This month, Kwela celebrates poet and novelist Finuala Dowling

02 October 2019 - 13:15 By nb-uitgewers/publishers
Acclaimed poet and novelist Finuala Dowling.
Acclaimed poet and novelist Finuala Dowling.
Image: Supplied

This year, Kwela Books, an imprint of NB Publishers, celebrates a quarter century of publishing books from Africa for Africa. 

Founded in 1994, with the advent of democracy, Kwela’s vision was to give a new generation of authors a voice and to document untold, uniquely South African stories.

With the demise of apartheid, it not only became possible for writers of all races to express themselves freely for the first time, there were also many stories by talented authors waiting to be told.

Kwela helped introduce these stories and authors, many of them now household names, to readers in SA and across the world. Kwela is devoting October to celebrate one of our country’s finest novelists and poets, Finuala Dowling, and the publication of her new novel, Okay, Okay, Okay.

Dowling’s first poetry collection, I Flying, won the Ingrid Jonker Prize. Her second collection, Doo-Wop Girls of the Universe, was joint winner of the Sanlam Prize for poetry, and her third, Notes from the Dementia Ward, won the Olive Schreiner Prize.

She has read at the UK's Aldeburgh Festival, at Snape Maltings, and at all major SA literary festivals.

Her first novel was What Poets Need, followed by Flyleaf and The Fetch. Her short stories, poems and essays have appeared in several anthologies. She has also written comic skits and plays, winning the Spier/Pansa Audience Award. In 2016 she won the Herman Charles Bosman Award for The Fetch.

Dowling has an M.A. from the University of Cape Town and a D.Litt. et Phil. from the University of SA (Unisa). Formerly an English lecturer, she now freelances as a poetry teacher and writer. She lives in Muizenberg, Cape Town, with her daughter.

The four books included in Kwela’s October promotion include her new novel, a collection of her poetry (consisting of old favourites and new work) and two new editions of older titles:

'Okay, Okay, Okay'
'Okay, Okay, Okay'
Image: Kwela

Okay, Okay, Okay (October 2019)

When a strike by the University of Adamastor’s technical staff coincides with a lull in sound operator Vida’s employment, she agrees to stage-manage a university event.

There she meets the Head of Effective Communication, Simon Landor. He is caught up in a massive student protest and his communication is anything but effective.

Vida, who rescues strays, whether pets or people, steps in.

A host of engaging characters populate this novel, which explores communication and connection in a complex world.

“Alive with wit and intelligence and beautifully written, this novel will keep people talking and arguing for a long time.” — Michiel Heyns

“How much do I love this author — let me count the ways. Like Jane Austen, she has a moral vision wrapped in humour.

“Like Middlemarch, she holds up a mirror to a provincial world that cuts down what it can’t see. And like Olive Schreiner, the novelist recalled at the centre of Okay, Okay, Okay, she has the courage to speak truth to power.” — Lyndall Gordon

'Pretend You Don't Know Me'
'Pretend You Don't Know Me'
Image: Kwela

Pretend You Don’t Know Me (August 2019)

Pretend You Don’t Know Me brings together in one volume the best of Dowling’s funny, poignant and idiosyncratic poetry from four earlier prize-winning collections, with a section devoted to new poems.

This new collection contains her iconic poem  To the doctor who treated the raped baby and who felt such despair, as well as Dowling’s tragicomic cycle of poems on the theme of her mother’s dementia, and the hugely popular poems Butter and The abuse of cauliflowers.

At the heart of the book are the funny and moving connections we make with other people, and the lifelong effort to stay whole.

“Pretend You Don’t Know Me, by South African Finuala Dowling, is a witty and wise collection of new and selected poems. Her sequence about her mother’s dementia is very touching. Elsewhere, these vital works will have you crying with laughter.” — Jackie Kay, The Guardian (Books of the Year 2018)

🔊 Sound ON Listen as Finuala Dowling reads 'For Oom Piet', from the recently published collection, 'Pretend You Don’t Know Me'.

'Home-Making for the Down-At-Heart'
'Home-Making for the Down-At-Heart'
Image: Kwela

Homemaking for the Down-at-Heart (first edition 2011)

Margot is a late-night talk radio host, the perfect job for an outspoken insomniac.

Her Kalk Bay home is crowded with wonderfully evocative characters, like her teenage daughter, Pia, her hopelessly romantic yet mostly absent lover Curtis, and the family hanger-on, Mr Morland, a professional psychic.

Finally there’s her mother, Zoe, once the acclaimed author of a quirky self-help volume with the same title, but now increasingly senile.

In this deeply moving novel Dowling examines the fleeting and often so complicated moments of happiness in any household.

A must-have for all bookshelves.



'What Poets Need'
'What Poets Need'
Image: Kwela

What Poets Need (first edition 2005)

Poet John Carson lives in a crumbling seaside house with his sister and niece.

Winter is upon him, and he writes feverishly to the woman who has abandoned him as a lover, yet kept him as a correspondent.

Theresa: beautiful, generous ... and married.

The occasional fleeting encounter between the lovers fuels John the writer, but leaves John the man close to despair.

To keep his feelings in check, John loses himself in the details of his home life — the never-ending chores of domesticity, his niece’s mysterious eating disorder and the menu he is attempting to write in rhyming couplets save him from himself, most of the time.

There is also the eccentric old woman who lives in their garden cottage and the poetry journal that he has just been appointed to edit.

Will John and Theresa find a way to overcome everything that holds them apart or is a state of permanent longing, in fact, really what poets need?