Rest in Peace: Jonathan Ball (1951 – 2021)

09 Jun 2021

It was with great sadness that the board of PEN South Africa learned of the passing of the remarkable South African publisher, Jonathan Ball, on April 3rd 2021.  Jonathan’s storied career- from his first job at Collier-Macmillan, to his launching of his independent eponymous press in 1976 (headed up by editor-in-chief, Alison Lowry), is inextricably tied to the development of a strong publishing industry in South Africa. His determination to find works that challenged power led to the publishing of some of our most important contemporary books, among them, Andrew Feisntein’s After the Party, and Mark Gevisser’s biography of Thabo Mbeki, A Dream Deferred.

On a personal note, Jonathan Ball Publishers has been home to several PEN South Africa Board members. The company also showed kindness to PEN SA in 2018 by allowing us to hold our board meetings in their beautiful offices.

In this season of sadness and loss, the South African literary community mourns the passing of a person who did so much to advance our writers and our writing. We send our deepest condolences to his family and loved ones during this time, to his colleagues at Jonathan Ball, and to all the writers he published.

Below are two notes of remembrance from Jonathan Ball Publishers[YO1] [JG2]  authors and SA PEN board members, Margie Orford and Sisonke Msimang.

 I’ve always been so honoured to have been published by the press that carries Jonathan Ball’s  name and I regret not knowing him personally […]  my condolences to the whole team, and know that I remain forever indebted to Jonathan and the entire Jonathan Ball family.” – Sisonke Msimang

Jonathan Ball was a wonderful publisher. An absolute champion of ‘his’ authors, he believed in his writers’ work and originality. He had very definite views of his own but such an open mind to opinions that differed from his. He was generous and lived life to the full. Dinners with Jonathan to celebrate a new book were memorable. And left me with more than one hangover. He could be irascible at times but he had great charm and a sharp intelligence that cut through sentimentality and platitudes (by which I mean bullshit). It was and remains an honour to be published by Jonathan Ball. His legacy is his list of writers and the fine publishing team that runs Jonathan Ball Publishers. A special acknowledgement to the publishers I have had the privilege to work with – Jeremy Boraine and Nkanyezi Tshabalala. Jonathan will be greatly missed.- Margie Orford.


The Board of PEN South Africa