English literature student Wade Smit, 23, from the University of Cape Town English, recently launched an isiZulu publishing company called Kwasukela Books. Smit has also published his first book, a short fiction anthology titled Izinkanyezi Ezintsha (New Stars) which features several authors, including the legendary writer Fred Khumalo. He shared his journey of publishing his very first book with The Daily Vox.
I started writing when I was very small. I was fascinated with books before I could read them. My mom would read me all sorts of fairy-tales and Disney books, and all of them were illustrated, and so I would sit and look at these pictures for hours every day thinking about them. That really made me fall in love with writing and imagining, so writing for me has always been about, “what is the most exciting, interesting, and unique thing to imagine? And how best can I put what I’m seeing in my mind into words?”
The idea for Kwasukela Books came about when I joined a multilingual indigenous language student newspaper at UCT called Vernac News. It kind of blew my mind because at the time I was reading a lot of isiZulu novels and poetry collections that were relatively old, and this newspaper was just doing amazing things. It was publishing poems in isiXhosa, op-eds in isiCamtho, articles in Kiswahili.
From being involved in the editing, printing, and distributing of Vernac News, which we distributed by hand ourselves, I started to really love the idea of publishing. Then, after that, I would be writing poems, short stories and articles in isiZulu and English; and submitting to various journals, pitching to various magazines and newspapers, and I didn’t get anything back. I found it, at least, easy to submit my English work, since most publications are explicitly English publications, but for isiZulu fiction there was nothing.
There was no avenue for me to publish my isiZulu writing, then I figured, there are many many other people writing in isiZulu who are facing the same challenge, and who are probably extremely talented, so why don’t I just become the publisher? That way I still get to be involved in amazing writing while also getting involved in these other processes of designing, editing and ultimately publishing which have been really gratifying.
Once I decided that I really wanted to start a publishing company and settled on a name for it – Kwasukela Books, I knew I needed a first book. We’re not a publisher if we don’t publish. One book that stuck out to me was another collection of short stories called Terra Incognita, a collection of African speculative fiction published by Short Story Day Africa. I thought, if we were to do something like that, we would be bringing exciting and different Zulu literature as well as giving new authors a chance to be seen and have their work out there. Hence the name ‘Izinkanyezi Ezintsha’, since ‘new stars’ represents both unknown worlds and imaginaries, and amazing new authors.
The writing scene in South Africa is most active and passionate in indigenous languages. That’s not widely known or is surprising to a lot of people. It is the industry for indigenous language literature and the opportunities available that are not great. There are Facebook groups of Zulu poetry, fiction, serialised novels and dramas that have tens of thousands of active members, readers and writers, and they support one another with so much love and passion for the writing. These readers will literally flood the groups’ and the stories are really really good. But nobody is there to publish these authors, so they are tied down.
South Africa and Africa as a whole is still stuck with colonial economies, and so something like indigenous language literature is not the same as saying “I want to publish an English novel” – there is very little foundation for a thriving indigenous language literary industry that has dignity and respect built into it, so one has to start all of it over. The distribution, retail, advertising, solicitation, editing [and] design, it all has to be rethought and redone. Which is why we are so excited to work with independent retailers and booksellers like Bridge Books, MyAfricanBuy.com, AfricanFlavourBooks and more, who really understand what a 2018 South Africa wants to read and buy.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity
Feature image by Wade Smit