Introducing Botsotso

Posted by Ken Edwards on Tuesday, September 1, 2009 Under: Reality Street
Today Reality Street publishes Botsotso: an anthology of contemporary South African poetry. Here's what I wrote for the preface of the book:

In April 2004, at the Cambridge Conference of Contemporary Poetry (CCCP), I encountered Ike Mboneni Muila from Soweto. He had previously been compared by someone to Tom Raworth, for his high-octane delivery. Opening the Saturday evening session, he amazed me by riffing flawlessly and rapidly in several languages: Afrikaans, English and more than one native South African language, the entire performance done from memory. For the audience here, it was only the occasional flashes of English that connected semantically, but they, and I, got the drift. I spoke with him later; he seemed a nice guy too.

Following that year’s CCCP, the American poet and academic resident in the UK, Andrea Brady, told me that Botsotso, a group of poets, artists and writers of which Ike was part, were looking to make contact. They were keen on receiving books to distribute to young writers in the townships. As a result, I got in touch with Allan Kolski Horwitz and sent them a box of Reality Street books.

In return, Allan sent me parcels of books published by Botsotso and issues of the eponymous magazine, and I began to get a sense of the context in which Ike and others were performing and writing.

I learned that Botsotso had been founded in 1994, following the end of apartheid, by the Botsotso Jesters, a poetry performance group. Its first printed manifestation was as an insert in the New Nation, a now defunct weekly newspaper. Following the newspaper’s demise, Botsotso became a magazine in its own right and a publishing house.

Botsotso, therefore, is very much a post-apartheid, multidisciplinary art and literature project. “We speak particularly of art that is of and about the varied cultures and life experiences of people in South Africa – as expressed in all our many languages,” says a recent issue of the magazine.

I wanted to bring some news of this unique publishing and writing phenomenon to the UK, and in particular to the readership for adventurous writing that Reality Street serves. So Allan and I worked over a couple of years via email to put
this anthology together. And here it is.

Oh yes: “botsotsos” were the tight jeans favoured in Soweto in the 1950s – described as “strongly sewn”.

In : Reality Street 

Tags: poetry "south africa" 
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Ken Edwards This blog is written by Ken Edwards, co-founder and editor/publisher of Reality Street, and it's mainly about the press. Ken's personal blog can now be found at