While fiction, memoir, and poetry don’t have the power to stop the violence or destroy a patriarchy that cuts across race, class, and culture, these modes of storytelling can, however, inspire change and connection, and facilitate catharsis, healing, and solidarity.
Recognising this, in 2015 radio presenter Nancy Richards established a dedicated Women’s Library in Cape Town through the non-governmental organisation she founded, Women’s Zone. The space at Artscape hosts panels, launches, and workshops, as well as more than 1 000 books (everything from self-help to fiction).
Richards says: “Not every woman is born to write a book, but every woman has a story. Our aim is to encourage as many women as possible to share their story, through workshops or just by listening — for their own benefit, or the benefit of others, who may relate, learn, and grow from it. If it gets written, we will celebrate it. If it gets published, we will launch it. We will always welcome it onto our shelves.”
A decade ago, Colleen Higgs bravely launched a woman-focused publishing press. Since then, Modjaji Books has published 16 short story collections, 21 novels, and 41 books of poetry — ushering in new voices to the public consciousness — often books that mainstream publishers have deemed too risky to take on.
Encouragingly, those mainstream publishers appear to have increasingly diverse lists. Some of the most buzzed-about books of the year were by women writers of colour — and dealt with gender issues head-on. I’m thinking of the memoirs by writer-activist Sisonke Msimang (Always Another Country) and outspoken feminist academic Pumla Dineo Gqola (Reflecting Rogue). I’m thinking of Khwezi, Redi Tlhabi’s heartbreaking account of the woman who accused our president of raping her. And I’m thinking of Business Day journalist Rehana Rossouw’s second novel, New Times.