MaThoko’s BooksA - Z
- Publisher (MaThoko’s Books is the publishing imprint of the GALA Queer Archive)
- South Africa, Johannesburg
GALA Twitter handle: @GALAarchives
- Contact Persons / Persons Involved:
- Keval Harie (Director), Karin Tan (Media and Design Officer), Efemia Chela (Sales and Distribution)
- Main Language Published:
The imprint is inspired by the life of MaThoko, an ordinary South African woman with a remarkable capacity to love. MaThoko ran an illegal tavern in KwaThema in the 1980s and early 1990s – a time when homosexuality was illegal in South Africa. Although heterosexual herself, MaThoko welcomed young LGBTQIA+ people into her home, aware that many of them had been disowned by their families and forced out of school. MaThoko’s house became an important meeting place for LGBTQIA+ people and the headquarters of the KwaThema branch of the Gay and Lesbian Organisation of the Witwatersrand (GLOW), the first mass black gay and lesbian organisation in South Africa. Lesbian icon and activist, Phumi Mtetwa, recalls the important role that MaThoko’s house played during her political awakening: »Finding MaThoko coincided with my activism at school, and my mother's nightmare dealing with the situation of me being a lesbian. I could not sleep at home some days – either because I was in hiding from the authorities, or fighting with my mom. I would sleep at MaThoko’s. You would see everyone there – gays, lesbians, transgender people. There was always a blanket for you.«
MaThoko’s Postbox: The imprint's logo is derived from the post box that stood outside of MaThoko’s home during this turbulent time. LGBTQIA+ people from all over South Africa used this post box to reach out and make contact with GLOW. The post box is now on permanent loan from GALA to the Apartheid Museum. MaThoko’s post box was recently featured in the »Radical Objects« series curated by History Workshop Journal.
Launched in 2011, the imprint aims to be a corrective to the limited publishing support for queer writing in Africa and to act as a springboard for emerging and marginalised voices. It also provides a much ¬needed publishing outlet for scholarly works on LGBTQIA+¬ related themes.
MaThoko’s Books was founded on a belief that the sharing of stories can help to challenge homophobia and transphobia. The imprint is committed to publishing high ¬quality writing that not only helps to educate the public about sexuality and gender identity but that also promotes human rights on the African continent.
In 2014, »Queer Africa: New and Collected Stories« – the first fiction title from MaThoko's Books – took home a Lambda Literary Award (Anthology Category). It remains the only book produced on the African continent to be recognised in this way.
In June 2017 MaThoko’s Books, launched »Queer Africa 2: New Stories«. Featuring twenty-six contributions from eight countries – Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Uganda, and the USA – the book offers a refreshing antidote to one-dimensional depictions of African queer identities.
»Queer Africa 2« brings together historical and contemporary stories, affirming and disquieting stories, urban and rural stories. At its heart, the collection celebrates the diversity and fluidity of queer and African identities, offering a sometimes radical re-imagining of life on the continent.
»The stories of ›Queer Africa 2‹ are representative of the range of human emotions and experiences that abound in the lives of Africans, including those of the diaspora, who identify variously along the sexuality and gender spectrums,« say editors Makhosazana Xaba and Karen Martin. »Central to these stories – and in their attendant relationships – is humanity. The writers showcase their artistry in delightful, thought-provoking ways. Themes that run through some of these stories range from disruption and dreams, to longing, lust and love.«
Contributor Emma Paulet shared her delight at being included in the collection: »To have ›Warm‹ published in an anthology that gives voice to those who have existed in the margins of literature is an honour.«
Similar sentiments were expressed by Jennifer Shinta Ayebazibwe, whose story »Perilous Love« is also featured in »Queer Africa 2«: »We need this anthology on the continent like we need air, any initiative such as this that seeks to celebrate, affirm, document and preserve queer African stories deserves to be celebrated and supported.«
The collection’s artistry extends beyond the written word. Cover artist Danielle Clough created a series of miniature embroidered portraits based on photos of African people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ). »This project has such an amazing energy because of how different each person has been, yet all of them are equally excited to be a part of the process,« says Clough. The editors were drawn to Clough’s work because of its rich textures. For them, the layered yarn on the cover speaks to the layered narratives inside: »The cover portraits add meaning to these rich stories and speak to the zigzagging nature of our lives.«
For GALA, home to the MaThoko’s Books imprint, »Queer Africa 2« represents a further step towards challenging mainstream depictions of sexual and gender diversity. »This publication allows readers to recognise the complexities of our lives – our joys and sorrows, our struggles and triumphs. ›Queer Africa 2‹ is of vital importance to the work of GALA, as it ensures in both a symbolic and practical way that the narratives of LGBTIQ people are preserved, celebrated and publicly accessible,« says GALA director Keval Harie.
In September 2019, MaThoko’s Books launched »Meanwhile... Graphic short stories about everyday queer life in Southern and East Africa«. Featuring contributions by eighteen queer youth from Botswana, Kenya and Zimbabwe, two academics, three artists and a journalist, it offers a refreshing antidote to one-dimensional depictions of African queer identities. The book »captures the visual representation of queer life in Africa,« says GALA director Keval Harie.
»Meanwhile...« brings together contemporary stories, affirming and disquieting stories, urban and rural stories. At its heart, the collection celebrates the diversity and fluidity of queer and African identities, offering a sometimes radical re-imagining of life on the continent. The overarching theme, however, is a sense of waiting, of struggling with, and being hopeful in the present. They frame the small moments of queer life, after the break, the revelation, the epiphany – the ›what now‹ after we have left home, the church, or the bad relationship. These stories move past the idea that ›it gets better‹ and instead focus on the queerness of the imperfect present, even as we strive toward a more just future.
- Content Focus:
MaThoko’s books publishes on a range of queer-related topics with a focus on life on the African continent.
It is a publishing platform for both fiction and non-fiction, including short stories, poetry, oral histories, catalogues, manuals, research and educational tools.
See the GALA website [...]
- Organization and Decision-making Process:
GALA has an office based in Johannesburg. The team is made up of 5 people.
Decisions on publishing are taken on an ad-hoc basis and dependent on GALA projects as well as funding.
GALA manages all distribution internally.
- Financing and Support:
GALA does not receive state funding. All publication projects are donor funded. All profits generated from book sales are used to sustain GALA’s archival and further publishing work.
Generally, GALA will only take on publishing work, where the organisation has been able to source donor funding to support a project. GALA does not generally pay contributors but provides them with in-kind remuneration in the form of free copies of the publications.
GALA would be grateful for any additional funding for the MaThoko’s Books platform, in particular in financing distribution of the publications both locally and internationally.
- Conditions and Political Situation:
Publishing in South Africa is particularly challenging both in relation to sales and distribution. There are a few independent publishers but none specifically focusing on queer content.
MaThoko’s Books is well recognized within the publishing space and GALA has partnered with other local publishers in broadening our platforms. The publications have also been showcased at a number of local book festivals.
›Homosexuality is un-African‹ is a common refrain across the continent. Historically sexual and gender practices beyond those considered acceptable by colonial powers, by various religious formations, and subsequently in apartheid South Africa, were legally forbidden and socially denounced. GALA was founded in 1997 to counter these forces. At its heart, the archive is a site of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) testimony, experience and culture in Africa. The mission is first and foremost to act as a conduit for the production, preservation and dissemination of knowledge on the history and contemporary experiences of LGBTI people. The key objective is to showcase and preserve queer African histories and stories through a number of creative avenues, including publishing through the MaThoko’s Books imprint.
As noted at one of the book launches »›Queer Africa‹ invites us as readers to see our continent through different eyes, to experience the world through different bodies. The stories help to surface our shared humanity and to rethink what it means to be African and to be queer. Like all good storytellers, these writers allow us to learn more about ourselves«.