Catalyst Press has a bold and daring mission.
As a new independent press, Catalyst Press brings to American readers books from the African continent written by Africans and/or about Africa, contemporary and historical. One of Catalyst’s first books is the startling graphic novel, Shaka Rising: A Legend of the Warrior Prince. It is written and illustrated by Luke W. Molver, and is the first of an African Graphic Novel series. It re-tells the story of Shaka, the most famous king of the Zulus in Southern Africa, who consolidated different clans into one strong kingdom to protect his people from the slave trade. It’s quite a book. Shaka Rising is a gripping story with strong daring graphics. What an opportunity to expand one’s knowledge of Africa, its history and its people, beyond the history of apartheid in South Africa.
Jessica L. Powers, the creator and publisher, plans to expand Catalyst’s mission to not only publish authors from Africa but also indigenous writers from other parts of the world, all with the goal of publishing literature that exposes the truth and pursues justice and peace.
Her goal is to bring to Western readers books that reveal the world from different perspectives—tilting, reversing or tweaking the standard Western understanding of what’s real, true, necessary, or beautiful. Her motivation to create this press is her belief that books can be the fire and fuel for change. One book in the hands of one child can change—and has changed—the world for many.
I asked Jessica Powers to explain her press’s imprint, Story Press Africa, and describe its relationship to Jive Media Africa.
Story Press Africa, as an imprint of Catalyst Press (USA) and Jive Media Africa (located in South Africa), is a collaborative literary platform for sharing African knowledge. Both presses publish stories by Africans about Africa for a global audience; both publish stories that are authentic, challenging, and sometimes express controversial& visions of the continent that birthed humankind.
Jessica, what is your background that fuels your interest in the African continent and cultures and how did it ignite your passion to risk creating a press to bring books about Africa to Western readers?
I have two master’s degrees in African history and have spent significant time in East and Southern Africa. But it wasn’t until my son was born that the seeds for Catalyst Press and its imprint Story Press Africa were planted. As I spent time in my library looking for books that would introduce young readers to Africa, I realized that there are not enough good children’s books about Africa and/or written by Africans. What is represented? Folk tales/animal tales and Nelson Mandela. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love folk tales and I love Nelson Mandela but come on. Africa is the cradle of humankind. It is an enormous continent with many countries and cultures, thousands of languages … yet in the United States we often fail to see value in expanding our knowledge of countries and cultures beyond our own borders.
What is your own experience as an author and editor that has helped make this dream endeavor possible?
I’ve been writing for young adults and children for a long time—my four young adult novels, The Confessional (2007), This Thing Called the Future (2011), Amina (2013), and Broken Circle (2017) were recognized with a variety of awards. I’ve also been working for the independent multicultural publisher Cinco Puntos Press since 2002. So the world of books and the reality of publishing are not mysterious to me. Armed with passion, experience, and knowledge, I decided to go for broke and start this endeavor, which launched in 2017. I wish “going for broke” was just a phrase. Publishing is a very expensive proposition!
Catalyst Press began in 2017 and already has launched several books. Please tell us about them.
Catalyst and its imprint, Story Press Africa, are still very new so we don’t have a lot of books out yet, but our books are unique, emerging primarily from Africa—by Africans about Africa. I’ll mention two that came out this year.
- Shaka Rising: A Legend of the Warrior Prince, written and illustrated by Luke W. Molver, is the first of an African Graphic Novel series. It re-tells the story of Shaka, the most famous king of the Zulus in Southern Africa, who fought many bloody battles to bring tribal nations together to his people from the slave trade. In previous tellings of Shaka, the slave trade was never a prominent or even visible part of the story. Europeans feared Shaka and demonized him in their portrayals, largely because they wanted to justify colonization of southern Africa and he was a major threat. We specifically approached this from a non-European understanding and once you remove European portrayals of Shaka, you find a much different picture and understanding. Of course, sources about Shaka are scant, so we can’t claim to be telling THE true version of Shaka’s story, but we based this story on the most recent histories of Shaka and the Zulu nation as historians have tried to unravel European bias in written sources as well as being creative and looking at archeological, geological, and other types of records to provide more nuance.
- We Kiss Them With Rain by Futhi Ntshingila. Set in a squatter camp outside of Durban, South Africa, this gritty young adult novel presents us with a truly bittersweet coming-of-age story that involves HIV-AIDS, teen pregnancy, child abandonment, and poverty—but does so with humor and enormous hope! Kirkus gave it a starred review.
Jessica, will you share with us your hopes for the future of children’s literature?
I have a deep commitment to develop literature that represents all children, and to build a canon of truly diverse literature, both as a writer myself and as a publisher. One of the things that I think gets left out of that equation sometimes is world literature for children. As a publisher of African-authored and African-based books (written by writers from all over the world), I would love to see a strong celebration and embrace of international literature within the American children’s lit community. It’s such a different and unique and wonderful world and we have a real opportunity to open American youth’s eyes to issues, cultures, and ways of life outside of North America. If you’re not sure where to start, you can go to USBBY’s wonderful annual list of the best internationally published books.