Now, she is a proud author of a children’s book Mpumi’s Magic Beads, published by her company Thank You Books. We talk to Lebohang about her self-publishing experience and the importance of identification and representation for black children.
Where does the love for words come from?
I have always grown up with parents who loved books and reading to me. Amongst all the playing I did in my childhood, I played a lot on my own but I did a lot of reading as well. My first books were a box set that had audiobooks. I played those audiotapes in a sound system my mom bought me. I had a literacy-infused childhood – that’s where the love really comes from.
How did the idea for Mpumi’s Magic Beads come about?
I’ve always wanted to write a children’s book because I loved them so much, because the first way a child engages with words and written stories is through children’s books. I know I wanted to write stories about little girls and their hair because I had done my research focused on a primary school for my paper in 2015 around school rules and African girls’ hair. Hair and school is a theme in the book, and I wanted to also highlight some of the child-friendly aspects of Joburg. It can be an ominous, dangerous place with all the traffic, especially the CBD. I wanted to explore child aspects part of the city. This is why you have the characters going to an amusement park, planetarium, and the zoo.
How was the writing process like?
I wrote the book in three days but the whole process of getting it to be an actual book that took me nine months, from March to November last year.
How important was it for you to have a book that black kids see themselves in?
The mission in writing this book was to have a good story but having the second mission was having representation. We hope we’ll have a world that having a book filled with black girls is a normal thing. The more positive imagery we have in the world the more children will feel free to be themselves. It’s sad that young black girls have to be conscious about their hair. It just can’t be hair, and it can’t just be going to school because they clash with rules for something that just grows naturally from their heads.
Why did you choose to self-publish?
The journey has been really exciting, and even the minor challenges I have encountered have been opportunities to find alternatives. I only approached two publishers and the one said they don’t do children’s books and the other said it doesn’t fit what they do. I realised that I couldn’t wait for my dream and passion, and approaching other publishing houses wouldn’t have gotten anything done. I decided to do it myself and have fun with it and really make executive decisions on everything. I then registered my company Thank You Books. I sat on Google and sat with a huge checklist and I did it, it was fun!
Why the name, Thank You Books?
The name is from my name, and I feel an immense level of gratitude about my life and the fact that words have opened so many doors for me. From the beginning of my poetry, I haven’t had to struggle with getting platforms; it’s been how I want when I want it, people have been engaging and receiving my words and work.
The thing about my company is I won’t be publishing other people. Being a publisher is not what I came to do in the world. I am a poet, writer and anthropologist but it’s there for my own work instead of approaching people. There is a huge sense of self-belief in my dreams and at times your dream isn’t someone else’s dream.