Reflections of a Reader

“South Africa gives me a perspective of what’s real and what’s not real. So I go back to South Africa to both lose myself and gain awareness of myself. Every time I go back, it doesn’t take long for me to get caught into a very different thing. A very different sense of myself.” ~ Dave Matthews

When you walk into a bookstore and all you see is local literature (that you so wish you could read in a language you’re comfortable reading in) and scatterings of regional translated work, you accept that this is now your reality. Make no mistake, not only do I enjoy Nordic literature, I have my favourites too.

one of my favourite reads

But when you walk into a bookstore day in, day out and find yourself confronted with same setting, differing slightly sometimes (depending on the bookstore) with the inclusion of classics and bestsellers mainly from Europe and US, and a handful of African bestsellers written by writers in the diaspora, you start to wonder.

other great reads

Despite what I see on the bookshelves, I know Africans read because I am one of the readers. I follow African literary magazines and blogs such as Brittle Paper, The Johannesburg Review of Books, etc., with keen interests, and in order to read reviews on latest books by African writers. Alas, not all are available in digital format.

Despite what I see on the bookshelves, I know Africans write. And I’m desperate to hear preoccupations of writers back home; fresh stories and new voices.

fresh stories

I like my reading varied (global), and ebooks mostly address that part. But it wouldn’t hurt to hear more South African voices, whether at home or in the diaspora.

new voices

So, imagine my joy in a bookstore immersed in real and imaginary worlds created by writers I’ve never heard of before.

Ah, an array of skyscrapers; poetry shelves as if to prove its relevance, today! The dizzying effect; poetry books, written in languages I’m comfortable reading in, competing for my attention.

this is poetry

Mind you, I’ve heard the chorus “poetry does not sell that’s why publishers are reluctant to publish it”, and there’s no denying it. But I ponder this as my hand reaches for a book I’ve been longing to read since it’s publication. And the bookseller’s enthusiasm as she keeps piling trending African books before me… Oh, joy!


Write Africa, write!

note: A recent visit to South Africa brought about this reflection and renewed perspective.

Khaya Ronkainen
Khaya Ronkainen is a writer, poet and creative professional. Her blog focuses on all things poetry and creative nonfiction.


  1. We have to stop believing what everyone else tells us: that we would not be interested. Of course we are interested! And so what if not in a bestselling, blockbuster kind of way? So many of what we now consider irreplaceable classics came from “niche” writers… because they were us. Write, indeed, Africa! Some of us want to hear your voices…

  2. I imagine there are books all over the world that line dark bookshelves and are hard to find. I’m so glad you found a bookstore that brings light to African authors. Yay. Happy Reading!

  3. Sad truth I sometimes have to go home, South Africa, to find relevant books or fresh stories. The thing is when you are an expat, you sometimes live in state of perpetual homesickness no matter how hard you try to be in the moment. It’s in those times, I want to hear voices from home. And you bet, I came back with my luggage weighing much much more than I had left. The joys of a reader! 😀

  4. Yeah, we need to have a long conversation. I want to hear more news from Africa, especially preoccupations of writers in Ghana, when we are fed news of all sorts. Please do write, I await eagerly! 😀

  5. This is excellent Khaya!! I agree, write Africa, write!!! I am so happy you found this bookstore. It’s just too bad, that these amazing writers, weren’t available everywhere else! Big Hugs!

  6. Thanks Stacy. Yes, it is rather bad. Even though I’ve embraced the digital format, accessibility remains an issue.

  7. There are storytellers on every corner of Africa, spoken loudly, sung in the shebeens, toyi-toying through the streets of Joburg, told by old fishermen and Gogos, stand-up comedians who go to America and Fire Fighters on the front lines. What can I say…it’s a beautiful thing and it should be written down! I agree…write Africa write!

  8. Ah, I follow African Book Addict, too. She does amazing work in highlighting books of Africa and Black diaspora with her reviews.

  9. You make me wish I could jump in a plane and travel to my Dominican Republic. I get books written by Dominicans, but… they are rarely by Dominicans in the Dominican Republic and who I’ve never heard of. I want to be touched by their poetry, get lost in their stories…

    Wonderful (and very contagious) reflections. Thank you so much for sharing.

    P.S. I apologize in advance if this posts twice. I’ve been having some issues leaving a comment. *sigh*

  10. See, you get me! I so wish you could jump on that plane, too. The experience of touching books written by fellow countrymen, who don’t necessarily get worldwide exposure, is indescribable. I’m glad you enjoyed this post, Maga.

  11. Hi Khaya, my friend!
    I regard myself as an African storyteller, first and foremost… and always will!
    You have read and reviewed my first collection of short stories, thank you so kindly for your very positive comments and encouragement! I will soon have the second collection ready, it will also contain a fair amount of Southern African based stories.
    I have also attempted to write an Afrikaans serialised tale… more than ten episodes already available on my blog.
    I discovered the Short Story Day Africa 2018 competition and entered – hoping to get African exposure.
    I suppose, what I’m trying to say is… we African writers may be out there but getting seen and known isn’t easy… like poetry, short stories don’t seem to sell…
    Having said all that… we must keep at it and support each other!
    Thanks for mentioning JBR and Brittle Paper… now I have another lead (BP) to follow…

  12. Hi AJ!

    Good to see you around. Yes, I’ve enjoyed your short stories and feel they deserve more exposure. But you are correct, short stories like poetry don’t seem to sell. So, we also need to put on our business hats and promote our writings.

    I’m glad to hear that JBR and Brittle Paper magazines interest you. I’m sure you’ll find them both informational, entertaining and a great way of keeping up to date with the African literary scene. Keep writing, and all the best with your upcoming collection. 🙂

  13. Hi Khaya,

    Thanks for the continued support! Well, we have to keep dreaming… it’s as simple as that! 😉

    You too keep having fun! 🙂

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