South African Women’s Novels 1994 – 2019

A few years back, I committed to reading only African women’s writing for a year. It was an incredible project and one that introduced me to a raft of talented writers that I might not have found otherwise. It was a bit of tough time in my life and these books helped me navigate, helped me see different versions of women survive and thrive, and inspired my own writing. I wrote about each book as I read it (you can read about that starting with the first book, Yewande Omotoso’s Bom Boy, here).

Next year (hopefully, pandemic allowing) I’ll be starting a slightly longer project – a PhD where I hope to be reading all the novels written by South African women in English (or translated to English, though I’m still deciding on this one and so have included them here while I make up my mind) published between 1994 and 2019. It’s going to be a mammoth, thrilling life-changing task. I cannot wait!

I want to point out some parameters, for the sake of clarity and transparency. I am focussing on adult novels, written in English, published by publishers (rather than self-published), written by authors who identify as women, and who identify as South African. It’s so important for me that it’s clear from the outset that these parameters are not at all related to what I think good literature is, they are parameters for a single degree and what I think I may be able to achieve in 3 to 5 years of my life. They are limitations, and they must be noted.

Like all good projects, this one begins with a list.

What I didn’t anticipate was that making the list of South African women writers who were published in SA – simply getting down on paper the writers and their books, when they were published and by who – would be as much of a task as the reading. That’s probably half naïveté and half hoping that the publishers would keep those records themselves… not so.

It has been interesting to explore the sources of this information, why it hasn’t been kept in a more deliberate way, and what it all means. I’ve used journal articles, got some incredible help from the South African Museum of Literature, and have been google searching my heart out. I know that traditional publishing routes can and have and continue to exclude important texts and writers who have opted instead for self-publishing. If finding a list of published authors is hard enough, trying to make a list of self-published writers is going to be as difficult, if not more so.

This long explanation is really just me saying the following – I think anyone who puts their writing down on paper and send thats out into the world whether by the route of a traditional publisher or by publishing themselves is brave and inspiring and courageous. It is also me saying that I don’t want to miss anyone!

I have started making my list, and I am updating it regularly. Thankfully, some self-published writers have reached out and I’m able to include those here too.

I don’t see any reason why everyone who wants to embark on this journey shouldn’t have access to it, so I’ll be posting as a series of blog posts, by year over the coming weeks and months. I may post a few pieces here in the future about some of the trends this list is already revealing, but for now, I’m focussing on getting the list out.

As I post them you will be able to find each list via the links below. If image isn’t a link yet it’s because I haven’t yet finished. Thank you in advance for your patience.