Koleka Putuma’s Collective Amnesia Wins the Glenna Luschei Prize for African Poetry

We are proud to announce that Koleka Putuma’s Collective Amnesia has won the 2018 Glenna Luschei Prize for African Poetry.

This year’s prize was judged by Bernardine Evaristo, renowned author of fiction and founder of the Brunel International African Poetry Prize. She said of Collective Amnesia: “Everything about this poetry debut feels fresh and timely. Putuma, writing from a queer female perspective, has a liberated poetic voice that engages with politics, race, religion, relationships, sexuality, feminism and more. There is also risky formal innovation, emotional and intellectual complexity, biblical intertextuality, and a stirring declamatory audibility.”

As the winner of the Luschei Prize, Putuma will receive an award of U.S. $1,000. The award is named after Glenna Luschei, the U.S. American poet and publisher.

This marks the second year in a row an uHlanga book has featured in the prizewinners for this award, after Stephen Symon’s commendation for the 2017 award for his collection Questions for the Sea.

We would like to express our thanks to the African Poetry Book Fund – to Kwame Dawes and Ashley Strosnider and their team – for this kind recognition of Koleka and her work. Congratulations too to the writers of the commended works this year, Nick Makoha’s Kingdom of Gravity (Peepal Tree) and Dami Ajayi’s A Woman’s Body is a Country (Ouida).

Announcing: All the Places by Musawenkosi Khanyile


We are thrilled to announce the upcoming publication of All the Places, the full debut collection by Musawenkosi Khanyile.

This is an especially important release for us. Musa was one of the poets we published in our first-ever release, a once-off magazine in 2014. It was one of his first publications, and his growth as a poet — which has included a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of the Western Cape — has culminated in this wonderful collection.

In his moving collection, Musawenkosi Khanyile speaks for the heartache, perseverance and untriumphant triumph of township life. Through snapshots and memories of family and community, centred around the boy- and young manhood of a single narrator,  All The Places is a rare and compelling poetic Bildungsroman, with the ambition and scope of a novel, paired with (and pared down to) minimalist and clear-eyed verse.

Concurrently original and quintessentially South African, these poems mark Khanyile out as a skilled stylist and storyteller – a frank and important new voice in South African literature.

Musawenkosi Khanyile

Musawenkosi Khanyile was born in 1991 and raised in Nseleni, KwaZulu-Natal. He holds a Masters in Clinical Psychology from the University of Zululand, and a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of the Western Cape. His first chapbook, The Internal Saboteur, appears in the African Poetry Book Fund's 2019 New-Generation African Poets Boxset. He currently lives in Cape Town.

For more information, see the publication’s page. An overseas edition will soon be available through the African Books Collective.

We are looking forward to launching the book at The Book Lounge in Cape Town on 18 July. Further launches in other towns and cities will be announced soon.

Koleka Putuma's Collective Amnesia is translated into Spanish, German, and Danish

Koleka Putuma Amnesia Colectiva

We’re thrilled that our bestseller Collective Amnesia by Koleka Putuma has been or is being translated into three languages. It has been translated into Spanish by Arrate Hidalgo and Lawrence Schimel and published by Flores Raras (released December 2018); into German by the Herman Hesse Prize-winning poet Paul-Henri Campbell, published by Wunderhorn Verlag (to be released June 2019); and into Danish, published by Rebel With a Cause.

Koleka Putuma Kollektive Amnesie

The Spanish version has already received rave reviews, such as Africa LGBT, who write that “Amnesia Colectiva is a brave and determined exploration of transcendental and controversial topics such as South African history, the reality of black women in South Africa, homosexuality or patriarchy[, and] is at the same time an assessment, reminder and revelation of everything that South African society has ignored and relegated to oblivion”

We wish Koleka, the translators, and publishers the very best of luck.

Announcing: The Mushroom Summer of Skipper Darling by Tony Voss


uHlanga is happy to announce the publication of The Mushroom Summer of Skipper Darling by Tony Voss. One of South(ern) Africa's most astute critics of poetry over the decades, Voss is finally publishing his debut collection at the age of 83. The book is brought out by our friends and collaborators at Crane River, and has been produced and distributed by uHlanga.

This is a collection that accomplishes that rare thing in poetry: of being an immediate pleasure even as it demands re-reading and slow contemplation. With classical form and meter meeting modern sensibility and local image, The Mushroom Summer of Skipper Darling fills a gaping absence in South African letters, and will kickstart an appreciation anew of a strong, steady and significant influence on this country’s literature.

Voss was born in Swakopmund in 1935. He was educated at St George’s Grammar School, Rhodes University, and the University of Washington, Seattle. His interests were formed by his Southern African upbringing, his parents’ faith, and imagination – from songs of the First World War and swing, to Yeats’s Oxford Book of Modern Verse. He taught English in universities until he retired from the service of the then University of Natal in 1995.

The book is available to order from most worthwhile bookshops in SA and Namibia.

Open submissions in February 2019

uHlanga are excited to announce our second open submissions period for original collections of poetry from South African poets, or poets living in South Africa. Our last open submissions period resulted in the publication of three books, and we look forward to reading new work!

Please take note the following important information.

Submissions will be open from 1 February to 28 February 2019. Manuscripts must be predominantly written in English, Zulu, Xhosa, Afrikaans, or a combination of those languages. Every manuscript will be read, and all will be considered for publication.

There is no indicated length for manuscripts, although most books published by uHlanga contain 20-40 poems. (Manuscripts envisioned as chapbooks, for example, may be shorter, while epic poetry may contain very few poems.) The more coherent, structured and economical your manuscript is, the higher the chance of it being published – so do not simply include every poem you have ever written. Successful manuscripts will be published in the manner and format that uHlanga deems most appropriate for the content.

Please note that anthologies or retrospective collections – i.e. collected or selected poems – will not be accepted. Manuscripts containing poems previously published in magazines, anthologies, journals, or online will be accepted, as long as each previously-published poem is acknowledged in the manuscript. Manuscripts that have already been published previously – including self-publishing – will not be accepted.

We accept manuscripts from writers of any experience, whether they have published a collection of poetry before or not. It is, however, highly recommended that you read our director’s open letter, penned after the last open submissions period in 2017. It contains insights that will be helpful for your submission.


  1. Writers must be either a citizen, national, or permanent resident of South Africa.

  2. Submissions will only be accepted through our email address –submissions@uhlangapress.co.za – as either .doc or .pdf attachments, with all text in Times New Roman. Include your name and contact information on a cover letter attached alongside the manuscript.

  3. You must prove ownership of at least one uHlanga book (either by photo/screenshot of a receipt, or a selfie with the book, or by other means) to submit your manuscript. This proof must be attached in your email submission. (Note: This condition will be waived if you cannot afford to – or otherwise cannot – buy one of our books. Please be in touch if this is the case.)

Successful writers will be offered our standard contract. Please note that this is not a competition: we reserve the right to publish none of the manuscripts received during this submissions period.

As noted above, being familiar with our books is essential: feel free to mention to us why you think your manuscript will be a good fit for uHlanga.

There is no reading fee. Agented submissions are discouraged, but not strictly disallowed.

Do not submit your manuscript before 1 February 2019 or after 28 February 2019 – it will be discarded without being read. Good luck!

Announcing In a Free State by P.R. Anderson, and the new edition of Foundling's Island


uHlanga is proud to announce the imminent release and launch of In a Free State: A Music, the third book by award-winning poet P.R. Anderson, as well as the new edition of his second collection, Foundling’s Island.

Already lauded by Nobel Prize-winning author J.M. Coetzee as a book “destined to be a landmark in South African poetry”, In a Free State constitutes a unique and ambitious new approach for Anderson. With 74 poems split into 3 sections, choral spines and an assortment of voices, Anderson discombobulates and re-assembles the image and idiom of the various nations, landscapes and earthscapes of central South Africa. From first peoples, to those who took and settled on their ancestral lands, and to those for whom that land would come ancestral, In a Free State encompasses and compresses centuries of human drama into a fleeting and temperamental poetic narrative.


Yet this is no drudge, nor is it a historical yarn. With an easy mastery of form and metre, coupled with swashbuckling metaphorical and -textual flourish, Anderson’s new “music” is a bold and visionary work. A piece of South African poetry – and South African storytelling – unlike any other.

We’re also happy to be re-publishing Anderson’s award-winning second collection, Foundling’s Island, which was published by UCT’s Centre for Creative Writing and Electric Books Works in 2007, and which, as an unfinished manuscript, shared the 2003 Sanlam Literary Award. The collection announced his arrival as a fresh and significant voice in South African poetry.

In print again for the first time in a decade, Foundling’s Island’s journey of coasts, creatures and dreams is as tightly crafted and joyously readable as it has ever been – a collection in which form is created and meaning maintained with the lightest of touches, to the greatest effect.

peter canberra cut.jpg

P.R. Anderson, born in 1967, studied at the Universities of Oxford and Cape Town; he currently lectures at the latter in English Language and Literature. The recipient of the 2017 Thomas Pringle Award for Poetry and the 2003 Sanlam Literary Award, he is also the author of the collection Litany Bird (Carapace Poets, 2000).

In a Free State and Foundling’s Island will be launched on Wednesday 28 November 2018 at the Book Lounge in Cape Town. Further events in the city and in the country will be advertised in 2019.

uHlanga distributes with Protea Boekhuis

uHlanga is proud to announce a partnership with Protea Boekhuis's Distribution Centre.

Protea Boekhuis started as Protea Boekwinkel, a small bookstore in Pretoria, in 1992. Twenty-five years later, they now publish books, as well as distribute and represent the books of other presses.

As of 1 September 2018, Protea Boekhuis will represent, sell and distribute all uHlanga titles to the book trade in South Africa and Namibia.

uHlanga would like to sincerely thank Xavier Nagel Agencies, our distribution partner since 2015, for their great work over the past three years.

Announcing the publication and tour of Swedish poet Athena Farrokzhad in South Africa


We're proud to announce, in association with Argos Books in the USA, the publication of Swedish poet Athena Farrokhzad's incredible debut White Blight, translated from the Swedish by Jennifer Hayashida, for the first time in South Africa.

The first foreign book on uHlanga's list, White Blight is being released in SA in conjunction with Farrokzhad's two-week tour of Gauteng and Cape Town this September, which she is making with the support of Open Book Festival, Hear My Voice Poetry Sessions and the Embassy of Sweden in Pretoria. Tour dates are at the bottom of this post.

Specially printed in Latvia, this mirror-faced book contains an evocative interweaving of voices exploring migration and assimilation by one of Sweden's foremost leftist and feminist intellectuals, delicately translated by Jennifer Hayashida. This once-off tour and run of 250 books is a must-see and must-own.

"This vital book exposes the dense tectonics churning beneath migrant dreams. Accusatory, loving, full of grief and sage truths, Athena Farrokhzad’s White Blight speaks eloquently to the troubled inheritance of diasporic survival. Through a litany of terse voices, Jennifer Hayashida’s sensitive translation describes the nexus of filial obligations and projections under which the narrator sinks from view. The intense beauty of devastation and the poignancy of betrayal emerge with startling frankness: “Your family will never be resurrected like roses after a fire.” “I have spent a fortune for your piano lessons / But at my funeral you will refuse to play.” These white lines make me ask, what has been bleached out in all of our stories? I read this book, and I remembered my humanity." — Sueyeun Juliette Lee


  • Thursday 30 August, 2 p.m. – Last Thursdays Poetry Session, Es’kia Mphahlele Library. Tshwane

  • Saturday 1 September, 11 a.m. – Jozi Book Fair Poetry Workshop with Athena Farrokhzad, Mary Fitzgerald Square, Newtown, Johannesburg

  • Saturday 1 September, 1:15 p.m. – Jozi Book Fair Swedish Poetry Performances with Emil Boss, Jenny Wrangborg and Magnus Gustafson, Mary Fitzgerald Square, Newtown, Johannesburg

  • Sunday 2 September, 11 a.m. – Jozi Book Fair Discussion: Writing, struggles and the working class with Magnus Gustaffson and Jolyn Phillips, Mary Fitzgerald Square, Newtown, Johannesburg

  • Sunday 2 September, 2 p.m. – Jozi Book Fair launch of White Blight, Mary Fitzgerald Square, Newtown, Johannesburg

  • Wednesday 5 September, 8 p.m. – Rioters in Session, Fugard Theatre, Cape Town

  • Thursday 6 September, 6:30 p.m. – Grounding Sessions, Zer021, 46 Canterbury St, Cape Town

  • Thursday 6 September, 8 p.m. – Open Book Discussion: Who are You? with Aminatta Forna, Sue Nyathi and Jen Malec, A4 Ground, 23 Buitenkant Street, Cape Town

  • Saturday 8 September, 12 p.m. – Open Book Discussion: Poetry Matters with Vangile Gantsho and Toni Stuart, Fugard Theatre, Cape Town

Tickets available from Jozi Book Fair and Open Book Festival

Announcing Zikr by Saaleha Idrees Bamjee

Cover photograph by Saaleha Idrees Bamjee

Cover photograph by Saaleha Idrees Bamjee

uHlanga is proud to announce the upcoming publication of Zikr, the debut collection by Johannesburg writer and photographer Saaleha Idrees Bamjee.

To be resolute in faith – in God, in oneself – in times of grief and disappointment. To unapologetically assert one's woman- and personhood in a society that attempts to devalue both. To seek hidden parts of yourself, both new and forgotten, through the memories and words of other people.

In Zikr's beguilingly measured and covertly powerful poems, Saaleha Idrees Bamjee achieves these often difficult tasks. In doing so, Bamjee introduces new idioms and understandings of Muslim identity to South African poetry – yet not through manifesto, nor outright polemic. This is a collection of fine metaphors, concrete turns of phrase, and a refreshing specificity of image,  place, and self.

Photo by Saaleha Idrees Bamjee

Photo by Saaleha Idrees Bamjee

Saaleha Idrees Bamjee, born in 1983, is a photographer and writer based in Johannesburg. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Rhodes University and is the winner of the 2014 Writivism Short Story Prize. Zikr is her first collection of poems.

The book comes off presses on 1 September 2018. Launches are being organised, and will be announced on our Instagram, and on Bamjee's social media

Announcing Milk Fever by Megan Ross


uHlanga is happy to announce the imminent release and launch of Milk Fever, the debut collection by East London writer Megan Ross.

In an extraordinary debut, Megan Ross writes the uneasy truths about unexpected motherhood and all its emotional detritus. In deftly and experimentally navigating the angst, joy and self-reckoning that comes with the choices and misadventures of young womanhood, this is a collection that brings together the evocative with the provocative, and the feminist with the personal, in a bold and startling poetic style. Hallucinatory, image-wet, and navigating the eternal tides of spirit and body, Milk Fever is a chimeric dreamscape in which a woman reconfigures, remembers and rebirths herself.

Photo by Skye Cronje

Photo by Skye Cronje

Megan Ross, born in 1989, is a writer and poet from East London. She is the 2017 winner of the Brittle Paper Award for Fiction and an Iceland Writers Retreat alum. She was a runner-up for the 2016 Short Story Day Africa Prize and the 2017 National Arts Festival Short Sharp Stories Award. She lives near the Indian Ocean with her son and partner. Milk Fever is her first book.

The book, which releases May 2018, will be launched with a series of events in Cape Town, beginning with a launch at the Book Lounge on Monday 14 May, with Rachel Zadok. Megan will also be appearing at the Franschhoek Literary Festival that weekend. The book will then be launched in the Eastern Cape and Gauteng (dates and venues TBC).

With a beautiful cover collage by Taiwan-based artist, Leora Joy, this is a book striking both in form and content.

Announcing uHlanga’s Poets of 2018

We are proud to announce the upcoming publication in 2018 of collections by Megan Ross, Saaleha Idrees Bamjee, P.R. Anderson and Siphokazi Jonas.

In 2017, uHlanga’s South African chorus swelled. Celebrated poets Francine Simon, Douglas Reid Skinner and Koleka Putuma all published single-author collections to national and international acclaim, while our anthologies Cutting Carrots the Wrong Way and Imbewu Yesini amplified the voices of young local poets to the country at large.

We hope to continue sharing the work of daring, experimental South African writers with you, and thus we are thrilled to announce the poets who will be publishing with us in the coming year.

Our 2018 lineup, in order of publication:


Megan Ross is a writer, poet and journalist from the Eastern Cape. She is winner of the 2016 Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award, the 2017 Brittle Paper Award for Fiction and was second runner-up for the 2016 Short Story Day Africa Prize. She has been shortlisted for the Miles Morland Writing Scholarship and longlisted for the Writivism Prize. Her forthcoming book with uHlanga, Milk Fever, will be her debut collection of poetry.



Saaleha Idrees Bamjee is a photographer and writer based in Johannesburg. She has an MA in Creative Writing and is the winner of the 2014 Writivism Short Story Prize. Her poetry has appeared in New Contrast, New Coin, Ons Klyntji, Aerodrome and the Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry anthologies, among others, as well as the special South African issue of Illuminations. She was the Writivism Emerging African Writers resident at Stellenbosch University in October 2016.


P.R. Anderson is the author of two previous collections of poetry, Litany Bird and Foundling’s Island. He lectures in English at the University of Cape Town, with a wide range of interests, from Romanticism in the colonial encounter to the culture of the Allied campaign in Italy in 1944-5. His as-yet-untitled collection of poetry released by uHlanga has already been described by JM Coetzee as a book “destined to be a landmark in South African poetry.”


Siphokazi Jonas is a writer, performer and poet, who has written, produced, and performed in three one-woman poetry productions: Poetry Under the Stars, Wrestling with Dawn, and Conspiracy Theory. A champion slam poet and runner-up for the 2016 Sol Plaatje Poetry Award, she currently works at the University of Cape Town, teaching the history of isiXhosa praise poetry, among other things. Her work engages with questions of faith, identity, gender-based violence, cultural and linguistic alienation, black women in rural spaces, and the politics of the everyday.

We are incredibly proud to have these poets joining us, and we’re eager to bring their work to you over the course of what promises to be a great year for South African poetry. More news, including release dates and advance information about each poet’s collection, will be forthcoming in the new year.

Helen Moffett's Prunings wins a SALA!


We are thrilled to announce that Helen Moffett's collection Prunings, published by uHlanga in 2016, has been named one of two co-winners in the Poetry category of the South African Literary Awards.

uHlanga would like to thank the Department of Arts and Culture and the wRite Associates for the honour.

We would also like to congratulate the other co-winner of the award, Simphiwe Ali Nolutshungu, who was recognised for her collection Iingcango Zentliziyo. (We are especially pleased that a collection in an African language has been honoured this year.)

Other winners can be viewed here.

Prunings is available and available for order in all good bookstores in South Africa, and through the African Books Collective in the Europe and the U.S. Readers in other countries are welcome be in touch with us to order copies directly.

An internship opportunity at uHlanga (Cape Town-based)


Can you write well, take initiative, pour wine, chat comfortably with authors, proofread like a hawk, email strangers, and use social media, mailing lists, Excel, and Word? Would you like to develop those skills further while learning and working at uHlanga Press?

Applications are now open for an intern position at South Africa’s premier independent poetry publisher. This is an opportunity to work closely with some of the best South African poets and their publisher, to learn the ins-and-outs of the publishing industry, and most importantly to develop or improve skills such as writing, marketing, advertising, publicity, photography, social media management, communication, proofreading, content curation and networking. 

Who we’re looking for:

  • The only hard and fast rule is that we need someone who can write well and learn fast. 
  • This is not a full-time internship and would be suitable for someone who can manage their time while doing their own stuff.
  • No prior experience in the industry needed.
  • While it is not strictly necessary, it would benefit your application if you are working towards, or have recently completed, a degree or diploma in English or Journalism.
  • The internship is about a year long, but that’s not binding (see: current intern writing this advert to replace herself because she’s moving overseas after eight months).
  • We work mostly remotely but you should ideally be located in Cape Town for launches, meetings and events.

Oh, and while it doesn’t pay much, there is a little cash in it for you. We don’t believe in letting writers work for free.

To apply, please send an email to chelsea@uhlangapress.co.za, with the following:

  • A letter telling us why you want to work at uHlanga Press
  • Your most current CV
  • A link to, or sample of, your writing

Deadline for applications: 11 September 2017

Collective Amnesia collects universal acclaim


uHlanga debut catapults Koleka Putuma's rising star into outer space

by Chelsea Haith

uHlanga poet and author of Collective AmnesiaKoleka Putuma, was featured in this month's Elle South Africa magazine as part of a series of mini-profiles on womxn using spoken word poetry for change. In the piece, Putuma discusses the success of her debut collection and adds that Collective Amnesia has also been prescribed for study at tertiary level in South African universities. "It's a relief and a blessing to be studied and inserted into the curriculum while still alive," she said. 

Collective Amnesia is now prescribed as part of Uhuru Phalafala's English course at Stellenbosch University. It was featured in a guest lecture series by noted writer and academic Gabeba Baderoon at the University of Cape Town in May and Putuma's work is also being taught in the Drama department at Rhodes University. Sinking it's claws deeper in the academy, Collective Amnesia has also just featured as the subject of an academic paper presented at the "(Re)thinking African Feminisms Colloquium" in Grahamstown last month and will feature in academic papers at both the South African Society for General Literary Studies (SAVAL) conference (17-19 August) and at the English Academy of South Africa conference (6-8 September).

The reviews pouring in for the collection since it's launch in April this year have been thoughtful, congratulatory and urgent. They suggest that this is a book that has been necessary for a long, long time. in the review for Afripop! Luso Mnthali calls the book a collection of "survival poetry", while Sabelo Mkhabela for OkayAfrica writes: "It’s surreal to hold an anthology of someone who speaks the way I do—with slang, making reference to the internet, hip-hop, Oppikoppi, Nike, God’s medical bill, and has no economy for expletives. The South African publishing industry has its own types of books that it favors, and Collective Amnesia just wouldn’t normally make the cut. Which is why Putuma’s book is a special moment."

It is a special moment, especially as we at uHlanga have extended the print run four times, selling in excess of 2000 copies. Collective Amnesia was also in the Number 1 spot on The Book Lounge's best-seller's list two weeks ago, beating out Arundhati Roy's Man Booker longlisted The Ministry of Utmost Happiness for the top spot. 

This special moment has been celebrated by Maneo Mohale for the Mail & Guardian as a "stunning, complex exploration of the connections between personal and political memory" and this is equally captured in the collaborative effort of the accompanying Collective Amnesia visual series shot by Jarryd Kleinhans. In her immersive profile of Putuma for Between 10 and 5 Chaze Matakala asserts that: "We’ve got to appreciate that Koleka is as much of a visual magician as she is a written one, who aims to reach as many souls as possible."

The visual series can be found online in the three parts that match the three sections of the book: Inherited MemoryBuried Memory and Post-Memory. Memory is a key thematic concern in the book, and Putuma has ensured that she and the collection will also be remembered as one of the most insightful, honest and groundbreaking poetry publications in the post-post-1994 era.

Links to the reviews of Collective Amnesia thus far are below: 

Announcing: Liminal, by Douglas Reid Skinner

Cover design based on a drawing by Cleone Cull

Cover design based on a drawing by Cleone Cull

uHlanga is proud to announce the upcoming publication of Liminal, the seventh collection of poems by Douglas Reid Skinner.

Why do we keep anything?
All morning I hear the pages

rustling softly in the stacks.
Autumn comes to all leaves.

This seventh collection from one of South African poetry’s under-appreciated masters is possibly his best yet. Metatextual, meticulous and deeply steeped in sentiment, Liminal is an exquisite and at-times startling rumination on lives lived, loves loved and writings written. 

Skinner’s technical mastery of his style and craft, honed over the decades, only brightens the emotions that run through a mélange of travel poems, remembrances, experiments and treatises on the nature of being, literature and friendship. A testament not only to his exacting eye and appreciation of that which has (and those who have) come before him, but also to an unending adaptability and an unerring desire for growth.

Photograph by Cleone Cull

Photograph by Cleone Cull

Douglas Reid Skinner was born in Upington. He is the author of six previous collections of poetry – Reassembling World, The House in Pella District, The Unspoken, The Middle Years, Blue Rivers and Heaven: New & Selected Poems – as well as four books of translation, most recently The Secret Ambition: Selected Poems of Valerio Magrelli, translated from the Italian with Marco Fazzini. He directed The Carrefour Press from 1988 to 1992 and was editor of New Contrast from 1990 to 1992. He is co-editor of Stanzas.

Liminal is set for release in August 2017. Launch dates are as follows:

14 August: Book Lounge, Cape Town
16 August: David Krut Cape Town, Montebello Design Centre, Newlands
23 August: Kalk Bay Books, Kalk Bay
30 August: NELM, Grahamstown

More information about the book may be found here.

Please join our mailing list or Like uHlanga on Facebook to stay up-to-date!

We're temporarily suspending mail orders

In February this year, we started offering books via mail order through the Post Office. While this has been extremely popular so far, we regrettably have to suspend this for now. The reasons for this are below.

In the build-up to the release of Koleka Putuma's breakout (and fast-selling) debut Collective Amnesia, I thought I would try offer books via a pre-order mail order campaign. This was so we could be able to offer this important book to places that don't necessarily have bookstores, and to get around South Africa's lacklustre bookselling and distribution networks (no fault, of course, of our awesome distributors at XNA).

In order to keep the book affordable, at R100 per copy, we decided to use the vast infrastructure already put in place by the South African Post Office. Normal postage, without tracking numbers or anything special, is, throughout the vast majority of the country, reliable and surprisingly fast. It seemed a no-brainer, and fell in line with uHlanga's broader philosophy of making books more accessible to South Africans, and to expand this country's reading population.

While this campaign has worked tremendously, with over 200 mail orders of Koleka's book – many of which going to towns and city areas without good bookstores – the vast majority of books going to Gauteng (which in turn constitutes the bulk of our orders) are being seriously delayed or even lost by the South African Post Office.

While a book posted to the rural Eastern Cape might take only five days to arrive, our orders posted to Gauteng addresses are taking upwards of two months. I am currently receiving at least two mails per day from Gauteng customers asking where their books are. It's frustrating for me to have to write to all of them and say, honestly, I don't know – it has everything to do with the Post Office in Gauteng, and they'll just have to wait. But this is an unacceptable answer for many, and it doesn't particularly increase trust in my work.

The plan is clearly not working for one of the main provinces of the country, and as such, it is unacceptable for me to continue giving a unequal service (and in some cases, a disservice) to readers. So I've made the decision to stop offering mail order for our books countrywide until I find a solution to the issue that won't greatly drive up the cost of our books.

If you have ordered already, don't worry – I'll honour your order, and make sure your books get to you. If you are in Gauteng and your book has not arrived, don't worry – I will find ways to get your book or books to you. I apologise for the disappointment, even though, frustratingly, it's completely out of my hands.

For now, regrettably, our books are only available in bookstores and at our events. If your local bookstore does not stock our books, then i) ask them what's wrong with them and why they don't stock poetry and ii) make the order. The more bookstores are asked where our books are, the more they have to listen.

I will make an update to this post once our new online store and mail order service is up and running.

Nick Mulgrew

An open letter about our open submissions period

Earlier this year, uHlanga hosted its first-ever open submissions period for original manuscripts of poetry in South African languages. We received far more submissions that we could have ever imagined, with over 100 poets sending in eligible work.

While we're still reading everything that has been sent in, I thought that, as uHlanga's publisher, I would share some insights that we can take from the submissions period, as well as offering advice to new writers, as well as many of the writers who weren't successful with their submissions.

Amount of submissions received during uHlanga's 2017 open submissions period.   Generated by meta-chart.com

Amount of submissions received during uHlanga's 2017 open submissions period. Generated by meta-chart.com

1) What we might learn about SA poetry

We received, in total, 119 eligible manuscripts for our consideration. This presented a massive challenge for us. As it stands, uHlanga is solely my personal concern. I hire one intern to help me with some tasks, including the reading of these manuscripts. We have also hired readers in languages in which neither I nor my intern are sufficiently proficient (or knowledgeable about their poetic contexts) to judge for publication. As it stands, I judge it will take our team about four or five months to give each manuscript the attention it deserves.

At first, the fact that 119 writers (more, if you count ineligible submissions, such as submissions of single poems or manuscripts that had been badly formatted) had sent in their work to us seems encouraging for the health of poetry writing in South Africa. Analysing these submissions, though, paints a more complicated picture. The vast majority of submissions were made in English, or predominantly in English. Although we were open to submissions in certain African languages, very few submissions in Zulu and Xhosa (and none in Sotho) were sent in. A small amount of submissions in Afrikaans, or predominantly in Afrikaans, were also sent in.

For me, these facts point to a couple things. First, uHlanga likely does not have a reputation for quality publishing in languages other than English. Afrikaans writers will most likely go for Afrikaans presses. This is understandable -- the Afrikaans literary industry is relatively healthy in this regard.

"Although many writers are reticent to write in African languages, much of this reticence is down to a perceived lack of opportunities for publication or appreciation."

More important (and worrying), however, is our inability to attract more writers in African languages. The lack of African language submissions suggests one of two things: either there are few writers in African languages, or uHlanga failed to engage and make accessible our opportunity to people who write or would like to write in African languages. Given my experience working at Paperight and Prufrock, and conversing with writers at poetry events around the country, I think it's more the latter than the former.

Although many writers are reticent to write in African languages, much of this reticence is down to a perceived lack of opportunities for publication or appreciation. The point, then, is to make more opportunities available, and to be consistent with offering them. And although it is unlikely that we will publish a book in an African language from this round of submissions, it is important in future that we do find books to publish in African languages, so that there is a visible and tangible sense that opportunity is still being created.

I must also be frank about my possible failure to engage more with African language writing groups, and to advertise opportunities in more places, and in more places in which more writers are able to find them. Social media is powerful, but can only do so much.

2) What writers must learn

Still, the fact that 119 writers sent in their manuscripts for us to read and consider is a huge vindication of my beliefs that i) people love to write poetry; and ii) we can build a stronger industry and appreciation around poetry in South Africa.

The vast majority (in fact, almost all) of these manuscripts, however, will be rejected. Ten or so will receive letters saying that we enjoyed reading their work, and that they're good poets, but that their manuscript isn't just quite right for our publication needs at this point. This is not a nice letter to receive, often because a near-miss is often more painful than a long shot missing its mark. This, however, is a common letter for any writer to receive. It's an encouragement, and should be taken as such. Running a poetry press (especially one as small as uHlanga) is a highly subjective affair. I will only publish something if I love it. If I just kind-of sort-of like it, the book will have no chance, either in the market or in the critical realm. I have to be fair with people's dreams and ambitions. Their work might be better off with another small press.

That said, people's dreams and ambitions can be discouraging.

Aspiring poets want people to read their poems without reading other people's poems.

Gus Ferguson, the legendary publisher and editor of Snailpress and Carapace, was known for his editorials that were sometimes poems, and poems that were sometimes editorials. One such poem-itorial opined that if he had as many subscribers as he did submitters to his magazine, Carapace would have been a going and growing concern.

The fact remains: Aspiring poets want people to read their poems without reading other people's poems. How do I know this? Two reasons. First, sales numbers don't add up. Second, aspiring poets aren't reading contemporary poetry.

The vast majority of manuscripts that we will reject this period show little to no engagement with South African poetry. The average South African poetry book sells anything between 50 and 200 copies. Magazine subscriptions are also in this realm. We had around 200 writers register their interest in submitting their work to us. I have my reservations about whether the 200 people who submitted their work constitute the poetry book-buying public of Southern Africa.

It's easy to read when someone doesn't read. The same ideas and idioms, cliches and tropes, subjects and experiences, replay themselves over and over across many of the manuscripts we received. If some of these writers engaged with those who were writing in their close proximity, they would know that the poems that they write have already been written. They would know that the best writing often comes from a place of exact and specific context and subjectivity. They would know that poetic forms and techniques have specific uses; that some are old hat, and some are aching to be transformed in new ways.

Many writers and scholars opine that we need to change the poetic canon, to make it more representative of our concerns, our politics, our images. Creating a new canon, however, is a deliberate thing. It requires writers engaging with other writers, and using the spirit of other writing in their own writing. Kafka isn't canonical because people say so; it's because writers transmute the spirit of his work in their own work. Adichie isn't becoming canonical because the Twitterati say so; it's because the images and subjects of her writing are being deliberately carried into, transformed, commented on, and criticised in the creative work of other writers. If you do not engage with your contemporaries, you cannot influence anything.

This is why I would say -- and this might be an unpopular opinion -- that the work of transforming poetry publishing and appreciation in South Africa isn't the sole domain of publishers. It's the task of readers, and readers who are writers.

3) OK, you've pontificated enough; what can I change?

I am very happy to acknowledge that many dozens of people who submitted to our open submissions period write solely for themselves, and thought that they'd send us their work on a whim. I think that's awesome, and should be encouraged. If you write solely for yourself, or your loved ones, and that's your ambition, then don't let anything I say discourage you or stop you from doing that. I play guitar. Sometimes I share my music with people. I don't expect to be signed to Universal Music, though. Likewise, you probably don't expect someone to make a book of your work. If that's your experience, then I only have love for you. Continue to write and share to your heart's content.

If you do, however, want to be more engaged with poetry as a living cultural process, though, there are a couple things you should do. First, read poetry and subscribe to local and international literary magazines. If this is out of your budget, then read online. Then, join writing groups or submit to literary magazines that you have read and like. Start a blog. Share. But most of all, read.

If you don't know of any literary magazines in South Africa, here's a list of the ones I like best: PrufrockAerodromeNew ContrastStanzasNew CoinThe Kalahari ReviewType/CastItchThere are many more, however. If your ambition is to have a book published, then you should try to have individual poems published in magazines and anthologies first.

4) In conclusion

I know this post might have seemed a little over-critical. That's not my intention. My intention is to speak frankly about how I read the poetry landscape of this country from my limited vantage point, and to give frank advice to people who want to write seriously.

I would like to extend my sincerest thanks to every single poet who submitted to this year's open submissions. Despite my criticism, I want you to know that I have read (and enjoyed reading) all of your work, and that I appreciate the time, love, concern and hard work you pour into your poems. Sharing is scary -- I know this from my own writing career -- and I hope that you don't take any negative feedback or rejection too much to heart. As with all things, we grow more and know more. That applies to me, as much as you.

Happy reading!

Nick Mulgrew
Publisher, uHlanga