Welcome to The Johannesburg Review of Books

The Johannesburg Review of BooksIt gives me great pleasure to introduce The Johannesburg Review of Books, a new literary review from southern Africa.

Our aim is to fill a conspicuous gap in world letters: namely, the lack of an authoritative review from Africa covering significant books from across the globe. While African literature itself is bursting at the seams, and very well-supported by digital literati (not to mention well-explored by the global academy), it’s still the case that critical voices from Africa are not as well-heard, when it comes to considering new works of fiction and non-fiction—whether these be from Cape Town, Johannesburg, Lagos, Mumbai, Toronto, Dublin or other publishing hubs—as voices from city-arbiters of literary taste like Sydney, Los Angeles, New York, and London. The JRB hopes to change that.

We also hope to provide a new space for writers from South Africa, Africa and beyond to ruminate on culture, politics, history and the arts, publishing pieces that stand up both to intellectual scrutiny and to the great wash of information that nowadays causes all but the most memorable writing to fade. To that end, we will publish reviews, essays, poetry, short fiction and photographs in a single issue each month (subscribe for free here), plus a regular sampling of African literary life on our blog.

Our informal slogans at The JRB are—‘your desultory literary companion from South Africa’; and—‘Africa writes back’. ‘Desultory’ is meant here in its classic sense of leaping from one thing to another, in this case the various channels that modern publications are required to maintain, to ensure richness, reach and relevance over the long term. To the best of our ability, we will leap among these channels like a latter-day literary desultor, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Medium, SoundCloud, YouTube and The Reading List. As for ‘Africa writes back’, that’s the pithiest encapsulation of our wider mission we can formulate: Africa writes back against dominant world literary narratives; Africa writes back into the literary spaces that largely occlude our own writers; and so on.

Beyond this, it’s no exaggeration to say that we also want to fight crime—by which we mean the horrors attending the world’s sharp turn to extremism, populism and storming nationalism. Book reviewing is one means of keeping the basic tenets of humanism alive: books entail, by their very nature, a meeting of minds—if not always perfect agreement between these minds—and the more that meet across the hardening boundaries of the current age, by whatever means, including the perusal of a literary review, the more cause for hope.

Finally, I commend you to The JRB’s masthead, which comprises contributors and supporters without whom we would not have made it to our first issue. Thank you, colleagues, for taking this step with us.

And thank you, readers, for your engagement with The JRB.

Yours in high literary expectations—a luta literária continua!

Ben Williams

Featured image: Ponte Tower, Hillbrow, by David East

9 thoughts on “Welcome to The Johannesburg Review of Books”

  1. This looks like an exciting – and long overdue! – venture, and I send both my congratulations and very best wishes for what promises to be a lively and invigorating future.

  2. Congratulations on having launched this new African literary magazine – how incredibly exciting to have received this first copy on my facebook page today!

    As some of the most exciting literature emanating from Africa nowadays is written in Afrikaans, do consider including reviews of works by poets and authors such as Nathan Trantraal, Ingrid Winterbach, Harry Kalmer, Fanie Naude and others, as this can only lead to a far richer understanding of the literature being created on our continent today.

  3. Great to see another forum for celebrating books, writing and reading. Hopefully it will sustain the drive to increase literacy and a culture of reading in this age of the sound bite and the tweet. An uphill battle, but an urgent one. And it was so appropriate to have the review of Collective Amnesia in the first issue, as it is that Amnesiac tendency in society that a reading culture will counter and overcome. Kudos to all involved.

  4. Congratulations to the Johannesburg Review of Books! I am a descendant of the South African diaspora (to England and the US) and an avid reader of the New York Review of Books. I grew up on fabulous stories of my father’s childhood in the Karoo. May your new publication find its place. I hope there will always be a place for smart, considered, at-length thinking and writing. Best wishes for your success, within southern Africa and beyond.

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