Connect to share and comment

South Africa: "Sex in the City" comes to Soweto

Will new chick lit "bookazines" turn young, black women into readers?

Moky Makura
Moky Makura, publisher of the new Nollybooks romance novel series, at her office in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Erin Conway-Smith)

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Arizona Shezi is a sassy young journalism student and a mysterious beauty with “chocolate skin” and “long braided hair.”

Jason Khoza is a hotshot businessman in an expensive suit, with a strong face like “a sculpture of a Zulu warrior.”

The two attractive young South Africans meet when he arrives as a guest lecturer at Shezi’s university. But their chances at love are jeopardized by an expose she writes for the student paper on his company’s dodgy business dealings.

This is the kind of story that Moky Makura, publisher of a new series of romance novels, is hoping will turn young South African women into avid readers. The “Nollybooks” series of chick lit books is aimed at 16- to 24-year-old black women, many of whom are not in the habit of reading for pleasure. In South Africa, while the adult literacy rate is 88 percent, many people are “aliterate” — they can read, but choose not to.

Publishers don’t bother targeting this young female demographic, Makura said. “That was an opportunity I spotted.”

Makura has a clear idea of what she wants in a book: urban, aspirational, good-girl heroines who face a romantic development in their lives, with the story set in real South African locations — a Soweto version of “Sex and the City.”

She instantly rejects any book proposal featuring, for example, a woman who has AIDS and three children, because she doesn’t want depressing books. There is too much of that already, she said.
Do-good foreigners often write books about the tragedies of Africa, Makura said, but few are telling the story of a young, hip and upwardly mobile generation that is becoming increasingly important on the continent, part of Africa’s growing middle class.

Lead female characters in the Nollybooks series include a fashion designer, a chef, a hotel receptionist who becomes the assistant to a movie star, and a wedding gown seamstress who looks to internet dating to find love.

“We are peddling entertainment,” Makura said. “My books are being positioned as an alternative to movies, TV, shopping. I’m trying to make reading fun.”

Most importantly, these are books written by South Africans, about and for South Africans, “so they’re not being culturally colonized by America. ... The key thing is that people want to see themselves in the stories they read,” she said.