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A Renewed Interest in Literature from Africa: Trailblazer Cassava Republic Press to Launch in the United Kingdom

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Leading African publishing house Cassava Republic Press has announced that it will be launching in the United Kingdom, in order to “spotlight the vibrancy and diversity of prose by African writers on the continent and in the diaspora”.

Cassava is planning to kick off operations in the UK in April 2016, with a launch list that includes Elnathan John’s Born on a Tuesday, Sarah Ladipo Manyika’s Like A Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun, Leye Adenle’s Easy Motion Tourist, HJ Golakai’s The Lazarus Effect and Abubakar Adam Ibrahim’s Season of Crimson Blossoms.

It’s a prestigious list. John has been shortlisted for the Caine Prize for African writing twice, Manyika was the chair of judges for the 2014 Etisalat Prize for Literature, while Ibrahim was shortlisted for the Caine Prize in 2013, and currently serves as a judge for the Short Story Day Africa competition.

The internationally acclaimed The Lazarus Effect was longlisted for the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature, and shortlisted for both the Sunday Times Fiction Prize and the University of Johannesburg Debut Prize. Golakai’s new novel, The Score, was recently released in South Africa (read an excerpt).

Cassava Republic Press has its headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria, although founder Bibi Bakare-Yusuf is now based in London. Bakare-Yusuf will be joined by Emma Shercliff, formerly MD of Macmillan English Campus and head of export sales at Hodder Education.

“It is exciting to be launching Cassava Republic Press in the UK both as an intervention and as an opportunity to introduce the diversity of writings coming out of the continent,” Bibi Bakare-Yusuf (above) said in a press statement. “What we are doing is unprecedented: an African publishing house establishing a base in the UK after nearly 10 years in Africa rather than the reverse. This is the birthing of African publishing onto the world stage.”

Shercliff adds: “Having worked with Cassava Republic in Abuja for almost two years, I am delighted to be starting this new venture with Bibi in London.

“The feedback we have already received from the UK trade has been fantastic; there is a renewed interest in literature from Africa and we feel particularly excited about introducing some very special authors who are already celebrated in Africa, but practically unknown in the UK, to a wider audience.”

In partnership with the British Council as part of their UK/Nigeria 2015-16 programme, Cassava Republic Press will showcase the breadth of talent on the list across UK literature festivals next April. Today’s announcement coincides with a BBC Radio 4 special on the Nigerian literary scene, entitled ‘Writing a New Nigeria’, to be broadcast at 11.30am on Thursday 26th November and Thursday 3rd December, featuring publishers Bibi Bakare-Yusuf and Emma Shercliff and Cassava Republic Press authors Elnathan John, Abubakar Adam Ibrahim and Toni Kan.

As Chad Felix of Melville House says, “The stage is set.”

In the nine years since the founding of Cassava Republic, the house has curated an impressive list, which includes authors Teju Cole, Man Booker Prize-nominee Chigozie Obioma (The Fisherman), Mukoma wa Ngugi (whose Nairobi Heat and Black Star Nairobi were published by Melville House in 2011 and 2013 respectively), and Caine Prize-nominee Elnathan John (Born on a Tuesday). In addition to literary and crime fiction, the house also publishes a variety of non-fiction and children’s titles.

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In a video published two years ago, Bakare-Yusuf explains why she started Cassava Republic Press, and what her plans are:

“When I moved to Nigeria as an academic, there were all these interesting African writers being published abroad, and they’re not available locally – no one’s heard of them,” she says. “So I decided, ‘okay, I’m going to start a publishing company’. Cassava Republic Press. I knew nothing, nothing nothing nothing, about publishing! I knew everything about reading and writing, but nothing about the business of publishing.

“150 million people. 77 million of them young people under 30. How do we get those people reading? Those are the people I’m actually interested in converting. We want to convert minds. We want to convert them to question who they are, and also question society.”

Watch the video:

Cassava Republic Press from jolyon hoff on Vimeo.

 
Related stories:

Book details

Bibi Bakare-Yusuf photo courtesy of Vimeo

 

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