Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Catalyst Press

Catalyst PressCat­a­lyst 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

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.

Story Press AfricaI 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 RisingSha­ka 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 RainWe 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.

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