This write up was first published in National Mirror
WHEN THE CULTURE RETURNS
by Uzezi Ekere
It is surprising that in a country where the culture of reading has been described as dead; people still have mountains of hope as they keep saying that our literature is growing.
“I think that our literature is growing,” Prof. Akachi Ezeigbo said. “New writers are coming on board all the time, and even the older names are still writing, and the quality of some the works being produced is encouraging, even though there is also a lot of improvement to do, but one expect that some will be very good, some will be good, some will be not too good, and some will be bad.”
When Okome Onookome had to say something on the growth of African literature, he said it was definitely growing.
“Nigeria Literature is doing well, as far as I can tell,” he said. “African Literature is doing well, but I think that Nigeria Literature stands out. I can give the example of Canada, where I have been for the past four years, teaching African Literature.”
With this view then, one would expect that all aspect of the industry would grow together; publishing, reading culture etc. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case.
Regardless of the fact that they say the publishing business is a non profitable one, more people are going into it, and even if there are not more, those there refuse to quit. In talking about the publishing business, it will be wise to differentiate between the publishers of educational books, and literature. While the former is a striving business, the same cannot be said about the later. For this, many people believe that a lot of factors could be responsible for it while others have ruled it to pure marketing strategy and a
passion for the business.
Sefi Atta once said that one problem facing the industry is publishing. And the difficulty of getting quality works to readers.
The compliant about the dwindling or dead reading culture, does not stop the releases of new books into the market, and whether they sell at all, is a question that demands an honest answer from the publishers.
Surprisingly, the publisher of Farafina, Muhtar Bakare, revealed that after getting the right to publish Chimamanda Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus for West Africa, he had an initial print run of 13,000 in 2004, and as of September last year, had sold twelve thousands copies, while ordering for more to be printed.
In as much as this figure might seem small compared to the number of copies of books sold in a week in the Western world for them to make the Best Sellers list, 12,000 copies sold in Nigeria of today, is an achievement, because most publishers wouldn’t publish more than 5, 000 copies of their first production.
Today in Nigeria, more and more writers are being discovered everyday, although some of them are yet to come out with a certified publication, the media recognizes them as upcoming talents with abundance of talents.
Unfortunately, despite this vote of confidence, very few or almost no publishers are taking interest in these writers, unless of course they get an opportunity to publish a book abroad, and make publicity. And with such publicity, it is then guaranteed that the reading Nigerian public will listen to them.
Publishing nevertheless, has always been a problem in this country, according to writer, Prof. Akachi Ezeigbo. “Even in the time of Achebe, it wasn’t anybody who scribbled anything that got published, even though it was easier for people who wrote well because there were publishers who were actually looking for writers, especially the African Writers Series. Today there are many publishers than was the case in the past. But then, many of them are publishing text books and things that will fetch money, such as biographical writings etc.”
Although, even if publishing has always been a pain in the neck, it has gotten worse today, despite the fact that there are more writers.
“Things began to fall apart for the Nigerian publishing industry when the military first intervened in the political arena in the early sixties,” said Muhtar Bakare in a presentation in the UK, in 2006. “They went on to destroy all social infrastructures. They mismanaged the economy and entrenched a culture of corruption. They added little to the infrastructure of commerce and allowed whatever existed hitherto to fall into disrepair. Of particular significance was their destruction of the educational system. This is would have wide-ranging consequences for a country where the language of the inchoate national culture, English, was not indigenous, but learnt in school.”
With this said, it becomes almost understanding when people argue that the slack in publishing also resulted to the waning interest in reading. Adewale Maja-Pearce said that if something has to be done, it should be done properly. “We don’t have standards,” he remarked. “We have the best in the world and very little belief in actual standards. I am very interested in trying to get books up to international standards but we don’t seem to be committed to doing that. Book publishing is not as it used to be. Taking the process from manuscript to a published book is a big step. You have to work on the book. Proper editing and packaging are very critical issues in the market. I am also aware that people have been saying for a long time that there is no reading culture in Nigeria. The problem as I see it is that books are expensive, so they are out of reach for many. Affordability is therefore a basic problem. Also, there is not much infrastructure on ground. It should indeed be possible to print cheap editions of books.”
Gradually, the reading public is beginning to wake up to the news of new and good writers, books properly packaged and affordable, as Farafina opened the doorway for others publishers to follow, by publishing well put together books that are affordable. As the culture returns, there are hopes that things in the publishing industry will change; that more writers living at home will be given an opportunity and foreign publishers will come buying publishing rights from Nigerian publishers. And fortunately, there are possibilities considering how the literary circle of Nigeria and Africa has changed in the last ten years.
Finally, when this culture of good writers, good reading public, and good publishing is achieved, the old generations writers, like Achebe, Ike, Soyinka, can relax, that what they started will not wither away once they are gone.