Thursday, June 6, 2013

Telling Zim story through literature

 from Daily News. Sunday May 19, 2013

BULAWAYO‑BASED co‑director of amaBooks Publishers Brian Jones believes they have made a contribution to Zimbabwe's literature industry for the past decade despite a decade of economic hardships in the country.

AmaBooks is one of the few publishing houses in the country that have given space to both upcoming and established writers and the chance to expose their talents.

Daily News on Sunday's Jeffrey Muvundusi spoke to Brian Jones (BJ). Below are excerpts of the interview:

JM: May you briefly tell us about your organization and yourselves?

BJ: AmaBooks Publishers is a Bulawayo‑based book publishing company run by myself and Jane Morris. I am an astrophysicist and presently a Professor Emeritus of Applied Mathematics at the National University of Science and Technology in Bulawayo. Jane's background is in literature, social work and training. She is the editor of AmaBooks.

Brian Jones and Jane Morris
JM: How did you start this project?

BJ: AmaBooks started in 2000, by accident. Jane was involved with training volunteers for the charity Childline in Bulawayo, and the publication of a book of poetry was suggested as a way of raising funds.
The award‑winning Bulawayo poet John Eppel offered a selection of his work, and his Selected Poems. 1965‑1995 was published, with all proceeds going to Childline. It sold well, and so ‘amaBooks was born.

JM: How many books have ‘amaBooks published to date?

BJ: Since then we have published 26 books including novels and collections of short stories, which feature a total of 123 writers.

JM: How do you rate your organisation?

BJ: We have done well despite the economic challenges. Some of he books have won awards, including National Arts Merit Awards and Zimbabwe Book Publishers Association awards.

Some have had recognition on a wider scale ‑ Christopher Mlalazi’s short story collection ‘Dancing with Life’ and Sandisile Tshuma's story ‘Arrested Development’ winning honourable mentions in The Noma Award for Publishing in Africa and the Thomas Pringle Awards respectively and ‘Long Time Coming. Short Writings from Zimbabwe’ being selected by the ‘New Internationalist’ as one of their best two books from across the world in 2009.

JM, What are your challenges?

BJ: The reality is there is a small book buying public and over the years the book industry, like any other industry, suffered due to the poor performance of the economy.

People often do not read for pleasure but towards success in their academic studies or for professional purposes.

JM: So what can you say is the major objective of this project?

BJ: One of our aims was to give a voice to Zimbabwe writers who had previously been unpublished, publishing them alongside more established authors. We achieved this through the Short Writings series, of which five have been published to date, the first being Short Writings from Bulawayo and the most recent,Where to Now? Short Stories from Zimbabwe.

JM: What's your take on Zimbabwean authors?

BJ: There are many excellent Zimbabwe writers out there, each with wonderful stories to tell. As ‘amaBooks, we wanted these stories to be available to people across Zimbabwe, and across the rest of the world.

JM: What are you doing in terms of uplifting the book industry?

BJ: We have recently entered into co-publishing and rights agreements with several publishers in other countries.
We recently entered into an agreement with World Reader, so that many of our titles and some individual stories from those titles, are available digitally, to be read on e-readers and cell-phones, to children and their families across Africa.
We are also in discussions with publishers in South Africa and the United Kingdom about the co-publication of two further novels and a poetry collection.
Most AmaBooks publications are available outside of Africa through the African Books Collective on a print-on-demand basis and as e-books.
In order to reach a wider readership, we have participated in the Jozi, Cape Town, London and Frankfurt Book Fairs to promote the books.

JM: Any notable progress from your products?

BJ: Bryony Rheam's debut novel, ‘This September Sun’, which won Best First Book at the Zimbabwe Book Publishers Association awards and is a set book for Zimsec 'A’ level Literature in English, and the collection ‘Where to Now? Short Stories from Zimbabwe’ have been published in the United Kingdom by Parthian Books and distributed in North America by the Independent Publishers Group.
The late Julius Chingono and John Eppel's collection of poems and stories, ‘Together’, has been published by the University of KwaZulu-Natal Press in South Africa and the University of New Orleans Press in North America.
For the first time in 2012, the stories from the Caine Prize for African Writing were available in Zimbabwe, ‘African Violet’ being co-published by New Internationalist in the United Kingdom, by ourselves and by six other African publishers.

JM: What does your organisation really intend to achieve?

BJ: The aim of ’amaBooks is also to have Zimbabwe stories available to all within Zimbabwe.
Our books are on sale through many outlets in both Bulawayo and Harare. But the economic problems over the last decade have led to the closure of many bookshops or to them concentrating solely on texts for schools.
To give those outside the main population centres and those who cannot afford to buy books an opportunity to read local stories, ’amaBooks donated more than 400 books to rural and city libraries at a ceremony during the 2012 Zimbabwe International Book Fair in Bulawayo.
To encourage interest in local writing we have taken an active role in literary arts at the Intwasa Arts Festival koBulawayo and  several workshops for young writers. We have also donated books and helped with reading clubs in the high-density areas of Bulawayo.
So far, their publications have all been in English, but, with the support of the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa, amaBooks is in the process of having ‘Where to Now? Short Stories_from Zimbabwe’ translated into Isi Ndebele, as ‘Siqondephi Manje? lndatshana zasezimbabwe’. The book will be published later this year.

JM: Tell us about the future?

BJ: AmaBooks will keep publishing great Zimbabwean stories, and work hard to get those stories read by as many people as possible in Zimbabwe and in the rest of the world.
We are also keen to have new writers come and have their voices heard through us.

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