Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Monday, September 11, 2017

The 2017 Caine Prize Anthology in Zimbabwe

Just arrived from the printers - The Goddess of Mtwara - with stories from the five shortlisted for the 2017 Caine Prize for African Writing and from the eleven writers from across Africa who attended the Caine Prize Writers' Workshop.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Interview: amaBooks, a Zimbabwean Publisher

Thoughts from Botswana by Lauri Kubuitsile

Writings and thoughts from Motswana writer, Lauri Kubuitsile

Reproduced from https://thoughtsfrombotswana.blogspot.com/2017/09/amabooks-zimbabwean-publisher.html

amaBooks, A Zimbabwean Publisher

amaBooks is a respected publisher located in Bulawayo. They’ve published work by some of the most well-known Zimbabwean writers including Tendai Huchu, John Eppel, NoViolet Bulawayo, and Petina Gappah, among others.  It’s run by the irrepressible Jane Morris and her husband Brian Jones. I had the chance to interview Jane about amaBooks, the conversation is below.

Can you tell me a bit about how you started your publishing house?

We could have called ourselves Accidental Publishers rather than amaBooks as we had not planned to start a publishing company. So, no research, no business plan, little knowledge of publishing. At the time, in 2000, I was working as a social worker and trainer and was involved in training volunteers for a charity involved in helping children. Short of money to run the charity, we approached the Bulawayo-based writer John Eppel who kindly donated a collection of his poems. But how to get it published? My husband and I decided to take on the task and, although I had a background in literature (my husband Brian is a scientist), we had little idea of what publishing a book entailed. It was a steep learning curve – ISBN, paper quality, book format, font type, size of print run, origination, pricing, launch, distribution, promotion… We were lucky to find a sympathetic printer who guided us through many of the steps. And months down the line we ended up with John Eppel: Selected Poems 1965 – 1995. Within six months all 1000 copies of the collection had been sold, with all profits to the charity. We were hooked and when John Eppel suggested starting a publishing house as he had a couple of novels waiting to be published we thought why not? It wasn’t the most propitious time to start the business as Zimbabwe’s economy had started its steady decline but we love books and were excited at the prospect.

How is the trade market in Zimbabwe?

When we began amaBooks the economy hadn’t completely crumbled so there was a better trade market and we could look to selling 1000 copies of a title, sometimes a little more. Our print runs have grown progressively smaller with the decline in book sales. We specialise in fiction and, unlike Germany for instance, where fiction is the strongest segment with 32% of the total market, fiction sales in Zimbabwe are a small proportion. With the high level of unemployment here and the poor economy, people are generally loath to spend any of their income on buying a book. Added to this is the difficulty of finding books for sale, with many bookshops having closed.

What is your approximate percentage of trade sales and educational sales? Do you consider yourselves trade publishers primarily?

We are first and foremost trade publishers and our sales are almost exclusively outside the educational system. A book being accepted as part of a curriculum is an added bonus, but that it not our original intent in publishing a title. As an independent publisher we have the freedom to publish what we choose, though there are, of course, financial constraints that have prevented us publishing all the books we would have liked to bring out.

Do you do a lot of development of writers? If so how do you approach it?

amaBooks don’t tend to give detailed feedback to writers when they submit a manuscript. We have, however, organised workshops for writers who have already had some success in being published and for those who aspire to be published, either run by ourselves or by experienced writers. As well as workshops aimed at improving writing skills, we have organised sessions on reading your own work and on looking at other avenues open to writers to help make a living. Working with new writers has been a significant part of our work as publishers. From the beginning we decided that we wanted to provide an opportunity for new writers to get published. We thought that a good way to do this was to showcase their work, alongside that of more established writers, in collections of short writings. To date we have published around 250 writers. Hopefully the editing process provided an input to the development of the writers and we have gone on to publish books by a number of the writers whose work first appeared in the short writings collections, including Christopher Mlalazi, Bryony Rheam and Deon Marcus. We have also helped to organise reading groups as we strongly believe that writers should be readers; hopefully, by enthusing the participants about literature, some may go on to become writers and some may come our way.
Workshops on publishing, which we have run, with themes such as how to approach a publisher and the difference between traditional publishing and self-publishing and all in between, have attracted much interest.

What do you see as the biggest challenge for publishers on the continent? Do you manage to sell your books in other African countries? This seems to be a real challenge for most publishers.

Distribution is a major problem, both within and outside Zimbabwe. We would love our books to be available throughout the continent and to have more books by African writers available here, but the cost of transport is prohibitive. Being a very small publisher getting our titles onto the shelves of major chains is very difficult so we tend to concentrate on independent bookshops, though that tends to be limited to South Africa. If one of our writers attends a festival, or we attend a book event, that is an opportunity to sell a few copies, and to develop links.
We are keen to sell rights across Africa and have had some success with other African countries – Nigeria and, through Nigeria, the other ECOWAS countries and Cameroon, Kenya with Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan, South Africa and Egypt.
We continue to try to think of innovative ways of getting our books out there. Our titles are available as ebooks on many sites, and the African Books Collective distribute for us outside of Africa.
 Despite its many challenges, Zimbabwe seems to have quite a thriving literary community and quite a few successful writers especially if you compare it to Botswana. Why do you think that is the case?
Zimbabwe has many good writers, quite a few having received international acclaim; names that come to mind are Yvonne Vera, Doris Lessing, NoViolet Bulawayo, Dambudzo Marechera, Petina Gappah and Tendai Huchu. As to why this is, there is a tradition of valuing education and reading, Zimbabwe still has the reputation of having a high literacy rate. And there is plenty to write about in Zimbabwe, though I guess the same could be said of many other African countries.
When we started amaBooks many of the writers were still in Zimbabwe and there was a thriving literary community here but, sadly, due to a myriad of reasons, including the economic and political climate, many are now based in the diaspora. We have just finished compiling a short story collection, Moving On, and, of the twenty Zimbabwean contributors, more than half live outside Zimbabwe.

What do you think have been the biggest successes for amaBooks?

How to measure success? For me, one success, despite all the stressful times, has been the joy that amaBooks has brought into our lives, being greeted in the streets of Bulawayo with ‘Hey amaBooks’.
Getting good reviews from readers and critics is one of the things we value most. We love what we do and it is heartening when others enjoy the books we have brought out. We enjoy collaboration and getting our books accepted by publishers in other countries is very exciting – the thought of expanding the readership beyond Zimbabwe. As well as selling rights to other publishers in Africa, we have sold rights in Europe, in North America and recently to the Arab world.

Our most successful book has been the prize-winning novel This September Sun by Bryony Rheam. It was accepted for the ‘A’ level syllabus in Zimbabwe and also sold well to the general public. Other publishers have brought the book out in Kenya and the UK, and a publisher in Egypt is having the book translated into Arabic to distribute in the Arab world.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Tendai Huchu at Glasgow's Byres Road Book Festival

Tendai Huchu will be talking about his novel The Maestro, The Magistrate and The Mathematician at Hillhead Library, 348 Byres Road, Glasgow on Sunday 24 September from 12.30. Entrance is £3. The event is part of the Byres Road Book Festival. Tendai will be in discussion with Kaite Welsh, whose latest novel, The Wages of Sin, a historical crime novel set in the underworld of Victorian Edinburgh was published in June 2017.

This is the second Byres Road Book Festival, after a great inaugural year in 2016. There are a broad range of events and activities that  will engage all ages and many interests.
Amongst more than twenty events in this programme you’ll find witty Gaelic women, four crime writers in search of a plot, a poet working with a cartoonist, one of Scotland’s finest literary Irish imports, superheroes, an innovative project by Scottish PEN, and, of course, Tendai Huchu.

So, if you are near Glasgow that weekend, come to the West End for a September Weekend filled with books, conversations and laughter, and spend some time exploring all that Byres Road and the lanes have to offer.  

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Why Read? by Lauri Kubuitsile

    Serendipity. We have been running a series on our blog, 'Why I Read' and, today, we read Lauri Kubuitsile's column 'It's All Write' in Mmegi, where she asks other writers 'Why Read?'. Lauri kindly agreed for us to post the column here.

In interviews and when I’m on panels at literary festivals I’m often asked about the importance of reading, especially for writers. For me it seems crazy that a person would choose not to read, especially fiction. From as soon as I learned to read I knew that books held thousands and thousands of lives that I could step into just by opening the covers. I’ve never understood a person who would choose to live a single life when they could live hundreds of different lives. And as for a writer who doesn’t read—or me that’s a person who can’t be taken seriously. Books are your school. You can attend as many writing workshops and MFA programmes as you like, but if you don’t read, your writing will show it. It makes no sense to me.
            I decided to ask some of my writing friends the question: “Why read?” Below are their beautiful answers.
“To develop a critical skeleton. As someone who struggles to read recreationally — preferring theory or critical opinion driven writing — I read because it keeps me thinking of multiple approaches to subjects. However, when I do sit with a casual book, it also adds to my conception of self and my library of imagery, metaphors, and expressions. It gives me the opportunity to discover how other people express things that I have felt or experienced but never had the words to use. That's why, for me, reading is necessary.” - Katlego K Kol-Kes, poet, performer, and writer
“Reading is mind-food, and the only key to the encyclopaedia of life. One must read, the same way one eats nutrients. Without a nutritious diet, malnutrition sets in, and so it is with the mind; it deteriorates for lack of feeding. Today’s healthy & successful lifestyle is in the written word; that’s our life manual for raising children, successful relationships, wellbeing, wealth creation etc.
Your mind has limitless growth for success when you read, but when deprived of such feeding, it only grows into a vegetable. Reading is an acquired excellent habit that is easy to develop; start slowly and watch your interest grow.  -Andrew Sesinyi, writer
 "I read stories to widen my ears to the lives I've never lived. Because a person is only given one lifetime, but that does not stop us from living  through the eye's of others." - Tiah Beautement, writer

 “I've been to France under Louis the XVI; the Carribean in the late 19th Century; India in the glory days of the Maharajas; America as it was "discovered" and Botswana before it was a Protectorate of the British Crown. I have also been to the future. And yet I was born in 1976. 
Why read? 
Because reading carries you to lands unknown in the past and worlds not yet seen in the future. In the present though, reading takes you to countries you may not be able to afford to go to and then you realize how we all love, laugh, hurt and ache. Reading shows you that the other may just not so much be another but a lot like you. That someone somewhere has experienced the struggles you have which you assume are unique to you. I read because I seek to understand.”- Zukiswa Wanner, writer
“Reading is especially imperative for writers for the simple reason that you can’t write if you don’t read. Writers must be readers and they must do so intensely… and extensively!”- Barolong Seboni, poet and writer
“Reading is an escape that allows me to travel anywhere in the world and intimately know a people, culture, food and walk with the locals. It is a great workout for the brain, entertaining and greatly increases knowledge”. - Caiphus Mangenela, writer

“Read to understand yourself and others, to investigate human nature, to experience the full spectrum of human emotion, to develop empathy and compassion, to see different perspectives, to learn new things, to explore new places and to stay sane in an insane world.” -Cheryl Ntumy, writer

 Lauri Kubuitsile is an award-winning writer living in Botswana. She has numerous published books for both kids and adults, across various genres, and her short stories have been published around the world. She has won the Pan-African prize for Children's Writing, The Golden Baobab (twice), the Bessie Head Literature Award for short story, the 2007 AngloPlatinum Short Story Contest, and the Botswana's Department of Arts and Culture, 2007 Botswerere Award for Creative Writing. Lauri was shortlisted for the 2011 Caine Prize. 

Monday, August 21, 2017

Poetry, Wine and Togara Muzanenhamo in Slovenia

If you are interested in poetry and wine, and happen to be in Slovenia this week, why not pop along to the 'Days of Poetry and Wine Festival', featuring, amongst others, Zimbabwean poet Togara Muzanenhamo.

On Tuesday 22 August, Togara will read from his work with China's Ouyang Jianghe and India's Sharmistha Mohanty at the Villa Podvin in Radovljica from 19.00 to 22.00.
As well as poetry, there will be tasting of Marof wines, with dishes by Chef Uros Stefelin.
Entrance: 5 EUR, includes 2 glasses of wine.

On Friday 25 August at 8pm, there will be another reading by Togara, this time with America's Ani Gjika and Mexico's Pura Lopez Colom, at Franc Ksavar's Meska Ormoz Library, again as part of the 'Days of Poetry and Wine Festival'.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Why I Read: Raisedon Baya

My first serious read was a strange one – very strange for a young boy living right in the middle of the township. I was in Form 1 at Sobukhazi Secondary School and had just joined the Mzilikazi Community Library’s senior section. Why I joined the library when most of my friends and young boys my age were not members, and not interested in becoming members of the library, I don’t know even up to this day. Some of my friends and peers even went to their graves without seeing the inside of a public library.

Books were not the in thing for young boys growing up in Makokoba then. Young boys my age played hard, smoked hard, gambled hard, and hustled hard. There was no time to waste, no time for books and what many called girlish activities. The decision to join the library changed the course of my life and steered me away from danger and early death.

So there I was in the library, moving from one shelf to another looking for my first serious read. The library was always a cool place. The place had a good air conditioner that tirelessly blew a soft breeze around the room. Its floors were always sparkling clean as if the building didn’t belong in the township. You entered the building and immediately forgot that you were in the middle of Mzilikazi Township. After walking around, marvelling at the stacks and stacks of books neatly covered in plastic, I stopped at the African Section. This section was to become my favourite corner of the library for many years.

I remember picking a few titles before I saw it. I don’t know what drew me to the book but I remember holding Buchi Emecheta’s The Joys of Motherhood in my hands and feeling very excited. A strange choice for a young boy you might think. Why this particular title I have always wondered. I was just a boy, and very adventurous too, so why was I attracted to The Joys of Motherhood? My mother was not a joyful woman or mother then – she had too much to do and too many children to look after for her to sit down and savour the real joys of motherhood. Perhaps I took the book because it was the kind of book I wished her to read – just so that for a moment she could feel some happiness for contributing to the human race. (The basis of the novel is the necessity for a woman to be fertile, and above all give birth to sons – and my mother has six sons!)

Whatever the reason, I took the book home and plunged into the world of literature. My love for words and my serious flirtation with literature began that week. I was also very lucky to have a big brother who was an avid reader as well. My brother read anything printed. He ate words for breakfast, lunch and supper. He devoured books, in all their sizes, shapes and smells. He introduced me to the likes of Desmond Bagley, Robert Ludlum and to naughty writers like James Hadley Chase and Nick Carter. I remember him trying to hide Nick Carter's novels from me but I always found them.  I learnt to read faster so as not to get caught or to avoid him taking the books back before I finished reading.

In books I discovered a lot. I discovered priceless treasures. I discovered things neither my parents nor friends and peers could tell me. I discovered a world bigger and much better than Makokoba, Mzilikazi and the other townships I knew. I discovered that words could give me wings, wings I used to fly to places far and beyond. Books took me to countries I never imagined, books introduced me to many cultures. I travelled to Nigeria, South Africa, Ghana, Kenya, Cameroon, Senegal and other African countries – countries I didn’t even know where to place on the world map – through the eyes of writers like Ngugi, Es’kia Mphahlele, Njabulo Ndebele, Ousmane Sembène, Kalu Okpi, Micere Mugo, Can Themba, Grace Ogot, Nadine Gordimer, Wole Soyinka, Miriama Bâ and Chinua Achebe. I travelled to Europe and America on the pages of works by the likes of Agatha Christie, Desmond Bagley, Jeffrey Archer, Len Deighton, Leo Tolstoy and many, many others. Long before I knew what a passport was I had crossed borders. I was introduced to fascinating characters by these writers, some of these characters have stuck with me to this day.

I discovered that I could temporarily escape the poverty and monotony of township life through the pages of a book. Books became some form of escapism. With the years I realized the more I read the more better I became at seeing the world. The more I read the more I saw possibilities of getting out of the township. The more I read the more I wanted to write, to share my own stories – stories about where I came from and the people around me. I suddenly wanted my life, my friends’ lives and the world I lived in to also be on pages of books. Reading inspired me to write. 

Now I read for pleasure. I read to escape the harsh realities of my surroundings. I read to expand my horizons and knowledge base.  I read to feed my insatiable brain. Sometimes I read just to experience the sumptuous taste of good words strung joyfully together into beautiful phrases and sentences. – remember writing is like cooking, it’s art. I read because there is nothing that uplifts my spirits better than good literature. I read because there is so much joy wrapped up in ink and paper and this joy is much better than pizza, a box of chocolates or a bottle of wine. And so today I say enough respect to all writers and storytellers of the world. Thank you for writing and keep the stories coming.

Raisedon Baya is a leading playwright, theatre director and festival manager based in Bulawayo. He has published a novel, Mountain of Silence, an anthology of plays, Tomorrow’s People, and features in an anthology of folktales, Around The FireFolktales from Zimbabwe. Some of his stories appear in Short Writings from Bulawayo II and III, and Where to Now? Short Stories from Zimbabwe, and his short story 'The Initiation' is to appear in Moving On and Other Zimbabwean Stories.
A former teacher and National Arts Council employee who worked at ZBCtv as a producer and commissioning editor, he has written over a dozen critically acclaimed and award-winning plays for television and stage. Several of his plays have toured Africa and Europe.
Two of his plays, Super Patriots & Morons and The Crocodile of Zambezi, are banned in Zimbabwe. In 2009 Raisedon Baya was a recipient of the Oxfam Novib/PEN Award for Freedom of Expression. He writes a weekly arts column for The Sunday News.