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. You can read our other Words on the Times with ABC publishers Weaver Press in Zimbabwe.
Today, we talk with Dr. Fay Gadsden, who owns Gadsden Publishers, an independent publishing company based in Zambia with a policy of reprinting important out-of-print books about Zambia so that they remain available to the contemporary reader. Gadsden helps Zambian NGOs in Zambia with the publication of reports; it publishes the Zambia Social Science Journal, and has published Zambian language readers with the Centre for Promotion of Literacy in Southern Africa (CAPOLSA).
AiW: Could you tell us a bit about your work and the ways that the pandemic has affected your plans?
Fay Gadsden: We have 2 companies: Gadsden Books (GB) and Gadsden Publishers (GP). We have a small staff of 5 – one of whom has been off sick for 3 months – who work for both companies. GB distributes books.
We are the Zambian distributor for Oxford University Press (South Africa) textbooks for schools (We began life some 25 years ago as OUP agent in Zambia. OUP UK don’t have agents in Africa any more but we continue to sell a lot of their books and also books from other UK publishers). This book selling business has effectively subsidized the publishing for many years. Although the publishing has become over time more financially viable.
We began publishing 25 years ago as Bookworld Publishers in partnership with Bharat Nayee who owns Zambia’s largest bookshop. We agreed in 2012 that I should buy Bookworld out and change the name of the company as they wanted to go into textbook publishing which would have been a conflict of interest for us.
GP produces some children’s books: fiction in English and Zambian languages.
We also publish fiction for adults, autobiographies, political, historical and religious studies. We have done reprints of books that it seems important to keep available in the Zambian market. We have published with Weaver in Zimbabwe two novels written by a Zambian about Zambia. We are the Zambian publisher of the Caine prize.
Our next publication will be a reprint of Singing for Freedom, a book about the songs of the independence movement.
We have other books in the pipeline: a study of the regime of the previous president, a novel for children with an environmental message, and a book on integrating women in development. There is lots we want to do. But the pandemic has been a blow to book selling. I am not yet clear whether we shall survive it. We went on part time but are now back full time.
In what ways are you working now that you weren’t before?
The pandemic has made it difficult to publicize our books. We have not been able to hold launches, discussions and book sales. But shops have remained open this year and we have been able to have radio interviews with authors to publicize their books. And we are using our Facebook page and other social media more.
What have you found most supportive and/or heart lifting in this time?
Many of our authors are very supportive and understanding of our problems.
How can our blog communities support you?
We have a website which needs updating, and a Facebook page. We belong to the African Books Collective and our books can be bought in the UK from them. They also advertise for us and supply through Amazon.
Fay Gadsden was born in Uganda, the third of 3 sisters. Her father was a colonial civil servant and her mother’s family were tea planters. Her family moved to the UK when she was very young and settled in Cheltenham where she grew up.
She studied history at King’s College, London, and went on to do a PhD on the history of education in Uganda, spending a happy year at Makerere, before the Idi Amin years, doing her research. She did post-doc research in Kenya on the history of the press there and in the early 1970s took up a history lectureship at the University of Zambia. She left in the mid-1990s to become OUP agent in Zambia and set up a publishing company with Bharat Nayee.
She loves teaching and has continued to work part-time with the newly established Gender Studies Department at the University of Zambia where she still does some postgraduate supervision. She is married to an accountant, and has 2 children and 3 grandchildren.
Make sure to check in each Friday for our Words on the Times with other ABC-distributed publishers!