Dropping In to Power: Sheila Gallien interviews Melissa A. Volker

Listen to the podcast here:

‘Melissa Volker found a way to obsess about surfing in any conditions – by obsessing about writing about surfing! A mid-life blooming writer and water woman from South Africa, Melissa’s delicious fiction blends “surf noir” with “environmental romance suspense.” (Check out the addictive Shadow Flicker!) In our pod, we chat about the coastal topography and bathymetry of South Africa’s breaks (get out your pencils) and she indulges my obsession with South African sharks. (Did you know you can get a gig as a Shark Spotter in Cape Town?) The South African waters are wild and intimidating, and though she grew up learning to paddle on flat water in an estuary, the ocean felt menacing to her well into her 40s. She still considers herself one of the most frightened surfers in her lineup, but she has braved sharks, orcas (!!!) and kilometers of open water on paddleboards, SUP’s and longboards. She credits a community group focused on supporting women for getting her off the beach and into the lineup. She also finds inspiration, and courage, in books and courses on surfing, the ocean, and, yes, sharks. Recognizing how her own life has transformed from surfing, feeling “older, but stronger, happier, braver, and stoked” she created Saltwater Sisters with her BFF to share their love and stoke and to empower other women to experience the joy they have found themselves. Melissa wraps up with one of my fave pieces of advice so far: “Get to know the ocean, because not every day is your day.”’

Dropping In to Power

Karavan Press and Protea Distribution are local distribution partners for FLUID: The Freedom to Be

In these twenty short stories of inquiry, transgression, osmosis and transformation,
we embrace the fluid nature of humanity.

The anthology’s contributors are largely established South African authors who
have a track record in the publishing industry, as well as exciting emerging writers. The writers include Peter-Adrian Altini, Diane Awerbuck, K. L. Bohle, Anna Hug, Kingsley Khobotlo, Yuwinn Kraukamp, Alex Latimer, Keith Oliver Lewis, Lerato Mahlangu, Shari Maluleke, David Medalie, Mabel Mnensa, Lerato Moletsane, Nadine Moonsamy, Shanice Ndlovu, Vuyokazi Ngemntu, Robyn Perros, Bridget Pitt, Lorraine Sithole, Jarred Thompson and Andrew Robert Wilson.

JOANNE HICHENS has to date edited seven highly praised anthologies of South African short stories, including Bad Company, Bloody Satisfied, Adults Only and Die Laughing. She has published several crime novels, including Divine Justice and Sweet Paradise, and a memoir, Death and the After Parties.

KARINA M. SZCZUREK is the (co)editor of, among others, Touch: Stories of Contact, Encounters with André Brink, Disruption: New Short Fiction from Africa and Hair: Weaving and Unpicking Stories of Identity. She is also the author of Invisible Others and The Fifth Mrs Brink.

FOREWORD: Lorraine Sithole

ISBN/EAN: 978-0-9946805-7-0
PUBLISHER: Tattoo Press

TATTOO PRESS is an independent small publisher, specializing in contemporary South African short fiction.

READ THE WINNING STORY: “Blue Boy Lagoon” by Keith Oliver Lewis

If you are a bookseller, please contact Protea Distribution to order copies of FLUID: The Freedom to Be. If you are a reader, please ask your local bookshop to order the book for you via Protea Distribution.

Karavan Press at FLF 2023

Two Karavan Press authors are speaking about their work at this year’s edition of the Franschhoek Literary Festival (FLF): Lester Walbrugh and Lethokuhle Msimang.

Click on the images below to book your ticket for the individual sessions.

You can buy their books in advance of the festival via the FLF website (and Exclusive Books):

Two other Karavan Press authors – Joy Watson and Nancy Richards – are chairing a few sessions:

We look forward to seeing you in Franschhoek!


Be part of the first Karavan Stories anthology! We will meet for a writing workshop at the end of April and together analyse what makes a good short story, read examples, go through a few writing exercises, begin exploring ideas for new stories and in the following months write, edit and compile an anthology of stories which will be published by Karavan Press.

Photo: Etienne Swanepoel | Unsplash

WORKSHOP DATE: Saturday, 22 April 2023, 9:00 – 15:00

VENUE: 6 Banksia Road, Rosebank, 7700 Cape Town


FEE: R3 900

To book your spot, contact: Karina @ Karavan Press

Includes: workshop, catering during the day of the workshop, guidance and feedback, editing, proofreading, 5 copies of the anthology and the option to submit your next manuscript to Karavan Press.

If you cannot afford the fee but would like to participate, please get in touch. Two places will be available to writers who require financial assistance.

Maximum number of participants: 12.

Participants not based in Cape Town can join via Skype (maximum two).


Karina M. Szczurek is the author and (co)editor of a dozen works of fiction and non-fiction, most recently a memoir, The Fifth Mrs Brink, a collection of letters, You Make Me Possible: The Love Letters of Karina M. Szczurek and André Brink, and an anthology, Disruption: New Short Fiction from Africa. She won the MML Literature Award in the Category English Drama in 2012 and received the Thomas Pringle Award for a portfolio of ad hoc reviews from the English Academy of Southern Africa in 2018. She is a board member of Short Story Day Africa. In 2019, she founded Karavan Press, an independent publishing house, and a year later, established the Philida Literary Award.

Karavan Press: 2022 in review

We are still here!

The year 2022 is coming to an end and, despite all the challenges we’ve faced, we have not only survived, but thrived. I can now confidently say that Karavan Press has a future.

The above mentioned challenges resulted in ‘only’ four books being published this year, but every single one of them has been a publisher’s dream. Thank you, Joy, Lester, Melissa and Stephen – it has been amazing to work with you on these special books. This brings us up to TWENTY published books since we began with Melissa A. Volker’s Shadow Flicker mid-2019.

We were also meant to publish Sipho Banda’s debut poetry collection in English, A Crowded Lonely Walk, but we ran out of time in 2022, so it will be the first title to go to print in 2023. Poetry lovers have a wonderful literary treat to look forward to in the new year.

In 2022, Karavan Press authors and books have been recognised with the following:

Let It Fall Where It Will by Lester Walbrugh was shortlisted for the HSS Awards in the Best Fiction Short Stories category while the Best Fiction Edited Volume category was won by Hauntings (edited by Niq Mhlongo and published by Jacana) – the anthology included short stories by Lester Walbrugh and Joanne Hichens.

An Island by Karen Jennings, A Hibiscus Coast by Nick Mulgrew, The Skipper’s Daughter by Nancy Richards and Boiling a Frog Slowly by Cathy Park Kelly were longlisted for the Sunday Times Literary Awards, with An Island making the shortlist in the Fiction category.

A Hibiscus Coast by Nick Mulgrew won the 2022 K. Sello Duiker Memorial Literary Award. This is the second year in a row that a Karavan Press author was recognised with this award.

Thanks to Catrina Wessels, Wipf & Stock acquired the US rights to Conjectures by James Leatt, originally published by Karavan Press in 2021.

Dr Sindiwe Magona received her PhD in Creative Writing from UWC.

The Other Me by Joy Watson featured at number four on the 2022 top twenty bestselling books at The Book Lounge.

Congratulations to All!

The Karavan Press literary family is growing in other ways. This year, together with Protea Distribution, Karavan Press became local distribution partners for Gagman by Joanne and Dov Fedler and August House is Dead, Long Live August House! and Panya Routes by Kim Gurney.

In September, Catrina and I attended the Gothenburg Book Fair, where we met and exchanged ideas with publishers from around the world. I hope to explore and strengthen these connections in 2023.

None of this would have been possible without the dedication and kindness of the people I work with: the authors, book designers, printers, distributors, agents, other publishers, booksellers and, of course, readers! Thank you, All!

A special thank you to my Loved Ones (furry and otherwise) who have kept me and Karavan going when the path ahead looked dire. We are still here thanks to you!

SMALL SOULS by Stephen Symons launched at Wordsworth Books Gardens

Poetry galore! Family, friends and poetry lovers filled Wordsworth Books Gardens to the brim to celebrate the publication of Small Souls: New and Collected Poems by Stephen Symons.

Stephen was in conversation with Kelwyn Sole, who has been a mentor and friend to Stephen for many years. Here are his notes for the introduction of the event:

Introduction to the launch of Small Souls (Karavan Press) by Stephen Symons | 28th November 2022

I first met Stephen Symons as a Masters student in the English Creative Writing programme at UCT a decade ago.

To quote Neruda, he is an unusual poet, ‘like the poets of our age, in light clothes and walking shoes’ (Pablo Neruda). I haven’t previously met a poet who is not only a sportsman but also someone who could weld, fly a plane, in addition to being a prodigious reader, Stephen is a knowledgeable lover of classical music and fine arts, and an excellent photographer.

In our interactions as his supervisor, I very soon realised that Stephen was already skilled in the lyric form and its formal devices (metaphor, image, extended tropes)

But equally quickly, I realised this designation of ‘lyric poet’ did not give the full story of what he was and is trying to do, nor what his poetry was increasingly to morph into.

He has kept the mastery of the traditional lyric, yes, and – like all good poetry – a 2nd and 3rd reading in these terms reveals gems the reader will have missed the first time around. However, what struck me also was his inquisitiveness and willingness to experiment and extend the lyric form in other directions.  

I now understand that his knowledge of music and sensitivity to sound gives him a deftness with rhythm and rhythmic changes. Moreover, as a graphic designer, he is fascinated by the use that can be made of the page as an arena for spatial experiment (how a poem looks) and has worked on several poems which reflect this. Furthermore, he quickly ventured into the prose poem, a realm which abounds in lyrical and narrative possibilities; but a realm where few lyric poets venture, especially in SA.

I think these exciting formal directions he has followed reflect the openness of his own personality. When we worked together, he was prepared to follow, examine and think about every reading or individual poet I suggested to him. At the same time – of course – he was reading and thinking prodigiously on his own. He has an openness to the influence of the new, not from any desire to imitate but rather to see whether anything or anyone he comes across can teach him what may be useful for the further development of his style.

This openness to influence encompasses not only SA poets but also the poets of metropolitan modernism and postmodernism, and those further afield, like modern Arabic poetry.

In summary, for me, the effectivity and reach of his poetry lies not only in his usage of form but also in the number of recurring interests – themes and perspectives – which make his poetry unique.

The titles of his books are instructive here: Questions for the Sea; Small Souls; Landscapes of Light and Loss; and my special favourite, For Everything That is Pointless and Perfect, indicate some of his abiding major interests and perspectives.

Many of his poems revolve around acute observations and musings on the everyday (the quotidian), sometimes little noticed, details of family interaction, suburban experience and life. Poems about marriage, family, children and friends are recurrent and resonate particularly strongly. Among the weight of practicalities as a householder, there is a compelling awareness of the fragility and lightness of being alive on this planet at this time; and the particular anxieties and uncertainties of living in a strife-ridden country, itself part of an increasingly precarious world order.

It is also a poetry stippled with memory and immanence. There are poems filled with the memory of loves, youth, and his fraught time in the military.

As a result, there is a grounding of Stephen’s lyrics in our lives and our contradictions. Our past and present repressions and oppressions in SA leave their trace. I can think of no better concise example of this than a poem which notes how the shadows in a garden ‘leopard-crawl over mossed brick.’ (‘The intricacy of a body in the dark’) – the image has an immediacy but, simultaneously, a reference to the recent military past of this country, which is unforgettable. He writes within a country which, in the words of another poem, “simply wraps bandages” (‘Night drive’)  around everything; a country where – to quote another particularly memorable longer poem, fences appear to “give chase” to human movement (‘The fence’). The threat of enclosure, violence, or peer or personal psychological repression and suppression are still with us and tinge his lyrics with their presence, giving them a greater resonance and accuracy.

Stephen’s poems resist restrictions of subject matter and style. He is superb at interweaving the social world of his poems with a more expansive natural world and the lives of the other creatures with which we share the planet. These intrude in poem after poem to advise and admonish us. The non-human is there and interacts willy-nilly with the behaviour (and, one should add, follies) of human beings.

I find references to the sea, and astronomy, in his poems especially powerful and healing.

For me, I find Stephen’s poetry, as a whole, moves exhilaratingly between stillness and flux; the numinous and the prosaic; between the concrete and the abstract; between family gardens and an expanded vision of the sky at nighttime; between the small details and compulsions of our surroundings and the large, philosophical and ontological questions always contained in these. (His poetry aids a reader’s understanding of their interconnectedness). For instance, a poem watches a dying butterfly, ‘paying life’s inevitable invoice / for a weekend / in paradise.” (‘Last afternoon’) Or, elsewhere, a rising wind reminds a banished angel, huddled beneath a streetlight, of flight. (’Beneath a streetlight’)

But even among the strictures we face, as he points out in several poems, “no loss is a perfect amputation/  … / the ghost of the limb lives on’  (‘Nervelines’).  

Thus Stephen’s poems are always replete with possibility, with potential, with our human impulses that promote love and life in the midst of everything that besets us. As one poem says:

every outcome is possible –
infinite fractions
of happiness and hopelessness
intent on manufacturing wonder.

(‘A vast undecipherable stillness’)

Those of us who know Stephen are acutely aware “he never takes poetry, or the subject matter he writes about, for granted.” He never adopts the narcissistic self-regard that appears so often these days; instead, in his demeanour and work, he demonstrates the questing humility of serious talent, of a practitioner of the art of the poem: a stance which will, I know, result in much more to emerge from his pen subsequent to this wonderful, life-affirming and skillful collection we have before us tonight.

Professor Kelwyn Sole, Emeritus Professor of English Literature (UCT)

Thank you to Wordsworth Books Gardens, Stephen, Kelwyn and all who were there to welcome this beautiful book into the world!

Karavan Press title: Slaughterhouse by Melissa Sussens

Cover artwork: Sue Greeff

Cover design: Stephen Symons

“A brave, searing collection. Out of a difficult year of compulsory service at a slaughterhouse, Sussens has forged a plain–spoken, lyrical poetic voice able to ‘gut truth, / exhume the body of memory.’ Whether chronicling the forging of a queer sexual identity, the loss of innocence or its renewal through requited love and poetry itself, these unflinching poems refuse to be forgotten. In response to the inevitable risk of loving, she writes: ‘Sometimes I wish / I never knew the word merge …’ All the more poignant, then, that the collection should bear witness to precisely such points of fraught, perilous contact between self and world. A remarkable body of work that will sustain many rereadings.”

– Jacques Coetzee, author of An Illuminated Darkness

“Blood animates and stains these remarkable poems, but Melissa Sussens asks us not to look away. Slaughterhouse is a hauntingly powerful debut. We get to see a poet grapple with ongoing legacies of vulnerability and violence, death and desire, all while experimenting cleverly with form. Some of these poems dripped off the page and stayed with me for days – I loved them.”

– Maneo Mohale, author of Everything is a Deathly Flower

“‘I watched death’ is the first line of Melissa Sussens’s debut collection. Never have I trusted a poet more to guide me by way of a book than I do Melissa – who has worked both in a veterinary clinic and a slaughterhouse. Fluent in the message that is at the core of art – we die – Sussens’s poetry is a relentless reminder in the utter thrill and sacredness of living. These poems find both the slaughter and the house, the home, in all the scenes of a life: from stalking an ex on Instagram, to coming out to your mother, to biting your nails, to girlhood, to loving in the
face of bigotry. Of course this book will encourage readers to reckon with the humanity of animals, but what’s unexpected is the way it will help us acknowledge both the beast and the fawn, the Grim Reaper and the Angel of Death, within ourselves. Melissa brings her vocational history into these pieces at the line level – with lyricism oscillating between both brutal blade and gentle hand at once. I have never read any book like it.”
– Megan Falley, author of Drive Here and Devastate Me

Publication date: November 2022

ISBN: 978–1–7764064–5–6

Also available on Kindle: Slaughterhouse by Melissa Sussens

MELISSA SUSSENS is a queer veterinarian and poet. Her work has appeared in many publications, both locally and internationally. She placed 2nd in the 2020 New Contrast National Poetry Prize and was amongst the winners of the ClemenGold Writing Competition. She was selected for the Poetry for Human Rights anthology, Between the Silence, in 2021, and has been nominated for Best of the Net. Melissa has performed at the Poetry in McGregor festival, Off The Wall, The Commons and The Red Wheelbarrow, where she also hosts poetry readings. She lives in Cape Town with her wife and their two dogs. Slaughterhouse is her first book. Find her at www.melissasussens.com.

Author photograph: Winston Sussens

Cape Flats Book Festival is back with a bang!

Taryn Lock, Nancy Richards, Lester Walbrugh, Rešoketšwe Manenzhe, Qarnita Loxton and Karina Szczurek at the Cape Flats Book Festival 2022

“When you live a life of reading, you live like a cat, you experience nine lives,” Premier Alan Winde said at the opening ceremony of the second Cape Flats Book Festival, and added: “There’s nothing like a good book, nothing.” Totally agreed!

And when you live a life of reading, you get to hang out with the coolest of people – readers and writers!

This weekend, readers and writers gathered at the West End Primary School in Mitchells Plain to celebrate the wealth and wonder of literature, and it was an honour to participate. According to the organisers, the festival is “an act of hope, an opportunity to dream beyond our circumstances.” Indeed. And every minute of it was literary delight.

Great vibes, great sessions, laughter and wisdom, lots of connecting and reconnecting and simple sharing – of experience, ideas and the love of books.

Karavan Press authors participating: Joy Watson, Nancy Richards, Lester Walbrugh, Cathy Park Kelly and Joanne Hichens.

Joy Watson, Sara-Jayne Makwala King and Karina Szczurek

The second day of the festival was a little bit quieter, but smaller audience create more intimate interactions and often strong bonds are forged not only between authors and their fans, but also between the authors themselves. Writing is mostly a solitary and often lonely occupation, and it is simply wonderful to encounter others in the same boat and feel slightly less alone in the world.

And when you are lucky, you get to hug Oaky 🙂

Thank you to everyone who made this fantastic event possible!

Karavan Press family – Lester Walbrugh, Thobeka Yose (to be published next year), Karina Szczurek (holding a freshly baked bread, a gift from Lester) and Cathy Park Kelly

Hope to see everyone at the next Cape Flats Book Festival!