Tuesday, July 07, 2009

African writing and publishing

I was part of a discussion on the World Service this afternoon on African writing (timed with the 10th year of the Caine Prize). You can listen to the show here and read the online comments here. I am on about 30 mins in.

Many of those calling in said they found African writing boring and associated it with passing exams. I think part of the reason John Grisham, Danielle Steele and the like are hugely popular in Africa is simply because they are highly readable, page-turning popular fiction works. African writing has not focused on popular fiction and sheer readability in recent years, with the exceptions of the Pacesetters series, Onitsa and Kano market literature and the love stories of Hints magazine in Nigeria, and their equivalents in other countries.

All these are recent history rather than contemporary goings-on however.

The Nigerian/African fiction market is like any fiction market anywhere - popular fiction sells way more than literary fiction. Grisham and the like simply fill the void. Things will change slowly, as we and our fellow publishers (such as Storymoja and Kwani in Kenya) across the continent develop writing that is ever more in tune with the tastes of the market. But there is first of all a publishing infrastructure to be built - bookshops, distribution systems, printing presses, functioning public libraries, well-funded libraries in schools and universities etc. Publishing in Africa cannot thrive until these things are in place.

It was great to be part of a conversation today connecting different corners of the continent and the world. I was only on the show because Bibi's flight was delayed. Long live Auntie!


Waffarian 9:52 pm  

Awwwwwwww so that's your voice? Now I feel quite close to you...hahahahahaha...

Well done. It was interesting although I thought you guys left out the aspect of "self publishing" which I think is quite huge, at least in Nigeria.

Anonymous,  4:17 pm  

the thing about Kano publishing is that while people like you think it is a good thing and is in step with popular culture, the Kano govt is doing everything in its power to disrupt the industry.

like the film industry, this is also under serious attack by the so called censorship board which classifies evil things like kissing and holding hands as unfit for public consumption.

maybe it's time forums like these highlight these problems and take govts like that to task.

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