Press release: Kwela Books celebrates Okay, Okay, Okay by Finuala Dowling

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This year Kwela Books, an imprint of NB Publishers, celebrates a quarter century of publishing books from Africa for Africa. The campaign includes a nine-month promotional programme featuring 100 past and present Kwela titles at participating bookstores countrywide. In October we celebrate one of our country’s finest novelists and poets, Finuala Dowling and the publication of her new novel Okay, Okay, Okay.

Dowling’s first poetry collection, I Flying, won the Ingrid Jonker Prize.  Her second collection, Doo-Wop Girls of the Universe, was joint winner of the Sanlam Prize for poetry, and her third, Notes from the Dementia Ward, won the Olive Schreiner Prize. She has read at the Aldeburgh Festival, at Snape Maltings, and at all major South African literary festivals.

Her first novel was What Poets Need, followed by Flyleaf and then The Fetch. Her short stories, poems and essays have appeared in several anthologies. She has also written comic skits and plays, winning the Spier/PANSA Audience Award. In 2016 she won the Herman Charles Bosman Award for The Fetch.

Dowling has an M.A. from the University of Cape Town and a D.Litt. et Phil. from the University of South Africa. Formerly an English lecturer, she now freelances as a poetry teacher and writer. She lives in Muizenberg with her daughter.

Did you know? 

  • Finuala is an Irish name which means “white shoulder” and relates to a myth about a swan.
  • She has given readings of her work at the Aldeburgh Festival in the United Kingdom, as well as at various literary festivals in South Africa.
  • Along with her sisters, Cara and Tessa Dowling, she has formed a theatre company called Dowling Sister Productions. They have regular music and reading events, as well as cabaret performances.

The four books included in Kwela’s October promotion include her new novel, a collection of her poetry (which includes old favourites and new work) and two new editions of older titles:

Okay, Okay, Okay (October 2019)

When a strike by the University of Adamastor’s technical staff coincides with a lull in sound operator Vida’s employment, she agrees to stage-manage a university event. There she meets the Head of Effective Communication, Simon Landor. He is caught up in a massive student protest and his communication is anything but effective. Vida, who rescues strays, whether pets or people, steps in.  A host of engaging characters populate this novel exploring communication and connection in a complex world.

“Alive with wit and intelligence and beautifully writtern, this novel will keep people talking and arguing              for a long time.” – Michiel Heyns

“How much do I love this author – let me count the ways. Like Jane Austen, she has a moral vision wrapped in humour. Like Middlemarch, she holds up a mirror to a provincial world that cuts down what it can’t see. And like Olive Shcreiner, the novelist recalled at the centre of Okay, Okay, Okay, she has the courage to speak truth to power. ” – Lyndall Gordon


Pretend You Don’t Know Me (August 2019)

Pretend You Don’t Know Me brings together in one volume the best of Dowling’s funny, poignant and idiosyncratic poetry from four earlier prize-winning collections, with a section devoted to new poems.

      This new collection contains her iconic poem ‘To the doctor who treated the raped baby and who felt such despair’ as well as Dowling’s tragi-comic cycle of poems on the theme of her mother’s dementia, and the hugely popular poems ‘Butter’ and ‘The abuse of cauliflowers’. At the heart of the book are the funny and poignant connections we make with other people, and the lifelong effort to stay whole.

Pretend You Don’t Know Me, by South African Finuala Dowling, is a witty and wise collection of new and selected poems. Her sequence about her mother’s dementia is very touching. Elsewhere, these vital works will have you crying with laughter.” – Jackie Kay, The Guardian (Books of the Year 2018)

Homemaking for the Down-at-Heart (first edition 2011)

Margot is a late-night talk radio host – the perfect job for an outspoken insomniac. Her Kalk Bay home is crowded with wonderfully evocative characters such as her teenage daughter, Pia, her hopelessly romantic yet mostly absent lover Curtis, and the family hanger-on, Mr Morland, a professional psychic. Finally there’s her mother, Zoe, once the acclaimed author of a quirky self-help volume with the same title, but now increasingly senile.

In this deeply moving novel Dowiling examines the fleeting and often so complicated moments of happiness in any household. A must-have for all bookshelves.


What Poets Need (first edition 2005)

Poet John Carson lives in a crumbling seaside house with his sister and niece. Winter is upon him, and he writes feverishly to the woman who has abandoned him as a lover yet kept him as a correspondent. Theresa: beautiful, generous . . . and married.

The occasional fleeting encounter between the lovers fuels John the writer, but leaves John the man close to despair. To keep his feelings in check, John loses himself in the details of his home life – the never-ending chores of domesticity, his niece’s mysterious eating disorder and the menu he is attempting to write in rhyming couplets save him from himself, most of the time. There is also the eccentric old woman who lives in their garden cottage and the poetry journal that he has just been appointed to edit.  

Will John and Theresa find a way to overcome everything that holds them apart or is a state of permanent longing, in fact, really what poets need?


Founded in 1994, with the advent of democracy, Kwela’s vision was to give a new generation of authors a voice and to document untold, uniquely South African stories. With the demise of apartheid, it not only became possible for writers of all races to express themselves freely for the first time, there were also many stories by talented authors waiting to be told. Kwela helped introduce these stories and authors, many of them now household names, to readers in South Africa and across the world.

Today, Kwela continues this legacy by producing English and Afrikaans fiction and nonfiction reflecting a contemporary South Africa with relevant local content that continues to resonate with readers.

Since 1994, Kwela Books has introduced readers to works by novelists, short story writers and poets such as Achmat Dangor (whose Bitter Fruit was the first novel published in South Africa to be shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize), K Sello Duiker, Kgebetli Moele, Sifiso Mzobe, Niq Mhlongo, Nozizwe Cynthia Jele, Zukiswa Wanner, Rayda Jacobs, Maxine Case, Ronelda Kamfer, Nathan Trantraal and Anchien Troskie – to mention but a few.

"It is a privilege to be part of an imprint with such a rich history in South African literature and to build on that legacy by continuing to publish excellent writing by a diversity of voices," says Carolyn Meads, fiction publisher at Kwela. 

Kwela authors are read around the globe – in addition to Europe, Great Britain, Scandinavia and the USA, also in countries such as China, Russia, Egypt, Thailand, Greece, Lithuania and Slovenia. International rights have been sold of 23 authors’ work – 36 titles in total.


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