In August 2015 the face of South African publishing changed. This is the day that Thabiso Mahlape launched her new book imprint BlackBird Books. The imprint, incubated by Jacana Media, provides a platform and a publishing home to both new voices and the existing generation of black writers and narratives.
Mahlape honed her skills as publisher with a number of highly acclaimed bestsellers; the award-winning Endings & Beginnings by Redi Tlhabi, the ground-breaking My Father My Monster by Mcintosh Polela and Malaika wa Azania’s Memoirs of a Born Free, all books which talk to multiple audiences on issues which impact us as South Africans. Other titles published include Bonnie Henna’s Eyebags & Dimples and Zoleka Mandela’s When Hope Whispers.
Mahlape described BlackBird Books as a ground-breaking move in the South African literary landscape and looks forward to continue pioneering and establishing a framework for new South African narratives. She says that her inspiration and direction for this list stems from varied sources, but there are two that stand out the most for her.
The first is the story of how, in 1962, 24-year-old Nat Nakasa gathered his friends to tell them of his dream of wanting to launch a literary magazine. Through the magazine, black writers were to speak of their own experiences, in their own voices. Just as Drum had given a megaphone to a generation of urban African journalists, a literary magazine was to do the same for poets and novelists. Nat Nakasa’s dream was never realised.
And when, in 1966, Nina Simone wrote about the pain of knowing that the world wouldn’t allow a ‘blackbird’ to fly we knew she was singing about the hardship of being a black woman, but it is not a stretch of the imagination to think that the reason why Nakasa’s dream was still-born was because he too was a ‘blackbird’.