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Fighting Against the Danger of a Single Story: Spotlight on Jacana Media

by Eva Rose Tesfaye on May 25, 2018

In her TED Talk, famous Nigerian novelist, Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie reminds us of the “Danger of a Single Story.” She says:

“I’ve always felt that it is impossible to engage properly with a place or a person without engaging with all of the stories of that place and that person. The consequence of the single story is this: It robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar.”

Of course many people have stories to share, but the problem is how do we get them shared? That’s where publishers come in. Jacana Media is a South African publisher that is committed to sharing diverse African stories.

Jacana Media is an independent publisher located in Sunnyside, Johannesburg. Their motto being “We publish what we like,” the company publishes books in a wide range of genres: fiction, non-fiction, and poetry, as well as unique sub-genres such as natural history, business, tourism, and religion and spirituality. One of the most prominent however is the genre they call “Fanele.”

“Fanele” is a Zulu word that translates to “necessary” in English. These are books that Jacans feels are stories that need to be told “but that would not necessarily be published using a conventional publishing model.” This is for authors and organizations that have unique and important stories and Jacana works with them closely to ensure that those stories are shared.

“Fanele offers a customised publishing service to NGOs, corporates and authors who have stories to tell and have a vested interest in making them available to the general public. The model provides for up-front funding of the production and printing costs of a book. Jacana then undertakes sales, distribution and marketing.”

The books included under Fanele range widely: A Different Kind of AIDS: Alternative Explanations of HIV/AIDS in South African Townships explores the AIDS crisis in South Africa. DON’T/PANIC curates different stories from African artists dealing with the current ecological situation. From Comarades to Capitalists addresses Chinese involvement across Africa. Shoe Shop is an anthology exploring different communities with different languages.

Jacana continually publishes books that other publishing companies won’t. David Bristow, author of Jock of the Bushveld, which was recently made into a movie, recently published another novel, Running Wild with Jacana. Before that, his book was rejected 174 times by other publishers.

“As soon as Jacana heard the premise, they jumped at it, smart people,” said Bristow who is one of South Africa’s first full-time travel journalists and has written over 20 other books about Africa.

In addition to being involved in prestigious literary awards, The European Union Literary Award, The Caine Prize for African Literature, and the Dinaane Debut Fiction Award, Jacana has won some awards themselves. They were awarded the South African Sunday Independent’s Publisher of the Year award in 2006 and the Bologna Book Fair’s Children’s Publisher of the Year prize in the African category earlier this year.

 “We are honoured to be recognised with this award,” says Carol Broomhall, publisher at Jacana Media told the Sunday Times. “We work hard to bring our books to a primarily South African audience and it is heartening when the quality of our publications is recognised internationally and we are thrilled to be so acknowledged.”

Diverse children’s books especially are in high demand in South Africa as there are not many created for children of color. Jacana divides their children’s books into a number of different categories based on South Africa’s eleven official languages, meaning that South African children of different cultures can be represented and that children can learn to read in their mother-tongues.

Another imprint, Blackbird Books, launched by Thabiso Mahlape in 2015, gives voices to black writers and their narratives while still maintaining South African identity. The name references Nina Simone’s song “Blackbird” which is about the pain of society not letting a black woman fly. This song inspired Mahlape, along with Nat Nakasa’s dream in 1962 to launch a literary magazine for black writers to share their experiences, which was never realized. This imprint was a ground-breaking move in the South African literary landscape.

Not only is Jacana committed to promoting culturally diverse stories, they are also promoting unique experimental ones. Earlier this month, they made a deal with Fourth Wall books, South Africa’s first art imprint. They publish “visual books that are out of the ordinary, provocative, experimental, well-designed, interesting to read and pleasing to hold and look at.”

One of their projects, Storied, aimed to increase the interest in the local fiction. The average English South African novel will only sell 6000-1000 copies in its lifetime in South Africa. They raised money to invest more in African poetry and fiction and to keep them “thriving and reaching world-wide audiences.”

Jacana Media works hard to ensure that African stories are distributed and read. Towards the end of her TED Talk Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie reminds us that, “Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.”

Featured Image Via Wikipedia

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Eva Rose Tesfaye
Eva Tesfaye has traveled around the world her whole life but thinks of Africa as home. She loves reading novels and watching plays (especially ones with people of color in them). She has a love-hate relationship with her big curly hair.