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Kwela Books – 21 Years of Untold South African and African Stories


A Place Called VatmaarBitter FruitRachel’s BlueUntitledYoung BloodThe Scent of BlissDog Eat DogPenumbraThe Slave BookMadeliefies van staalNoudat slapende hondeDie sterre sê tsauHappiness is a Four-Letter WordThe Lazarus EffectLondon – Cape Town – JoburgNo Easy Walk to Freedom

When AHM Scholtz’s iconic novel A Place Called Vatmaar first appeared in the mid-1990s, it was the beginning of a proud tradition at newly founded small Cape publisher Kwela Books. Ever since, Kwela, which this year celebrates its 21st anniversary, has stayed true to its roots of giving untold local stories a voice and introducing new South African and African authors locally and abroad.

An imprint of NB Publishers and part of Media24 Books, Kwela was founded in 1994 to coincide with the birth of democracy in South Africa. It has been the launchpad of celebrated authors such as Booker Prize nominee Achmat Dangor, Zakes Mda, Kgebetli Moele, Sifiso Mzobe, Niq Mhlongo, Songeziwe Mahlangu, Rayda Jacobs, Pat Stamatélos, Ronelda S Kamfer and Antjie Krog, to name but a few – many of whom are now well-loved names in English and Afrikaans households.

“Kwela has become home to a new generation of authors who explore social, political and aesthetic issues in uniquely South African ways and challenge the literary establishment,” says Eloise Wessels, managing director of Media24 Books. “Through the Kwela imprint, Media 24 has supported and invested in original, often extraordinary, writing that has enriched local literature.”

Over the past 21 years Kwela has helped shape a range of young and exciting new voices – from romance writers for local readers to groundbreaking literary voices. Many of these writers have been awarded literary prizes, locally and abroad.

Cynthia JeleRecent examples include Mzobe, who received the 2011 Sunday Times Fiction Prize and 2012 Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature for Young Blood, and Mahlangu, who won the 2014 Etisalat Prize for Literature for Penumbra. Others became booksellers’ favourites, such as Cynthia Jele, who in 2011 received the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book, Africa Region, the M-Net Literary Award and a Booksellers’ Choice Award for her debut novel Happiness is a Four-Letter Word.

“From the moment I received a call from Kwela expressing interest in publishing my debut novel, Happiness is a Four-Letter Word, I knew I had found the right place for my work,” Jele says. “Kwela continues to show support to me as a writer and to Happiness as it moves to an exciting phase of being adapted into a movie. I wish Kwela a happy 21st birthday – may you continue doing what you do for other writers as well.”

Sifiso MzobeLast year six Kwela authors were included in Africa39, the Bloomsbury Publishing, Hay Festival and Rainbow Book Club list of the 39 most promising authors under 40 from sub-Saharan Africa and the diaspora. They are Hawa Golakai (Liberia), Nthikeng Mohlele (South Africa), Mzobe (South Africa), Novuyo Rosa Tshuma (Zimbabwe/South Africa), Mary Watson (South Africa/Ireland) and Zukiswa Wanner (Zambia/South Africa/Zimbabwe/Kenya).

Publishers, literary agents and critics from around the world were consulted to create the longlist for Africa39, says Caren van Houwelingen, Kwela fiction editor: “Kwela authors are read around the globe – in addition to Europe, Great Britain, Scandinavia and the USA, also in countries such as China, Russia, Egypt, Thailand, Greece, Lithuania and Slovenia. International rights have been sold of 22 authors’ work – 35 titles in total.”

Recent highlights include:

Italian, French and Danish rights of Moele’s work (Room 209, The Book of the Dead, Untitled);
Spanish, Italian, French, German and US rights of Niq Mhlongo’s work (Dog Eat Dog, After Tears, Way Back Home); and Dutch rights to two poetry collections of Ronelda S Kamfer, now a major voice in Afrikaans poetry circles.

Film rights have also been sold, most recently for Happiness is a Four-Letter Word, the first novel by a black South African female author to be adapted for the big screen, and ’n Paw-paw vir my darling by Jeanne Goosen. Both films are due for release next year.

In addition to fiction, Kwela also publishes nonfiction that contributes to the discourse on South African and African realities.

A recent highlight is the introduction of the Pocket Revolutionary series, a unique collection of writings by freedom struggle icons such as Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Anton Lembede and Govan Mbeki.

“We’re proud of the role Kwela has played in enriching and promoting local literature,” says Wessels. “After 21 years Kwela has come into its own and we will continue our proud tradition of making new local voices heard and keeping our legendary voices alive.”

Niq Mhlongo


Book details

  • Die sterre sê tsau: /Xam-gedigte van Diä!kwain, Kweiten-ta-//ken, /A!kúnta, /Han#kass’o en //Kabbo edited by Antjie Krog
    EAN: 9780795701740
    Find this book with BOOK Finder!

Recent comments:

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Colleen</a>
    October 23rd, 2015 @12:47 #

    Happy Birthday Kwela! Well done on all the fabulous and ground-breaking voices and stories you have published.


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