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Modjaji Books

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Archive for the ‘International’ Category

The Small Publishers’ Catalogue, Africa, 2013 project featured in Publishing Perspectives

2013 has gotten off to a good start with the feature about The Small Publishers’ Catalogue, Africa, 2013 project in Publishing Perspectives. Only 8 days to go on the Indiegogo Campaign to raise some of the money necessary to pull the project together I’m hoping that the feature in Publishing Perspectives will energise the campaign into meeting our modest target of USD3000.

African Books Collective, Bookslive, Porcupine Press, NELM, Deep South, the Rhodes University MA, Judy Croome, Helen Moffett, Black Letter Media and quite a few others have taken out advertising space in the Catalogue. We are looking to double if not treble the listings. If you want to list or advertise, don’t hesitate to contact me .

And while earlier editions were very much South Africa oriented, the 2013 version is designed to be much more comprehensive. In addition, Higgs adds that, “my dream is to be able to compile a list of African literary magazines and to publish some new articles that will be of interest and value to publishers and to writers and others in the book world in Africa and to those interested in books in Africa.

Read the full article in Publishing Perspectives by clicking here

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The Frankfurt Book Fair in at least three languages

In October, I’m getting to go to the Frankfurt Book Fair for the second time, and again as a guest of the German Foreign Office, Litprom and the Frankfurt Book Fair. They have an invitation programme for publishers from developing countries. I am incredibly excited about this opportunity, as I hope this time around to be more prepared for the experience. I had no real idea what to expect, except for scarey images of vast halls, and somehow it all seemed grey and wintry. I absolutely loved the Fair and the whole experience; it challenged me, inspired, blew my mind (in a good way) and was bowled over by the positive response to Modjaji Books.

I wrote an article about my visit last year which was published by Rapport.

Was ek nou gelukkig om onlangs aan die uitnodigingsprogram van die Frankfurtse Boekeskou in Duitsland deel te neem.

Modjaji was een van 23 uitgewers wat ’n voet in die deur gekry het om by van die wêreld se bestes en grootstes te leer. Meer as 30 jaar al brei dié boekeskou die boekebedryf internasionaal uit.

  • To read the full article in Afrikaans click here

In the post yesterday I got a magazine called Literatur Nachrichten, a publication of Litprom, in which they have translated my article into German and it is one of the features in the magazine, one typo that I can pick up is my surname has been changed to Higgins, but c’est la vie.

I originally wrote the article in English, so this is the first time an article I have written has been translated into two other languages. Here is a short extract of the article in English which I posted on Facebook at the time.

It was an extraordinary privilege to spend ten days with ‘my people’, other small, activist, independent publishers, (quite a few of whom are also writers, even poets, Carlos from Costa Rica, told us that “I am a poet” before being a publisher or an academic.) We came from the “South” or developing world. We had so much in common that we bypassed small talk and leapt straight into intense discussions and wild hilarity as though we had known each other all our lives. There was lots of shop talk too: print runs, contracts, how to sell rights, book design, dealing with tricky authors, leads for selling rights, publishing mistakes and how to fix them, the importance of good design, using up extra card in a print run to make post cards or bookmarks or invitations, distribution issues and how to solve them, industry gossip from mainstream connections, and many stories about our work and lives.

Modjaji Books at the Frankfurt Book Fair

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News update from Modjaji Books

We managed to get our latest Catalogue ready in time for the 2012 Cape Town Book Fair, which was held from the 15th to 17th June, at the CTICC. These are some of the new titles to watch out for:

Makhosazana Xaba’s collection of short stories called Running and other stories
Film-maker Toni Strasburg’s memoir, Fractured Lives (she is also the daughter of Rusty and Hazel Bernstein)
The English version of Hester van der Walt’s wonderful Hester se Brood, will be out in July or August as Hester’s Bread.
The long-awaited dictionary of South African names, Jabulani means Rejoice by Phindiwe Simelane will be out in July.

Since the last catalogue came out, Modjaji poets have been honoured with several awards, Phillippa Yaa de Villiers (The Everyday Wife) won the 2011 SALA Award for Poetry. Dawn Garisch (Difficult Gifts) received first prize in the first Sol Plaatje/EU Poetry Prize and Beverly Rycroft (Missing) received second prize. Kelwyn Sole has just received the Pringle Prize for Poetry and the Hands-On Imprint of Modjaji Books published his most recent collection, Absent Tongues.

Yewande Omotoso’s shortlisting for Bom Boy for the 2012 Sunday Times Fiction Prize is something we are extremely proud of. We’ve published three novels and two of them have been shortlisted for this prestigious prize. The first was Tracey Farren’s Whiplash in 2009.

In other news, I have been invited to the Frankfurt Book Fair for a second time, as a guest of the German Foreign Office and the Frankfurt Book Fair to participate in their Invitation Programme. I get to go to the Frankfurt Book Fair and have a stand in the Invitation Programme collective area, to participate in the two and a half day training seminar again, and to have all of this paid for! The invitation came through on the first day of the Cape Town Book Fair and was good news indeed!

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Notes from a Frankfurt Book Fair first-timer

I was fortunate to attend the Frankfurt Book Fair as a participant in their Invitation Programme from the 7th to the 17th October. The person who did all the organisation for us was Corry von Mayenburg, who has been to the Cape Town Book Fair a few times. She and her team were incredibly well organised, accommodating, kind, and responsive.


1. Spending ten days with ‘my people’, other small and/or activist independent publishers, (quite a few of whom are also writers, even poets!) from all over the “South” or the developing world. It was incredible not having to do any small talk but to leap straight into intense discussion, joking, riffing, telling stories, teasing gently, playing games with language and meaning, as though we had known each other all our lives. There was lots of shop talk too: print runs, contracts, how to sell rights, book design, dealing with authors, leads for selling rights, publishing mistakes and how to fix them, who we get to do our covers, using up extra card in a print run to make post cards or bookmarks or invitations, distribution issues and how to solve them, industry gossip from mainstream connections, stories about our work.

The other publishers came from North Africa, Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt; West Africa – Senegal and Togo; Central Africa – Uganda, Middle East – Syria and Lebanon. Central and South America – Venezuela, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Nicaragua, Argentina and Peru. South Africa (me) and Zimbabwe. Asia: India, Iran, Bhutan, Cambodia and Singapore. Eastern Europe – Croatia and Romania. As I was an AFS foreign exchange student in 1980/81 this Frankfurt experience reminded me of AFS, the part of meeting people form other countries and forming friendships quickly and easily. It turned out that Oscar Castillo from Costa Rica had also been an AFS student though a few years before me.

Hermann Kesten Prize of German P.E.N. for Egyptian publisher Mohamed HashemThe publisher from Egypt, Mohamed Hashem, had been part of the Invitation Programme twice before is to receive the Herman Kesten Prize of the German P.E.N. – some of us attended the press conference where he and a publisher from Belarus were interviewed about their work. Hashem together with the famous writer Ibrahim Mansour, started Merit Publishing House. He and Merit have been honoured several times for their courageous work. And this year he lived through the Egyptian revolution, from Merit’s offices just off Tahrir Square. Read more about Mohamed Hashem here

2. Walid Soliman told about his first hand experience of living through the revolution in Tunisia and he gave us a background of what life in Tunisia has been like up to and post the revolution. Needless to say it has been a tough time as a publisher. The elections are happening as I write this, it remains to be seen what will happen, because even though they are rid of the old regime, it is not yet clear how the dust will settle.

3. Meeting two feminist press publishers (Susan Hawthorne from Spinifex – also a poet) and Urvashi Butalia from Zabaan Books in India and reconnecting with Hilda Twongyeirwe from Femrite in Uganda. I participated in a writers’ retreat in Kampala in 2008, which I wrote about here and here and in Home Away.

4. It was wonderful to see Bibi Bakare-Yusuf again, the driving force behind Cassava Republic Press from Nigeria. I met her a couple of years ago, just before the first Jozi Book Fair and then again at the Cape Town Book Fair. We have made plans to share ideas, strategies and find ways to collaborate.

5. The Weltempfang or Centre for Politics, Literature and Translation hosted a translation seminar in which a translator sat at a desk and did a live translation in front of a smallish relaxed audience. The book she was translating from English into German was The Fault of our Stars by John Green.

We also had various welcomes and farewells and events at the Weltempfang, a feast of talks and events, PEN related, social justice and the role of the writer and publisher in society, translation.

6. Speaking to publishers, agents and translators who were interested in Modjaji books, and finding I had polished up my “elevator pitch” in talking about Modjaji and about several authors and their books, in a way that made them sound sexy and saleable and fabulous. I realised that the pressure and intensity of Frankfurt ‘forced’ me to re-invent myself as someone much more confident, with the gift of the gab!

7. Learning about publishing issues from experienced German publishers and industry experts – including a book designer who is also the Director of the Stiftung Buchkunst (see below), a literary agent, rights specialists and a social media marketing campaign manager.

8. The exhibition of best designed books. I took pictures with my phone to remind me of some of the things I saw. This complemented the presentation we received from Uta Schneider, Executive Director of Stiftung Buchkunst (Book Art Foundation) based in Frankfurt and Leipzig. The books on exhibition were selected for typography, book-design, and book production.

Let’s have a book design award here, I think the folk at the Frankfurt Book Fair would be only too delighted to assist us in setting one up. I think it is a way of drawing attention to design, and promoting good design. We can think about our context and what kind of books we would like to reward. Well designed books don’t have to be expensive, they have to be thought about with imagination and creativity. We do already have very beautiful and imaginative books. It would be a way of drawing attention to books in a new way. Come on, let’s do this, South African Book Trade!

9. Lots of new publishing ideas, some of which might actually make some money; making new connections with people; things to follow up on, cool gifts for my daughter from the Gutenberg Museum which had a stand at the Fair.

10. Meeting people who were really interested in Modjaji’s books and were eager to meet and connect and find out if we might do business. (I also loved how people’s eyes would light up and say “Mandela?” when they heard I was from South Africa.)

11. Going all the way to Frankfurt to meet Libby Doyle who lives in Cape Town and having breakfast with Arthur Attwell at the hotel, and hearing more about his Paperight project.

1. Hall 8 on the first day of the Book Fair, it was like ADHD on steroids. And every book name or institution you have ever heard of in the English book world was there. I had an appointment with a publisher at the reception of HarperCollins. She got the date mixed up, so she didn’t turn up the first day. I felt like I would be moved along and wasn’t sure how long to wait so I didn’t seem desperate. A bit like a blind date in a new culture – what are the rules?

2. Making appointments, taking the risk of approaching a publisher, agent or scout, and then pitching a particular title

3. Realising again and forcefully what a tiny fish Modjaji Books is, and what a tiny pond South Africa is in the global context, and yet … it was also comforting, and a reminder to “think global, and act local”.

1. The Iceland exhibition – in which Iceland as the Guest of Honour to the Fair offered something special, quiet time, a space to reflect and calm down. I loved the video installation cube that you can stand inside or lie down inside of, and experience Iceland – made me think of the movie The Tree of Life, and of Viking and Nordic myths and legends, of Ygdrassil, and of Iceland as the place where the umbilical cord or navel of the planet is, that connects the deep fiery interior with the surface of the earth, ice and fire, the northern lights, and hot geysers gushing out exhaling.

Another aspect of the exhibition was the way the rest of the space was made up, like several living rooms or libraries, furnished with couches, tables, bookshelves, muted lighting and the walls were large posters of people reading, until you realised that the posters were alive, and you could see the people’s eyes blink and a hand turn a page. Now and then a new person would start reading in a language unfamiliar to me. I rediscovered from a new perspective, the quiet joy of reading, by being able to watch these quiet, peaceful people reading.

I loved the range and beauty of the books on the Iceland exhibition and the tables at which you could sit down and read them, paging through books of wild looking ponies, remote hillsides with little if any evidence of human existence. I could have spent all day, or many days there.

It seems apt that Iceland was the Guest of Honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair this year.

2. I went twice to see the Twitter installation

13.10.2011, Installation at the Frankfurt Book Fair
KMS TEAM is the curator of an installation by Christopher P. Baker entitled “Murmur Study”, currently on display at the Frankfurt Book Fair in cooperation with Audi. The installation is an artistic exploration of the topic of networking. It consists of 132 thermal printers connected to a computer. A program written by the artist searches the social network Twitter for selected terms, such as “dialogue”, “idea” and “literature”, as well as emotional elements like emoticons. The corresponding tweets are then printed. This process creates a work of art that reflects what inspires and connects people around the world
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3. Being outside in the fresh, sometimes chilly air after too many hours indoors, in air-conditioned halls. I loved the stands selling Bratwurst and Beer outside, where you could join others taking a moment to eat and relax. You could also get pancakes with Nutella filling, I know some writer friends who would have loved that.

4. Wolf Hingst – My family had a foreign exchange student, Wolf Hingst, from Germany, to stay in 1985. I was at UCT and doing my H Dip Ed, sharing a flat in Rondebosch. I’d lost touch with him and in fact hadn’t seen him since 1985. Well the week before I left for Frankfurt I got an email from Wolf. He found me on Facebook while on the train during his regular commute, and he wrote to me. I was able to say that I would be in Germany in a week’s time. Amazingly he came by train from Hanover to see me. We clicked immediately and had a wonderful intense conversation. I hope to stay connected to Wolf now. He was able to explain lots of fascinating bits of German culture for me, also because he knows what South Africa is like. I learnt about German media and ‘verreine’ – co-operatives or associations that are at the heart of German social, cultural and sporting life.

Frankfurt Book Fairies

5. I loved the Carnival atmosphere of the Frankfurt Book Fair on the two public days when the young people come dressed up as fictional characters, many from Manga, but not only. I think there might be something that we, the SA book trade could pick up on? Allow young people free into the Cape Town Book Fair if they dress up as fictional characters? Or even the Book Lounge or Jozi Book Fair?

1. The amazing generosity of the German government and Litprom in bringing 23 publishers to get a foot in the door of the biggest and best Book Fair in the world.
2. In Frankfurt, the mixture of very old and new buildings, the understated details in buildings.
3. Seeing South African wine in a small neighbourhood supermarket.
4. The trains, run on time and are clean and fast and fabulous. We stayed 18kms away from the Book Fair and it took about 35 minutes to get between the hotel and the Fair.
5. The breakfast at the hotel, Bircher muesli and fresh fruit every morning, and many other delicious foods.
6. The Bauhaus style apartment buildings and orderly, well planned and well designed architecture.
7. The allotments alongside the railway track, carefully tended and fertile.
8. The forests that are still in evidence, especially near the Park Hotel and the patchwork of well cultivated fields of dark soil that you see from the train on the way to and from the “Messe” (Fairgrounds).
9. The Beer and the Riesling (sausages and sauerkraut not as much)

1. The collective presentation of titles from small and author publishers “Founded in 1979, the Group promotes small publishers without whose creativity and dedication the cultural diversity of books in Germany would not be possible in its present form” (from the Pocket Guide to the Fair).
2. The Comics Centre
3. The International Library Centre
4. The Booksellers Centre
5. The Children’s Book Forum
6. Some of the many discussions about Digital Publishing, Mobile publishing, and Digital rights.

For more photos have a look here and here.

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Modjaji Books has been invited to the Frankfurt Book Fair 2011

The Frankfurt Book Fair has a guest programme for international visitors from NICs (I think it means Newly Industrialised Countries) and this year they have invited Modjaji Books to be a guest, in particular, me as the publisher at Modjaji. The invitation comes out of meeting the people from the Frankfurt Book Fair at the Cape Town Book Fair for the past few years, in particular Corry von Mayenburg, who manages this programme. We even get to have a small stand at the Frankfurt Book Fair.

A little about the Frankfurt Book Fair:

For a few days in October, Frankfurt is home to the world’s biggest international trade fair for publishing and for every professional who produces and sells books or other media. Last year more than 7.300 exhibitors from 100 countries presented their books, magazines, maps, multimedia products and art works in our exhibition area in Frankfurt. 299.000 visitors came to visit thismost important event of the book trade.

This year’s fair is from the 12th to the 16th of October, and as guests we arrive a few days early for an introductory seminar.

The seminar will give you an introduction about the structure and development of the German publishing trade and deal with distribution, rights & licences and marketing in publishing houses. We will also cover the field of book design. On Monday, October 10 the seminar will end at noon.

The invitation is an extremely generous one, covering almost all expenses and costs, and I am really looking forward to going to the biggest International Book Fair, and guess what, Iceland is the focus country. Let’s hope that is all Iceland has to offer in October.

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