Legendary Kenyan publisher Henry Chakava celebrated his 70th birthday with the launch of the book Coming of Age: Strides in African Publishing at the Royal Orchid Azure in Nairobi on Thursday night. The evening was filled with folks from the publishing business as well as a few well known politicos like former deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi and Sabatia MP Alfred Agoi.
Henry Chakava known as ‘the father of Kenyan publishing’ has been a colossus in African publishing for decades. From editor at Heinemann Educational Books Kenya to being its managing director in four short years he was involved in the publication and promotion of high-profile African writers like Ali Mazrui, Chinua Achebe, Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye, Meja Mwangi, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o and Okot P’Bitek. He was a leading personality in the African Writer Series that we all grew up loving (and/or hating) from the Kenyan side of that project.
He set up East African Educational Publishers (EAEP) in 1992, on the footsteps of the exiting Heinemann Educational Books, extending the company’s footprint to Tanzania and Uganda and even further afield. Since then, Chakava has been at the forefront of publishing in the country with the core business of his company being on books for schools still with an eye for the fiction business.
In our earlier blog prompting this event, we had been under the impression that this new work was a memoir where he would be giving us a view of his life in the public domain. Nothing could be further from the truth. This book being launched on the day was essays from friends of Chakava speaking about the publishing business on the continent.
The essay that will of course be most spoken about will be by the “father of Kenyan writing” Ngugi Wa Thiong’o with the title, Henry Chakava: The Gory and Glory of African Language Publishing. Ngugi is universally famous for his rally cry to only write in indigenous African languages and this tribute to his publisher should be a must read for those of us who are his fans.
Also there is Micere Mugo, one of the most recognizable figures in Kenyan literature. She is famous for co-writing The Trial of Dedan Kimathi and she did a tour in the country last year that many will remember. Her, one explaining the importance of the links between Africans and African Americans, will be long remembered. Her essay African Orature: Back to the Roots is a must read.
Then there is David Maillu and his essay, Popular Fiction in Africa: Does it Have A Place? David Maillu came to the imagination of this blogger for his 1970’s/1980’s books After 4:30 and My Dear Bottle that had his senses racing with his description of oral sex that were unheard of beforehand. He has written more books since then and he has even been described by some as Africa’s most prolific novelist. Maillu is also a publisher so his essay should be quite interesting to publishers and writers alike.
Also with an essay are Kiarie Kamau who replaced Chakava as the boss at EAEP, James Currey, Simon Gikandi, Ayo Ojeniyi, James Tumusiime, Hans M Zeii, Francis M Nyamnjah, Roger Stringer, Mary Joy, Lily Nyariki, Richard A B Crabbe and, Marisella Ouma.
The book is widely available in bookstores. We recommend this one to all readers who want to know more about the business of publishing on our rock.