Q&As: Akashic Books’ Johanna Ingalls – Publisher, AKO Caine Prize shortlist 2022

Last week, as part of our annual AKO Caine Prize coverage, we ran Guest reviews of the 5 stories shortlisted for the award. This week, and leading up to the winner announcement on Monday 18 July, we are very pleased to be sharing a new set of AKO Caine Q&As – with each of the authors on the shortlist and with the publishers of their stories, as well as judges of all the stories entered into the Prize this year, so opening up our conversations around the Prize to other roles and participants.

Today, in a company post to our Q&A with shortlisted author Hannah Giorgis (Ethiopia), whose story “A Double-Edged Inheritance” was published in Addis Ababa Noir by Akashic Books / Cassava Republic Press (2020), Johanna Ingalls answers the first of our AKO Caine Prize industry Q&As on behalf of Brooklyn-based indie publishers, Akashic Books.

Giorgis’ story, reviewed for us last week by Megan Brune, is one of three of the AKO Caine 2022 shortlisted stories to be published in Akashic Books’ Noir collections, namely Addis Ababa Noir, edited by Maaza Mengiste: Billie McTernan’s shortlisted story “The Labadi Sunshine Bar”, reviewed for us by Nnaemeka Ezema, and Nana-Ama Danquah’s “When a Man Loves a Woman”, reviewed by Joseph Kwanya, appeared in Accra Noir (December 2020), a collection that was also edited by Danquah. Both collections are co-published with Cassava Republic Press in the UK.

Here, Johanna, managing editor and director of foreign rights, gives us an industry perspective, telling us a bit more about the publisher’s relationships with these three stories as AKO Caine Prize stories, Akashic’s work publishing African writing, and recent changes in the industry.

AiW: Thanks for talking with us, Johanna, for Akashic Books. This is the first time in all our years covering the Caine Prize that we have been able to offer the experiences of publishers and we are really grateful to be able to do so.

~ As its publisher, could you tell us about your journey of/with the three stories – Nana-Ama Danquah’s (Ghana) “When a Man Loves a Woman” and Billie McTernan’s (Ghana) “The Labadi Sunshine Bar”, and Hannah Giorgis (Ethiopia) with “A Double-Edged Inheritance” – each published in your Noir series, Accra and Addis Ababa respectively and shortlisted for the AKO Caine Prize this year? Your story of each story, so to speak: how did they come to you? What made you “see” each one, and as a Caine Prize story? Why that story, why now?

Johanna Ingalls: We have to really give the credit to the two editors of the anthologies—Nana-Ama Danquah (editor of Accra Noir) and Maaza Mengiste (editor of Addis Ababa Noir). The strength of the Akashic Noir Series anthologies lies in the editors we select for each volume. We at Akashic don’t, for example, know all the great contemporary writers in Ghana and Ethiopia so to ensure a great collection that truly reflects the city, we enlist editors who we can rely on to find the best to represent the specific city/area.

~ Please tell us a bit more about your work more broadly with African writing and how things are on the ground for you now (perhaps particularly given our experiences over the last couple of years).

Akashic Books has been an independent book publishing company for 25 years and we have always prided ourselves on working with a diverse array of authors, with a special focus on authors from the Caribbean, African American authors, and authors from the wider African diaspora. 

With the Akashic Noir Series, specifically, while we have a few Africa-based volumes (Lagos Noir, Nairobi Noir, etc.), we are definitely planning to add several more from the African continent. Our commitment to publishing diverse voices will always be a key part of our mission and we are happy that more and more US based publishers are also committing to publishing books that represent the diversity of our country.

~ What are the most ethical and/or heart-lifting practices you’ve seen recently in your industry?

Following a bit more on question #2, I’m really happy to see more and more avenues and opportunities for BIPOC authors. When Akashic first started publishing in the late 90s there were far fewer, so it’s great to see this. Also, within the indie book publishing community in the US, I really like that so many of us collaborate as opposed to compete with each other.

~ How can our books and online communities best offer support for your work with African writing?

It sounds simplistic, but the best way to support an author is to buy their book. In addition to that, telling everyone you know about a book/author you love—telling them in person, online, etc. And, lastly, book clubs—participating in book clubs at local libraries, bookstores, etc., is another lovely way to support and spread the word about books you love.

Johanna Ingalls is the managing editor and director of foreign rights at Akashic Books where she has worked for over two decades since being rescued from the music industry by Akashic publisher Johnny Temple. A graduate of Barnard College, she currently lives in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, with her Norwegian Forest cat, Squid Lee Gato.

Don’t miss our accompanying AKO Caine Q&A today with Hannah Giorgis, the first in our series talking with the authors whose stories have been shortlisted for the Prize:

And watch out for more to come as we lead up to the winner announcement next week, on July 18th.

For our guest reviews, with links to read the stories, and for more from our longer AKO Caine Prize series over the years too, please see this link.

About Akashic Books
Akashic Books is a Brooklyn-based independent company dedicated to publishing urban literary fiction and political nonfiction by authors who are either ignored by the mainstream, or who have no interest in working within the ever-consolidating ranks of the major corporate publishers.

Praise for Akashic Books
“As many in publishing struggle to find ways to improve on an increasingly outdated business model, independents such as Akashic—which are more nimble and less risk-averse than major publishing houses—are innovators to watch.”


At the AKO Caine Prize website on the shortlist announcement:

Johnny Temple, Publisher at Akashic Books, says: ‘We couldn’t be more honoured to have three stories shortlisted for the prestigious AKO Caine Prize from two outstanding anthologies in our Akashic Noir Series—Accra Noir edited by Nana-Ama Danquah and Addis Ababa Noir edited by Maaza Mengiste.’

http://www.akashicbooks.com/ | https://cassavarepublic.biz/

Our reviews of Akashic’s Nairobi Noir (edited by Peter Kimani and reviewed by AiW Guest Maëline Le Lay), and Lagos Noir (edited by Chris Abani and reviewed for us by Chelsea Haith) can be found here

The 2022 AKO Caine Prize winner will be announced on July 18th. Head to the AKO Caine Prize website – http://www.caineprize.com/ – for more, and for details of the line-up of related events and author/publisher appearances.

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