Drawing on her years of publishing experience and love of African culture, Jessica Powers, YA author and longtime editor and publicist at Cinco Puntos Press, has started Catalyst Press. The indie publisher will focus initially on contemporary African literature, as well as graphic novels based on African historical events and figures.
Catalyst Press is launching with four titles this fall, and has distribution through Consortium. The house's initial list will include three adult novels released under the Catalyst imprint, in addition to the first title in the African Graphic Novel Series, a line of YA graphic novels based on African historical events and figures.
The adult novels include We Kiss Them with Rain by Futhi Ntshingila, which is a literary fiction set in a South African squatter camp that mixes humor and tragedy; Dark Traces by Martin Steyn, a murder mystery set in Cape Town; and Sacrificed by Chanette Paul, an epic thriller set in Belgium and Africa.
The graphic novel Shaka Rising: A Legend of the Warrior Prince, by Luke Molver and Mason O’Connor, offers a revisionist view of the life of Shaka Zulu, the legendary Zulu King. This book, and the rest of the African Graphic Novel Series, will be published by Story Press Africa, a Catalyst Press imprint that is also a co-publishing venture with the South African multi-media producer Jive Media Africa.
Powers, who is from El Paso, Tex., has worked for Cinco Puntos (which is based in El Paso) since 2002. Cinco Puntos is an award-winning indie that specializes in bilingual books in Spanish and English, as well as books aimed at under-served communities.
As an author, Powers has published YA novels with Knopf (The Confessional, 2007), and Cinco Puntos (This Thing Called the Future 2011). Her new YA novel, Broken Circle, co-written with her brother, M.A. Powers, will be published by Akashic Books in October.
Powers' books have explored the racial dynamics of Mexican and Mexican-American young men, but she also emphasized her love of African culture. She first visited Kenya as a college student and now has two graduate degrees in African Literature. She also speaks Zulu.
Catalyst Press, she said, is the result of multiple visits with African publishers. Two of the adult novels on Catalyst's first list, Sacrificed and Dark Traces, are, Powers said, "collaborative publications with Afrikaans-language publisher Lapa Uitgewers."
The graphic novels being co-published with Jive Media Africa, Powers said, will be based on new historical scholarship. She said they will "look at African history in a new light" and "promote an understanding of Africa as a continent rich in history, tradition and culture."
Catalyst Press will be financed by Powers, who credited her years at Cinco Puntos with preparing her to be a publisher. “I’m an author, editor, and publicist. At a small press everyone does everything.” In the spirit of doing everything, Powers is also keeping her day job.
“I’m continuing to work for Cinco Puntos even as I launch Catalyst Press and Story Press Africa. I am as excited by this venture as I am deeply in love with Africans and the continent of Africa.”