We chat to Thabiso Mahlape, about her publishing imprint, Blackbird Books Click To Tweet

Publishing aficionado, Thabiso Mahlape has been on our radar for quite some time now. Her publishing imprint, Blackbird Books has garnered a lot of success and already has memoirs and autobiographies by big names under its belt. Blackbird Books aims to bring stories by black authors to life, giving them a voice and a platform to grow and hone their skills as successful authors.

Being the first black woman with her own publishing imprint has had its challenges, but Thabiso makes it known that she is doing an incredibly important job of making sure that our voices, stories, and talents are being seen and heard. Below, Thabiso tells us how she is exposing black talent, one paperback at a time.


How did you get into the publishing industry?

I got into the industry by chance. I had done engineering for about 4 years before deciding to study for my first love, journalism. I didn’t get in to do journalism but my guidance counselor suggested I try publishing. After studying I didn’t have a job for 3 years until I landed an internship at Jacana Media, and my career took off from there.

Please tell us more about your brainchild, Blackbird Books?

Blackbird Books is pretty much the extension of the work that I was doing at Jacana. I wanted to expose stories that are unapologetically black and written by black people. After I had my daughter in 2014, I decided to finally venture into developing Blackbird.

Have you had any challenges as a woman, when it comes to making it in the industry?

As the first black woman to have my own imprint I have been undermined by all men, black or white. I have even been undermined by black women. I was walking with one of my author’s one day and my white male colleague told him, “if you’re looking for a real publisher, come speak to her” pointing at a white woman. I’ve had all kind of backlash, but that’s not to say that I have not been embraced by those that love Blackbird.

What are you currently reading?

The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna.

I wanted to expose stories that are unapologetically black and written by black people Click To Tweet

What problematic issues have you picked up from being in the publishing industry, especially as a black person?

The publishing industry is extremely white. It was definitely not representative of the majority of the country, but it is making progress as time goes by. More and more black authors are being exposed and the status quo is changing.

What inspired the name, Blackbird?

The name was suggested by a colleague of mine at Jacana. The name stems from the Nina Simone song called “Blackbird”. The song refers to the struggles of a black woman and how that woman wants to spread her wings but finds a lot of difficulty in this due to societal issues bringing her down.

What future plans do you have for the publishing imprint?

Some plans I can’t spill just yet but I want to see Blackbird grow and solidify it as a publishing house. I want it to be a platform for black people to find themselves and grow the amount of South African black authors in the industry.

What advice do you have for young black women who want to break into the industry they love?

Invest in your work, put in the time and work really hard at it. We live in this “Instagram” time where everything is seen and instant gratification is important. You cannot get anywhere without working really hard. Make sure you are doing the right thing, which is what you want and are most passionate about.


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