Publishers’ networks and the making of African literature

Locating communities of readers and writers

Authored by: Kate Wallis

Routledge Handbook of African Literature

Print publication date:  March  2019
Online publication date:  March  2019

Print ISBN:
eBook ISBN: 9781315229546
Adobe ISBN:


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In May 1964, UK book trade weekly The Bookseller reported on Heinemann’s successful launch of Chinua Achebe’s third novel Arrow of God in Lagos. This ‘publishers’ reception’ held on 4 April 1964 at the Bristol Hotel was heralded as ‘the most successful occasion of its kind yet to be held in Nigeria’, attended by 300 guests who included ‘the heads of various government departments, the editors of the principal newspapers, the leaders of Nigerian broadcasting, and prominent figures in industry, education, the law, medicine and the Churches’ (The Bookseller 1964). Later that same year in Nairobi, Heinemann launched Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s first novel Weep Not, Child at an event organised by South African writer Es’kia Mphahlele in collaboration with the ESA bookshop (Bejjit 2015, 229). It is possible to trace a number of significant intersections between these two launch events held in 1964 on opposite sides of the African continent, as well as the literary and publishing relationships out of which they emerge. The most immediately visible of these is both events being financed by London-based publisher William Heinemann with the intention of drawing attention and readers to their publishing of African writers, part of a strategy spearheaded by Alan Hill across the 1960s to capitalise on the expanding education and trade markets that had opened up in newly independent Africa while investing in local publishing and authors (Hill 1988, 122–123). Launched in 1962 the African Writers Series [AWS] formed a core part of this strategy, with Arrow of God and Weep Not, Child making the sixteenth and eighth titles in this series respectively.

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