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Publishing Africa Writers Series celebrates 50 years
This year bring the renaissance of the African Writers Series (AWS), now run by Pearson’s publishing arm Longman after the original publisher, Heinemann Educational Books, stopped issuing new works because of financial problems.
The AWS will be celebrating 50 years in 2012 with a series of events marking the anniversary.
Even though some, like Nigeria’s Wole Soyinka, condemned it as “the orange ghetto”, after the colour of its book jackets, the series has many defenders.
For many years, it was the only show in town.
Many wonder what could have been had Ngugi wa Thiong’o accepted the baton from inaugural editor Chinua Achebe, but the pair fell out over the debate around publishing in European and African languages.
The decline of the AWS began in 1982 when Heinemann was faced with debts, and the period known as Africa’s ‘book famine’ began.
“From15-20 titles published each year, the African Writers Series was cut down to two, and all the academic titles were stopped,” remembers James Currey, who edited the series from 1967 to 1984.
Africa Writes Back, Currey’s memoir-cum-history of the series, has just been translated into French and is essential reading for those who want to plunge back into the archives and reacquaint themselves with Ousmane Sembène, Ahmadou Kourouma and Ferdinand Oyono.
This article was first published in the 2012 February edition of The Africa Report, on sale at newsstands,
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