WORK/LIFE: Thabiso Mahlape

Thabiso Mahlape is the publisher of BlackBird Books, an imprint from Jacana showcasing black voices that launched in August 2015.

What does the role of publisher entail?

Other than lots and lots of frustration?

In what ways has your work changed now that you run your own imprint?

I now have to think about operations on a global level as opposed to just worrying about getting the books out. It has challenged me immensely but I have also grown a lot, both personally and in my work. I also think more carefully about what I publish as this now impacts my brand first. What I enjoy most is the new license it has given me over my work, to experiment and take risks (up to a point) as I wish.

What book changed your life?

I don’t know that there is a particular book. The ‘books’ that changed my life were the condensed Reader’s Digest volumes that landed in my life; I have no idea where they came from. I come from a family where the only reading that was done was newspapers. But they were my first experience of getting lost in stories and fictional characters.

What things are you working on at the moment?

I am working on several books ranging from prostitution to entrepreneurship. I am most excited about a volume that I am compiling and editing myself, Big Little Women. 

Describe your workspace.

My office is a mess, and that works for me. Often times I come back to the office and it has been tidied up, which sends me into a panic. It is also an office that I inherited from Maggie Davey who is currently on a sabbatical and there is lots of her in the office, which I like as I often feel like I am channelling her.

The most important instrument you use?

My laptop.

What’s your most productive time of day?

As soon as people start leaving the office around 5, until about 8. I am unstoppable during those hours.

What do you do when you’re stuck, or not feeling creative?

I sing, loudly. Luckily I have a boss who for some reason enjoys my singing, just as well as my office is right next door to hers. Otherwise, I go on a walkabout around the office disturbing and distracting everyone. If that fails, then Chicken Licken hotwings because there isn’t much that chicken can’t fix.

How do you relax?

Wine baby, wine and other stuff that adults do. *coughs*

Who and what has influenced your work?

At the moment it is the country, and the state of things. The conversation and the energy at the moment is such a thing to feed off.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

Two really. The first was a few years ago, which was choose your battles. The second, which came about a week and a half ago, was to separate my worth from material things.

Your favourite ritual?

Right now? It is the play time I have with my 2o-month-old daughter when I get home. As soon as I park she’s already calling out ‘my baby!’, which is what she calls me, and then it is followed by moments of endless giggles and delight.

What’s the hardest thing about your job?

The uncertainty. Never knowing how the market will receive your product. Authors imagine they alone feel this angst, but it’s worse for a publisher.

What do you dislike most about yourself?

I can be quite hotheaded and tend to make hasty decisions when I should otherwise be calming myself down over a bottle of wine.

What are you afraid of?


What advice would you give to people starting out in publishing?

Find a niche, trust your gut and just f****** go for it.

What’s the thing you’re proudest of doing?

Raising my daughter and then working on a legacy that she can be proud of. She really is just the best thing about my life right now.

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