Precious Kemigisha, Regina Asinde, Prof Laban Erapu, Louise Umutoni talked about the current state of African publishing at the Uganda International Writers Conference 2017. They would also be moderated by Elone Natumanya.
The panel begun with what is starting to be a thing at this space as the moderator asked the panellists to introduce themselves. They started with Prof Erapu the university lecturer who has taught in Kenya, Uganda, Zambia and South Africa and who opted, like the elephant, to go home in his old age. He also has vast experience with the publishing industry in the countries he worked in with a stint at the Heinemann Publishers that brought us the legendary African Writers Series. He also has his own titles. Then there was Regina who landed in the publishing via teaching and business before being inspired by Goretti our chief host as a Femrite volunteer for a couple of years.
There was the Rwandan Louise who had been a journalist in Rwanda, Canada and the UK before starting on her journey to publishing on going back to home with Huza Press. Closing out the list of panellists was Precious who had been working in publishing the UK before being called by her mother who had set up Quiet Garden Publishers.
Prof who referenced his own novels and stories in his explanations spoke about the reading culture existing or not and concluded it was true that Ugandans don’t read. He had done models with his own stories and concluded that writers needed to find out what their audiences want to read and how they want to receive the reading. (*Cough*; I think they call that “research”).
He also addressed the Social Media elephant in the room. We are in Uganda so I guess we localise that to the Social Media gorilla in the room hey? Anyway his opinion was that it was has a transitory technological phase. Works of art are 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. Social media tapped that 1% but would go by the wayside as it lacked that 99% element.
He was disappointed at the quality of writers that he had been encountering recently. In the six years that he had been teaching literature at the Bishop Stuart University he had never see one top class student. Not one. :’(
He also challenged the next generation of writers. They should not always only look to their grandfathers; they should write their stories and go to them. Don’t give up. Just keep what do you are doing; just do it better.
Precious explained that when she came back to Uganda she saw challenges with the writers that she was trying to publish as they had challenges in the way they went about the publishing process. They were not familiar with the way stories are prepared. The sad thing was that there were many stories but they were being written by non-Ugandan writers. She gave the example of the book about the Aboke Girls kidnap, similar to the Chibok Girls one in Nigeria, which was written by a foreign journalist. They decided to go the route of training their writers that there was a way that stories could be told. At Quiet Garden, they believe that you can’t have writers without readers so they endeavour to cultivate both readers and writers.
On the media debate, she felt that we should use both social media and other media and be willing to experiment. She felt that publishers had a lot of work. She reminded them to remember the love of stories; they shouldn’t doubt that instinct but stir up that love.
Regina who set up her outfit Wordsmith’s Publishers felt that at the moment, the feeling was that successful African writers are the ones who are not within the continent. It was a case of stories coming from out there coming here. Her thing was to get the Africa writer with the African continent and get it out there to the world.
She recognised that distribution is a problem even as she started her outfit recently. She recommended for publishers to think beyond the box even if it means going door to door to sell the book.
Louise felt that as Africans we are all reading the same literature, a lot of Chimamanda and other Nigerian writers. The literature coming out today can be said to be quite similar.
She felt that it was not sufficient to have these insular discussions within our countries. Her solution was to establish a support network among writers and publishers especially in the East African region and across Africa. We needed to be working with other people across borders to get to the audiences out there.