‘It took the Booker to introduce South Africans to their own Karen Jennings’, writes Jean Meiring

This year’s discovery, though, is Jennings (born 1982), who, in spite of having produced several excellent earlier books, has not been afforded the acclaim in South Africa that she deserves. The truth of the hoary adage that a prophet is rarely hallowed in her own land rings especially true, it would seem, of South Africans who write literary fiction in English.

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Whether Jennings’ name appears on the shortlist that will be announced in London tomorrow afternoon or not, one can only hope that her longlisting will have changed the trajectory of her career: that she will never again have to make out a case to be published. And never again be published in print runs of only 500.

LitNet

Jennifer Malec interviews Karen Jennings for the JRB

“I do like Samuel, because he is incredibly human. He is an ordinary man. He has made mistakes; terrible ones. But he is a man trying to find a place for himself in the world, just as we all are. No one is all good or all bad. We are all only trying as best we can to make a home for ourselves in which we feel safe and where we feel we belong. But, of course, this is not determined by ourselves alone. The past plays a role in our identity, as do our economic, social, cultural, political circumstances. All of these things have an influence on us, whether we like to admit it or not.”

JRB

Karen Jennings interviewed by Phumi Ramalepe for Business Insider SA

Karen Jennings

“… Unlike many authors who measure the success of a book based on sales figures, Jennings believes it’s all about how you feel about your work.  

‘For me, it depends on how I feel about any manuscript once I have finally finished writing the various drafts. If I get to the end and feel a thrill pass through me, then I am satisfied,’ she said.

‘I enjoy that feeling because it doesn’t last very long. I think many writers, or artists in general, have this sense that their work is never good enough,’ Jennings added.”

Business Insider SA

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett interviewed Karen Jennings for the Guardian

The South African author struggled to find a publisher for her Booker-nominated novel An Island, which only had a print-run of 500 copies. She talks about rejection, her country and believing in herself

Karen Jennings is still in shock. It has been a few days since the announcement that her novel, An Island, has been longlisted for the Booker prize, and the 38-year-old South African author looks as though she’s reeling. Considering the novel’s difficult route to publication, you can understand why. She doesn’t even have an agent.

“It was incredibly difficult to find a publisher,” she says, via video chat from Brazil, where she has spent the pandemic alongside her Brazilian husband, a scientist. Due to being essentially stranded there, she has yet to hold an actual physical copy of the book in her hands. “I finished the novel in 2017. And no one was interested. When I did finally get a small publisher in the UK and a small publisher in South Africa to co-publish, they couldn’t get anyone to review the book. We couldn’t get people to write endorsement quotes, or blurbs.”

Guardian