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3 authors change the rules of the game at SA Book Fair

Picture credit: Books - http://bookslive.co.za/
Picture credit: Books - http://bookslive.co.za/

From September 7 to 9 the Newtown Precinct will host the South African Book Fair. Various events and exhibitions celebrating South African literature will take place. We caught up with three authors showcasing at the fair, whose debut work is disrupting the South African publishing scene.


Phumlani Pikoli - The Fatuous State of Severity (2016)

Phumlani Pikoli might still be trying to define himself as a journalist, but he became an author when he self-published his first book The Fatuous State of Severity, a collection of short stories accompanied by illustrations and a short film.

Why did you write The Fatuous State of Severity as a collection of short stories?

I wrote the book as a collection, because I realised that I had written a number of stories that I hadn’t shared and didn’t know what to do with. So, putting them into one space seemed to make the most sense.

Why was it necessary to include illustrations and a short film?

The illustrations came from an organic process of sharing the stories, as I was writing, with close friends. Some of them are illustrators and could visualise some of what I wrote, so they just ran with it. It also just made sense to keep playing with the project and the different dimensions of it, which could be moulded into different mediums. So it’s continuous experimentation: the film, the documentary, the illustrations etc.

Many new authors are going the self-publishing route. Why is this?

In the age of democratised information, where a lot of processes are demystified, social media counts as publishing and the advances in technology have made resources cheaper; it makes sense that people would take chances on non-traditional forms of creating.

Why is the SA Book Fair important?

Well, the importance of events like this is always access and opportunity for people who’d regularly not have it. It’s a great space for me to get to speak directly to audiences and learn from other authors. It also affords me the chance to tell people that the doodles in the book were actually done by professionals.

Lebohang Masango – Mpumi’s Magic Beads (2017)

Lebohang Masango is a writer and poet and a Master’s candidate and lecturer in anthropology. The Zanele Mbeki Fellow self-published her children’s book Mpumi’s Magic Beads, but a new publishing deal will see the book released in all South Africa’s official languages.

Why do you think your book has been well received?

It’s a story that any child who has lived in, or visited, Johannesburg can relate to. The book has characters that look like many little girls in South Africa and it’s really fun to read because of the rhythm of the story.

Are you planning to write any more children’s stories?

I would love to create an entire series around the adventures of Mpumi, Tshiamo, and


What do you think of the South African publishing landscape?

I think the most important insight from my experience of initially self-publishing

Mpumi’s Magic Beads is that the financial malpractices of certain independent book stores really compromise the literary ecosystem and people’s ability to make a living from their work.

Why is the SA Book Fair important?

The SA Book Fair is important because it gives everyone an opportunity to experience the state of South African literature and even to introduce people to the pleasures of books. I am grateful that I will be able to showcase my work on such an esteemed platform with so many incredible authors and publishers. I always enjoy being able to interact with people who enjoy my work.


Nompumelelo Mqwebu – Through the Eyes of an African Chef  (2017)

Nompumelelo Mqwebu is a chef, a business woman and the mother of two young men. She left a corporate career for the world of food, resulting in her self-published cookbook Through the Eyes of an African Chef. The book sold out at the 2017 Frankfurt Book Fair and won the world’s best self-published cookbook at the 2018 Gourmand World Cookbook Awards.

How did you decide which recipes to feature in your cookbook?

I specialise in African cuisine, so the core of the recipes that I featured had to be African. The recipes predominantly reflect my identity and what informs my culture. I am multicultural and have been exposed to various cultures from a young age, which gives me a wealth of experience to learn from. I also felt it was time we boosted our culinary tourism.

How do you hope your cookbook will contribute to the food culture in South Africa?

The lack of professional training in African cuisine, our misinformed food history (and thus myths around our indigenous food) and need to celebrate our indigenous food history is what made me start the journey of this cookbook. I hope it will help in dispelling some myths about African cuisine and presenting it in a modern style with the core being local ingredients. So, I am hoping the cookbook will show South Africans, and the world at large, that African food is special.

What do you think of the South African publishing landscape?

I am happy [with the] diversity in terms of authors and genres but self-publishing needs a big push. The public needs more knowledge on why people choose to self-publish and understand that it doesn't mean book deals were not available. Either the deals were not good or [as the author] you want to influence and make decisions on every aspect of your book. The public also needs to know more about book stores. They have their own systems of how they order, which sometimes is at odds with sales for the author.

Why is the SA Book Fair important?

The fact that it’s accessible to the public is great. For me, it's an opportunity to meet people who are passionate about culture and heritage in the food space. I get to impart [knowledge] while learning from the young people's experiences as well. At book fairs, the audience gets a deeper insight into the authors and the titles.

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