Mahlape began her career in Jacana Media in 2010 as an intern. She then moved on to publishing and advanced spectacularly within five years of being in the company.
While at Jacana Media, Mahlape honed her skills as a publisher of several highly acclaimed bestsellers: the award-winning Endings & Beginnings by Redi Tlhabi, the groundbreaking My Father My Monster by Mcintosh Polela, Malaika wa Azania’s Memoirs of a Born Free, Bonnie Henna’s Eyebags & Dimples and Zoleka Mandela’s When Hope Whispers.
“I’d already achieved so much, and felt I’d reached the ceiling in terms of growth as a publisher,” says Mahlape. I decided to leave my job and start my own publishing house – Blackbird Books.”
Mahlape co-founded Blackbird Books with her previous employer, Jacana Media – the business operates as a subsidiary of Jacana Media, making Mahlape the first black woman to own an imprint of the company.
Blackbird Books is a platform for young emerging black talent designed for the multitude of black stories that exist and need to be told.
Mahlape says she’s always been uncomfortable with the belief that black people don’t read. She also felt publishers weren’t offering stories that resonate with black people.
She published Nakhane Toure’s Piggy Boy’s Blues and Panashe Chigumadzi’s Sweet Medicine, both of which were rejected by other publications.
Mahlape also explains that publishing is subjective and if a publisher doesn’t connect to your story, it will be rejected.
“Blackbird Books publishes purely black writers and black narratives. Two of the books I’ve published had been rejected because they were unapologetically black. Blackbird has given a platform to voices that would otherwise have not been heard.”
Her greatest reward is being in the position to rubbish the notion that black people don’t read. “I’ve been able to publish books that have resonated with the black audience,” she says.
Some of the books published by Mahlape have won awards, which is another highlight for her. “The books getting the acknowledgement they deserve has been very special to me.”
She acknowledges that South Africa’s history still remains a challenge in terms of the business. “A lot of black people don’t read as much as they should, and in a country where the major population is black, book sales could be better. The book-buying and reading culture needs to change.”
With her extensive experience, having published several award-wining novels, Mahlape will hold a writer’s masterclass on 11 March. This “writer’s retreat” gives aspiring authors an opportunity to get first-hand information on what makes a book successful, and to be mentored by various published authors.
“I get inundated with emails and messages from people who want to understand the publishing industry – the masterclass will give them access to me so they can ask all the questions they want,” she says.
Mahlape is also a public speaker, and specialises in women-focused issues and ideas around empowerment and being purpose-driven.