IPA Seminar: Africa Rising.

The thought of speaking before an audience numbering a thousand or more filled me with an equal amount of excitement and queasiness, so much so that I almost bailed out. It was Gloria, my friend and editor who egged me on, reminding me importance of building networks and of Hekaya’s commitment as an emerging publisher in the culturally dynamic East African littoral creative space. It was an absolute joy when International Publishers Association Vice-President Bodour Al-Qasimi reached out and asked if I could speak at the seminar. The opportunity to talk about the little steps we are making in telling the coastal story and to hear what other established and emerging publishers are doing was always a welcome delight.

Again, the belief that the African book affair is a close knit frat, a beaded, colorful necklace with one bead leading to the other, was an assurance that attending the IPA seminar was part of an important process in the writing, hence publishing path that needed to be taken so as to realize our objectives as an emerging publisher in sub-Saharan Africa.

Talking of processes, just as individual progress is marked by a chain of processes (psychological. Academic etc.), we cannot deny the same for Initiatives and collectives. None can exist on its own without interacting with the rest, or in the very least, actions tailored to provide the supplements necessary to improve story telling in the continent. Hekaya is what it is because of a host of other processes, individuals and organizations from the Kwani? 2015 Creative Writing workshop, Writivism, Miles Morland Foundation workshop, AMLA (Art Managers & Literary Activists) Fellowship, the African Writers Trust Publishing Fellowship Workshop and the IPA Seminar.

We are truly grateful to these organizations, and to the writers, book consumers and our esteemed Swahili wazee at the coast for the confidence and immense support which has turned Hekaya’s endevours to collective attempts at promoting art and literature in our space.

The panel discussions at the IPA Seminar were meticulously put together to cover important aspects of the publishing industry in the continent, with this year’s theme “Africa Rising: Realising Africa’s Potential as a Global Publishing Leader in the 21st Century”. I had the pleasure of sharing the third panel on Day One with Dawn Makena (CEO, Storymoja Publishers), Dr. Peter Kimani ( Journalist & author of Dance of The Jacaranda ) and Thabiso Mahlape (Publisher, BlackBird Books), moderated by Maimuna Jallow.

I am familiar with the work of my fellow panelists, with Storymoja being the closest through the short story online course conducted by Muthoni Garland last year and their children’s books, most of which my children are reading. Thabiso has published Keletso, a writer friend from SA and I know Dr. Kimani through his published works. I’ve known Maimuna since her superb performance of Lola Shoneyin’s “The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives” at Writivism 2016 which i never shy away from sharing with anyone ho shows the slightest interest at what i love!

I thus felt safe in familiar company.

Our panel discussion was guided by the prodding heading “Developing Africa’s Next Generation of Publishers, Writers, and Artists”, seeking to peddle a conversation arising from two pertinent questions: How can the publishing industry be improved? How can the ecosystem evolve to develop the next generation of African publishers?

As was with the format of most of the discourse at the seminar- and largely due to the complexity of the main topic and presence of dynamic players in the publishing scene- switched between asking questions in one panel to getting solutions or answers in the next one. The progress from one panel discussion to the other, separated by fifteen-minute publishing ecosystem talks was seamless such that by the last session, enough had been said to snatch the topic “Africa Rising” from its discursive point at Movenpick to a more action-oriented conversations set to go on after the seminar had ended. Hopefully, this conversation and its action plans will inform, in part, Marrakesh 2020.

Among the many points raised, it is as important to build a generation of readers as it is to raise writers and publishers. Production and consumption dynamics are important in building a sustainable creative economy.

This concept rings very true of our immediate creative space. When we set up Hekaya in 2017, we figured it would be an easy affair sending submission call outs and publishing a regular online magazine, but the more we immersed ourselves in online production and content acquisition, the more we realized the importance of providing structures to improve the form and content of our writing.

The idea of building a generation of young readers and writers started this year with an attempt at working with existing reading clubs in coastal schools, spaces where teachers complain of a lack luster approach towards reading among students. Reading, as it turns out, is accorded an academic approach rather than a fun activity beyond school text, hence the diminishing the value of the book that is not considered as part of the school curricula. The reading clubs that we had targeted were almost nonexistent and we have to start afresh with most schools.

With this state of affairs, Prof Ngugi Wa Thiong’o’s theory of “invest-nurture-harvest” which he explained at the seminar, makes more sense because for Hekaya to succeed as a publisher, we need to produce content that is palatable for the global market, and this cannot be achieved if we do not invest in nurturing young talent in schools.

We believe that as small players in the over $1 Billion African publishing industry boasting of more than 500 million book buyers and an annual upward growth of 5% (Lagos Action Plan 2018-19: Quick Impact for The Future of African Publishing), nurturing talent from as early as kindergarten and having a space where we can absorb and mentor the same talent after high school is a sure way of guaranteeing that the coast not only has more readers, critical thinkers and writers but publishers (and leaders) as well.

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Writing the East African Coast.

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