A chat with bookseller Kays Mguni of Xarra Books

Towards the end of 2006, Xarra Books, run by Kays Mguni and June Josephs, opened its doors in Newtown, Jo’burg, becoming an instant cultural landmark. Eleven years later, having moved briefly to Constitution Hill in Braamfontein, the bookstore has new premises in Midrand. Phakama Mbonambi talks to Mguni about the store’s new lease on life.

What’s special about the books you stock?

We mainstream the African book: biographies, life stories, lifestyles, African history and literature classics, food, travel, and so on. The books are from across the African continent and the African Diaspora.

Why did you move from Constitution Hill to Midrand?

Our sister company System Innovation Group, bought a building in Midrand and invited us to share the space. We felt Midrand provided better access for all our Gauteng customers. The traffic of customers at Constitution Hill was woeful and the costs too high. To stay afloat, we decided to move, as well as aggressively build our online store.

How does Xarra Books support emerging writers and publishers?

We’re excited about our new publishing wing. Our initial publishing contracts are with well known writers but our long-term intention is to uncover new talent. We also wish to buy rights to some celebrated classics by African writers, which often go out of print due to a lack of sponsorship or excitement in traditional publishing houses and bookstores.

How do you see the future of African publishing?

New publishing houses are cropping up all over the continent, many owned by young Africans. The future looks bright; African stories have been under-told for too long. Young people are aware of that, which is what triggers change. The realisation that colonial symbols should fall is also a clarion call for African writing to come to life.

Find Xarra Books: 264 Turbit Avenue, Halfway House, Midrand, 1685. Visit: www.xarrabooks.com or tel: 011 312 7582

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