More women need to be published in South Africa

Thabiso Mahlape, founder of BlackBird Books, an imprint of Jacana Media Picture: Ndileka Lujabe
Thabiso Mahlape, founder of BlackBird Books, an imprint of Jacana Media Picture: Ndileka Lujabe

The last time City Press chatted to Thabiso Mahlape was in 2016 when her publishing house, BlackBird Books, was celebrating a year of its doors being opened.

Since then, she has published several titles, including the best-seller Bonang from A to B, an autobiography of media personality Bonang Matheba.

This International Women’s Day, she hopes for the doors to widen in order to allow more women to be involved in the world of literature.

Mahlape, who has been veracious about her role in the world of publishing as a black woman, has tackled issues of misogyny and patriarchy head on, and the overpowering power of whiteness that reigns supreme in the world of publishing.

She has become so popular that she delivered a TedX talk in November 2017 when she spoke about her love of books and where it all started for her.

Since the first year as a publisher in 2015, the self-proclaimed unapologetic Mahlape has published 19 titles, all written by black authors who would probably have been lost in the world of publishing had BlackBird Books not been around. Despite the growth in the industry, Mahlape still feels that not enough is being done to grow the culture of reading and literacy in South Africa.

“I went into a McDonald’s this past weekend ... I hadn’t been there in forever. I saw they have those automated stations to order food and there were people who were really struggling to use it. I could tell that there was a problem. If you’re quick at reading you would be quick at using these tools.

“People don’t realise how literacy affects everything. I think the politicians know. They know that not all South Africans will go out and read their manifestos. We aren’t quite aware of the limitations we have as a country because of our literacy problem.”

Men submit more books to me then women. It’s because men have more confidence.

“If the notion that I have is right, that women read more than men, then the people that are being stifled most are women. You see it in the submissions that come through to me. Men submit more books to me than women. It’s because men have more confidence. The submissions that I get from women are often about how they have overcome pain which was inflicted by a man. That’s the South African story.”

As a result of this gap, Mahlape has engaged with various stakeholders to host writing workshops for women in order to help grow the industry for female writers.

She has called on society to enforce the culture of reading at a young age.

When speaking about access to books for women, she believes that women are being stifled by not having the access or opportunity to read and publish their own stories.

“If you grow a nation of readers, then the inclination is there to buy books. A lot of people don’t know the feeling of owning books and the joy and value of having a book. It’s one of the things that we’re trying to do to instil this gift of reading. On a government level, corruption hasn’t just bankrupted the state-owned enterprises, it’s bankrupted everything. There’s an attempt at policy level to populate libraries with books but it just never trickles down. My wish is for women to write and publish in South Africa. ”

International Womens Day 2019

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