was good to launch the book and Modjaji Books. In August 2008 she won the Ingrid Jonker prize for Fourth Child and after that the PR was intense, and then she got invited to Poetry Africa in Durban when her baby girl was almost one. Megan has also now been invited to be on the Poetry International website.

So in summary, I use the internet to build networks, to pass on useful information, to share information and ideas and to ask for favours where necessary. Essentially I see it as a two way street – an opportunity to build up awareness amongst the book buying public and amongst the industry about Modjaji titles and authors, but also a wonderful opportunity to pool resources and to learn, connect and work with others.

In June 2009, Bookmark – local Bookseller’s magazine
A slightly older version of this article – the brief asked me to write about how I use the internet as a small independent publisher. I wrote the article in January 2009 and the publication was delayed till now. I’ve just updated the article where necessary for re-publication here.

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