On 12 August 2015, when BlackBird Books was launched, the face of South African publishing changed. The imprint, incubated by Jacana Media and headed by Thabiso Mahlape, provides a platform and a publishing home to both new voices and the existing generation of black writers.

Mahlape’s approach to publishing is inspired, among other things, by the creative forces that came before her.

In 1962, a 24-year-old Nat Nakasa gathered his friends and told them his dream of wanting to launch a literary magazine. Through the magazine, black writers would be able to speak about their own experiences, in their own voices. Just as Drum had given a megaphone to a generation of urban African journalists, a literary magazine would amplify the voices of poets and novelists. Nat Nakasa’s dream was never realised.

In 1966, when Nina Simone wrote about the pain of knowing that the world wouldn’t allow a ‘blackbird’ to fly, we knew she was singing about the hardship of being a black woman. It is not a stretch of the imagination to think that Nakasa’s dream was stillborn because he too was a ‘blackbird’.

BlackBird Books is giving black writers a chance to fly.

In the three years since its launch, BlackBird Books has published a number of highly acclaimed bestsellers. Among these is the award-winning Endings & Beginnings by Redi Tlhabi, McIntosh Polela’s powerful memoir My Father, My Monster and Malaika wa Azania’s Memoirs of a Born Free, all of which reach multiple audiences and address issues which impact us as South Africans. Other titles published include Bonnie Henna’s Eyebags & Dimples and Zoleka Mandela’s When Hope Whispers.

BlackBird Books is a ground-breaking move in the South African literary landscape. Through this exciting imprint, Mahlape aims to pioneer a new framework for South African narratives.