To say that 2021 was a rough year for Karavan Press would be a gross understatement. Sinking into debt and depression by the end of June, I did not think that we would make it despite some amazing things happening. That everything was still continuing relatively smoothly on the surface was due to the fact that I work with the kindest and most patient people – authors, editors, designers, printers, distributors and booksellers – and that we have the support of the most wonderful readers.
Yet, in June, due to all the challenges of the lockdown, it was difficult to see a future for Karavan Press. Then: I made one decision that felt crazy at the time; and a miracle happened.
The decision was to start distributing Karavan Press titles on a firm-sale basis from the 1st of July. I thought that this would result in hardly any sales to bookshops, because it shifted the risk of actually getting our books into readers’ hands to the booksellers. But the way they – the booksellers – responded was astounding. The support has been incredible. If you see a Karavan Press book on the shelves of a bookshop, it means that they really believe in it and in us. For this and so much more, I am deeply grateful to all the booksellers who have given us a chance despite the so much greater risk to themselves that they are now taking on our behalf. You are my heroes!
The miracle was the Booker longlisting of An Island by Karen Jennings. I loved An Island from the first page of the manuscript and knew that I would publish it no matter what. I would have been proud of having published it even if it had sold only a handful of copies. But, the Booker nomination catapulted the book into Karavan Press bestseller status, where it joined our other bestseller, Death and the After Parties by Joanne Hichens, also longlisted for a prestigious award this year, the Sunday Times / CNA Non-Fiction Award. And the nomination put us on an international map and opened new doors and possibilities. One of these is the establishment of The Island Prize. Founded by Karen Jennings and Holland House Books, her UK publisher, it is a prize for an African debut novel and might mean the beginning of a few stellar literary careers on the continent. To partner with Karen and Robert Peett of Holland House Books on this has been one of the great joys of 2021. Thank you to both for making miracles happen!
We had other stunning local and international award nominations and wins this year. Considering that we have been publishing only since mid-2019 and have only sixteen titles on our list so far, I am immensely proud of these achievements:
Sunday Times / CNA Fiction Award shortlist: Breaking Dawn by Dawn Garisch Sunday Times / CNA Non-Fiction Award longlist: Death and the After Parties by Joanne Hichens Page Turner Award longlist: A Fractured Land by Melissa A. Volker Booker longlist: An Island by Karen Jennings K. Sello Duiker Memorial Literary Award: An Island by Karen Jennings GBAS Book Cover Design Awards Poetry shortlist: Stephen Symons for Beat Routes by Justin Fox The Red Wheelbarrow Poetry Competition: ‘Small Souls’ by Stephen Symons
Congratulations to all authors!
Another great decision this year was to welcome Penny Haw into the extended Karavan Press list as we partnered with her and Protea Distribution to distribute two of Penny’s books locally. And guess what: in August, her novel The Wilderness Between Us, published in the USA by Köehler Books, was named an award-winning finalist in the 2021 American Fiction Awards.
Other highlights of the year for Karavan Press were live events and special publications. Even with all the lockdown restrictions, we managed to share quite a few live events, including an entire one-day Karavan Press Literary Festival, with our readers. To talk books with other enthusiasts is always a pleasure and we hope to continue organising and participating in live events next year. As to special publications: one Karavan Press title – The Skipper’s Daughter by Nancy Richards – appeared in a highly limited hardcover edition, and another – Small Souls by Stephen Symons – was compiled and printed under the Karavan Press logo by Stephen after he won the inaugural Red Wheelbarrow Poetry Competition. Neither are available for distribution, but it is simply exciting to know that they exist. The good news is that the poems included in Small Souls will feature in an upcoming collection of Stephen’s selected poems. And this is only one of a few truly stunning books Karavan Press will be publishing next year.
We have survived, thrived against all odds – and! – we do have a future. I look forward to writing the next chapter with our authors. Thank you to them, to all other creatives who work with us, and to all our readers!
Karavan Press books of 2021: