AiW note: To celebrate the past thirty years of independent distributing and bookselling at African Books Collective (ABC), we are running a series highlighting the wonderful work of those who make up ABC. We will be talking to some of the publishers from the collective, gathering their Words on the Times, an AiW Q&A series that invites collective reflections on the way the COVID-19 pandemic has transformed our work and our communities.
ABC is an African owned, worldwide marketing and distribution outlet selling books from Africa. ABC’s wide-ranging catalogues promote big and small academic presses, children’s books publishers, NGO and writers’ organisations, and literary presses. They also run the website readafricanbooks.com which profiles the work of African publishers and books. We started the series with a Q&A and Words on the Times with ABC CEO, Justin Cox, and last week we talked to Nick Mulgrew from uHlanga Press for his Words on the Times.
Today, we caught up with Francis Nyamnjoh and Kathryn Toure from Langaa Research and Publishing Common Initiative Group (Langaa RPCIG). Langaa is located in Bamenda and Buea in Cameroon, although its members and volunteers operate from different parts of the world. The mission of Langaa is to contribute to the cultural development and renaissance of Africa through conducting research, providing training in research and writing, and publishing and promoting African scholarship and creative writing. Langaa, not set up for monetary profit-making, is supported by founding members and other contributors, financial grants and efforts of volunteers. So far, Langaa has published over 500 titles, mainly on Cameroon, but also on other African countries like Burkina Faso, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Zimbabwe and South Africa. Langaa publishes in several languages – colonial and African – and sometimes bilingually.
AiW: Could you tell us a bit about your work and the ways that the pandemic has affected your plans?
Francis Nyamnjoh and Kathryn Toure: Langaa usually publishes 40 books a year – to promote the circulation of African worldviews. During the pandemic, though, we are receiving fewer submissions. Peer reviewers are also busier coping with the uncertainties of the covid moment. However, we continue to come out with several titles each month. Among these is Covid Stories from East Africa and Beyond – an insightful collection by 40 authors, mainly women, including established writers and some authors published for the first time. It paints a picture of a moment in time: What were people thinking and doing in their families and communities when they heard about the pandemic, adapted, and mused about shaping new futures? It is good to see a sense of camaraderie developing among the authors, who for the most part did not know each other before. The book argues for a culture of care and a disposition of hope.
In what ways are you working now that you weren’t before?
Langaa continues because we were working virtually anyway. An international network of volunteers makes things happen. We continue to be in contact and collaborate, like before. During this pandemic and infodemic, it is important to support writers and especially women writers. Papers have been published and colleagues have told us and tweeted about the challenges of writing when everyday life has been upended and while trying to balance so many new responsibilities. Is the pandemic diminishing the circulation of African worldviews, and if so what are the consequences? Or are people increasingly understanding the need to weave together strands of knowledge from diverse sources to decolonize thinking and build forward differently?
We do not yet have the answers to such questions. But what the crisis seems to suggest is the importance of bringing the virtual and the face-to-face into greater conversation in telling African stories and in researching, publishing, and sharing the continent’s experiences. This is an opportune time to explore and open up intersecting identities and relations, question stereotypes and biases, and counter systemic suppression and oppression.
What have you found most supportive and/or heart lifting in this time?
At Langaa, we are always inspired by African creativity and conviviality. We take seriously Africa as a dynamic concept and reality. We explore interlocking and overlapping geographies and a multitude of experiences of being and becoming African. To us, Black Lives Matter everywhere. The aspirations of people of African descent, wherever in the world they find themselves, matter. It is in recognizing and vigorously defending our common humanity and the freedom of movement for all and sundry that we at Langaa appreciate and encourage current movements for racial and social justice worldwide.
How can our blog communities support you?
Thanks for asking. There are lots of options. We invite you to visit www.langaa-rpcig.net. Follow Langaa on Twitter and Facebook to know about new books. Order from African Books Collective, and review, at least one Langaa book. Suggest a Langaa book to your reading and discussion group. If you are not a member of one, start one. Langaa books come out in paperback and sometimes also as e-books. Become a Langaa author. Become a Langaa volunteer, for example, by reviewing submissions. Incorporate African literature and Langaa books into your teaching. Encourage your local bookstore to stock Langaa books. Ask your local youth group, school, university, or other association or organization which book(s) they would like for their resource center. Buy the books in bulk with a discount from African Books Collective for delivery – even and especially during the pandemic.
Engaging with literature makes us more human. It is a way to connect with ourselves and others, to be present, and to continue to express vision and sociality, even as we physically distance. Contribute individually and collectively to sharing and promoting African voices – in Africa and beyond. We can each contribute to Africa’s renaissance, in big and small ways every day.
Kathryn Toure enjoys documenting oral herstories and histories, supporting writers of creative non-fiction, promoting the circulation of African worldviews, and engaging learners in community inquiry. Her recent publications, often in collaboration with others, use sociocultural and historical lenses to share perspectives and lived experiences across generations. She studied at the University of Montreal (PhD in education), University of Abidjan (history), University of Grenoble (literature), and University of Kansas (political science) and currently lives in Nairobi, Kenya.
Francis B. Nyamnjoh is Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. He is recipient of the ASAUK 2018 Fage & Oliver Prize for the best monograph for his book #RhodesMustFall: Nibbling at Resilient Colonialism in South Africa. He is: a B1 rated Professor and Researcher by the South African National Research Foundation (NRF); a Fellow of the Cameroon Academy of Science since August 2011; a fellow of the African Academy of Science since December 2014; and a fellow of the Academy of Science of South Africa since 2016.
To find out more about Langaa RPCIG, read ABC’s ‘Publisher Profile’ with Editorial Board Chair Francis Nyamnjoh.
Make sure to check in each Friday for our Words on the Times with other ABC-distributed publishers!