Thabiso Mahlape is a publisher with Jacana. She recently launched a new book imprint, BlackBird Books, which seeks to provide a platform and publishing home to both new voices and the existing generation of black writers and narratives. Thabiso believes that relevant South African stories are the key to a culture of reading:
When I was about five or six, I didn’t know about books, about reading for pleasure. In a quest to start understanding and speaking English, I started reading the only reading material available in my house – my father’s newspapers. Papa buys all the daily newspapers and then gets home and makes an event of reading them. I would join him in the car or in his bedroom and read or attempt to read myself.
I do not remember how long it took me to conquer the newspapers, but I remember eventually getting bored with them and yearning for more. It wasn’t long before I discovered the Reader’s Digest condensed reads. And my life changed. I had discovered the true magic of reading, of following a story and forming creatures in my head. Those first years of reading inspired my present life.
My reading would later graduate to Mills & Boon, Danielle Steel, John Grisham, etc. Each time I was captivated by how different stories can be, yet they are all equally powerful. Stories are all entertaining in their own ways, each one of them as delicious as the previous one.
As a little girl growing up in the dusty streets of Seshego, a township outside of Polokwane, it never crossed my mind that these amazing pockets of stories could be produced (I had no concept of the publishing process then) in South Africa, let alone that I myself could one day grow up to be a publisher.
It was Papa’s newspapers that set me on my destined path. Although I would grow up and find my own reading material far from his newspapers, it is still the newspapers that started me on my reading. The reading culture or lack thereof in children is dependent on the adults around them.
It is a big and important task for publishers to make sure that we publish fresh and relevant stories for South African adults so that they can inspire the next generation to tell stories and read. Just like my father’s reading inspired me into a career of storytelling.
To access a range of stories in your language, click here.