We were pleased to have the opportunity to interview Dušanka Stojaković, Chairperson of the South African chapter of IBBY who has worked in publishing for 40 years. She started the Picador Africa imprint and Giraffe imprint at Pan Macmillan, and she is currently at New Africa Books, publisher of children’s books in the eleven official languages of South Africa.
World Kid Lit: Dušanka, thanks so much for joining us on World Kid Lit today. Could you tell us a bit about New Africa Books? Where and how did it all begin and how has your work developed over time?
DS: David Philip Publishers, an indigenous publishing company, was set up by David and Marie Philip, in 1971. They were the first anti-apartheid publisher in South Africa, and were known for publishing literary works of fiction, reference books, non-fiction and poetry. Some of their most known works by Sindiwe Magona and Richard Rive (Mother to Mother and Buckingham Palace, District Six, are still available today – and widely read, and rights have been sold on a variety of platforms, internationally.
In the early 1990s, a children’s book list was launched. This list included works by writers and illustrators, Niki and Jude Daly and Catherine Stock. During the 1990s, the company won several prestigious awards. When David and Marie retired at the end of the 1990s, majority shares in the company were sold to Nail, an investment consortium, with David Philip Publishers to become a separate imprint in New Africa Media, under the chairmanship of New Africa Media.
Shortly thereafter a decision was taken to publish school textbooks, which sadly brought about a reduction in the company’s fortunes, and several lists were sold off, namely the children’s book list, Songololo, and their very successful business textbook list.
During this rather unfortunate period, a new children’s list was started – a series, New African Stories, the result of a collaboration with PRAESA (The Project for the Study of Alternative Education in South Africa). These full colour story books are in great demand today and have contributed to the rebirth of New Africa Books, in 2013, as a publisher of books for children and YA – books with African content, written by Africans and illustrated by Africans. The books were sold into reading and literacy programmes, with very little traction in the retail trade – although this is beginning to change with new entrants in this market.
Mother to Mother – by Sindiwe Magona – has contributed greatly to the reputation – and financial position of New Africa Books. It is currently read in schools in South Africa and Germany.
WKL: Do you have any age groups that you specialize in?
DS: The main focus is on publishing books for children and young adults. The content of these books must reflect the continent on which we live.
WKL: You publish children’s books in the eleven official languages of South Africa. How do you go about this process?
DS: Up until recently, the focus has been on publishing books in English, and then translating them into the other ten official languages. With the increase in demand for these books, and interest in books written in some of the other languages of this country, we have moved to cautiously publishing books written in a language other than English.
In order to make commercial sense of these projects, all the language versions are printed together, with the greatest number of copies in English. Unfortunately, most parents still see English as the language which will determine the success of the child.
WKL: You mentioned in an email that you are one of the few publishers who publish books for children in all eleven languages. Why was the decision made to do this and are there any specific challenges involved?
DS: Some of the ‘smaller’ languages hardly sell any copies but given that we are the only publishers who publish in these languages, we try to make the sums work by costing a project across all the language versions. Similarly, there is some demand for our books in the smaller languages, since we are the only publisher with high quality children’s books in these languages. I expect the demand for these languages to increase.
WKL: How do you get the books out into the community? Do you publish in digital or audio as well?
DS: We have only just entered the audio market – lock-down has contributed to the growth in the market. South Africans have always been known for their oral tradition, and by extension, they are keen listeners of radio.
As internet coverage and smartphone consumption increases, the demand for digital content is also increasing.
Our books reach communities in a variety of ways – traditional retail, via library suppliers, literacy projects, donations, newspaper inserts….
WKL: Do you have plans to expand to include other African languages as well?
DS: Last year we published MULTILINGUAL ABC, with artwork by the artist, Nicolaas Maritz. There are twenty languages in this book. These include Khoekoegowab, KiSwahili, ChiShona, OshiWambo, !Orakobab, !Xóŋa ǂ Âá and N|õakhoe Kx’ui- as well as the official languages of other African countries.
WKL: You have recently published the Tortoise and the Ostrich by Katrina Esau, as told to Claudia Snyman, in five different editions including the first children’s book to feature a story for children in the the N|uu language. This language is spoken by only four people in the world. Why is it so important to publish a book in this language and to preserve these languages that are at threat of extinction?
DS: The people who spoke, and who speak these languages, live where they have lived for hundreds of years. They are in the process of losing their culture, along with their language. There is a move in this country, to revisit and recognise the history and the culture of people who were forced to accept a history that is not theirs.
WKL: Do you have any exciting new projects that you can tell us about?
DS: We have just released a children’s picture book about Caster Semenya (Qhawe! Mokgadi Caster Semenya) – the South African athlete who is unbeaten internationally in the 800 metres race. She was banned from the recent Tokyo Olympics due to a ruling that claimed that the excess production of testerone led to an unfair advantage in the race. This study was overturned shortly after the Olympics ended.
Both the author and the illustrator are new to the children’s picture book scene – Nokuthula Mazibuko Msimang and Sanelisiwe Singaphi and have already been signed up for a second project. There is a lot of support for Caster in this country – and I expect to sell rights, given the profile of gender issues, worldwide.
RainBeast is another project, of which I am immensely proud. The book is a rain mythology in four languages, in verse. The languages are Afrikaans, English, isiXhosa and Hai||om, an ancient language spoken in the north of South Africa, and Namibia. The illustrations by Nicolaas Maritz are especially magnificent.
WKL: Thank you so much for sharing with us during World Kid Lit Month!
You can browse available titles on the New Africa Books website. The New Africa Books team also active on Facebook, and regularly adds to our Facebook discussion group, sharing their latest news with us.