I am thrilled to present the 2023 Brittle Paper Social Media Influencer of the Year award to Nokukhanya Ntsaluba (Instagram: @pretty_x_bookish) in recognition of her outstanding contributions toward promoting the visibility of African and African diaspora literature on Instagram and other social media platforms.

Ntsaluba was born and raised in Pretoria, South Africa, a place that has a special place in her heart. She currently lives in the UK where she is finishing up a PhD and splits her time between Pretoria and London, which she loves for its bookishness. Ntsaluba fell in love with reading at a young age, reading Mary Kate and Ashley books and going on library trips with her mother. She also had a Twilight phase during which she “fell in love with supernatural fiction.” Her connection to books has always been grounded in curiosity and an active imagination:

There was something so magical about the fictional worlds that the authors created – I wanted to live in all of these places and experience all of those things. Looking back I think a lot of my love of travel came from that – the wanting to see and explore and live a life as big as those characters in my books.

Instagram has provided a unique space for her to share her love for books. She told us that creating social content around books wasn’t something she actively sought out. Initially, it was a casual interest that she explored on her personal account, but it quickly evolved into a dedicated book account. She currently has 34k+ followers on Instagram where she shares stunningly colorful photographs of books and her life around books. She features engaging and insightful reviews, reading challenges, and fosters a vibrant community of avid readers. She is a curator par excellence of content around books and the breadth of her coverage is impressive.

The bookstagramming subculture has grown in the past few years, with publishers collaborating for book promotions. In 2021, Ntsaluba collaborated with the UK publisher Faber and Faber in a campaign to publicize Akwaeke Emezi Dear Senthuran and was commissioned to create beautiful photography inspired by the book. Bookstagram goes beyond showcasing reading material; it has become a platform for advocating for diverse voices and genres, particularly highlighting marginalized authors. This evolution is echoed by Ntsaluba who notes,

I think Bookstagram has become a lot more critically engaged in the last few years – which I think is a great thing. I think especially on Black Bookstagram – influencing has an element of substance and critical engagement with books, rather than just posting pictures. As someone who specialises in both aspects – the pretty pictures and the critical engagement – I am here for the shift.

Ntsaluba has created a truly special space that centers African and diaspora literature, as well as works by other writers of color. Her work has had real impact in the culture.

Her Instagram tagline, “Come for the books, stay for the aesthetics,” perfectly encapsulates the essence of her impact. Known for her well-curated page, she has cultivated a space where the love for books meets a visually stunning presentation. Her aesthetic is a vibrant display of bold colors and a fondness for floral and plant motifs, reflecting her personal tastes and the joy she finds in visual beauty.

A big part of my aesthetic and general vibe is the idea of romanticising reading as a practice – making it fun and sexy. I am a cafe connoisseur of sorts and I love nothing more than a solo reading date in a beautiful space.

The visual culture around African literature has significantly developed in recent years, with publishers of African books taking more care with cover design and art. We are grateful to creators like Ntsaluba for making spaces for showcasing this new aesthetic culture. We agree with fellow bookstagrammer Amyn Bawa-Allah who remarks that Ntsaluba makes reading cool:

Nokukhanya is the embodiment of “readers are baddies.” You can’t visit her page and not want to give reading fiction a chance. Whether she’s spotlighting her current read, an awesome bookstore, or is grabbing a drink at a local coffee shop, Nokukhanya, through her affable personality and candid opinions, has established herself as a voice to be trusted. Aside from the pretty pictures, her discerning taste is evident in the feedback from readers who trust her recommendations. I have to give her kudos for consistently reminding us that reading is cool. Bookstagram would be so boring without her.

We asked Ntsaluba about some of the big dreams she had for pretty_x_bookish:

One of the things I have in my mind is expanding my love of all things Black to include cafes, restaurants, hotels, events, etc. I think there is such an under-explored alignment between reading/books and other ways of self-care and enjoyment. I am so big into solo-travel and enjoying your own company – so I definitely see Pretty_x_Bookish becoming a space for Black women to find inspiration to not only read widely – but also enjoy themselves while doing it!

We wish her the very best on this journey. Congrats Ntsaluba! Kudos for all you do.