The decolonization of African studies extends beyond content to ethical partnerships between the North and the African continent. One key component of realizing partnership is through publishing. African studies research published by Northern publishers is not often even minimally available in Africa; and this is despite scholars on the continent often being partners or facilitators in research undertaken by Northern scholars. Northern publishers have perceived no commercial gain, given small African markets, lack of purchasing power, and lack of distribution systems. Conversely, African publishers have efficient distribution into the North through African Books Collective, owned and governed by them. But in suitable rare cases the African publisher can broker co-publications with Northern publishers who want the originating rights. In the light of these issues, African Books Collective launched an initiative to seek to break the deadlock. In partnership with the International African Institute, and with the active support of the African Studies Associations of the UK and the US, work is proceeding with publishers in the North and the South to broker co-publishing or co-editions to address this historic marginalization of Africa.
Following Peter Elbow’s work on ‘resonant voice’ or ‘presence’, this essay examines the seldom-explored resonance between a text and its writer in the moment of its creation. The essay asks what the boundaries and content of this space might look like, and how this knowledge might positively affect the creative product. It challenges the popular search for a writer’s ‘voice’, instead positing that each writer has a perpetually shifting internal plurality of voices, which unifies the constructivist and social constructionist views of the self. By arguing that the resonance between writer and writing is the experience of this plurality coming to harmony, the essay posits that to create such a resonance involves a balance of simultaneously relinquishing control to the internal choir and learning how to better conduct it.
‘My Africa Reads’ is a memoir that looks back at my reading history. The ‘Preamble’ identifies authors who influenced my worldview during my secondary and tertiary education in the UK and who remained my companions during the first decade of my return to Nigeria. From this immersion in Eurocentric literature, the memoir progresses to my encounter with postcolonial African literature in the collective setting of the Africa Book Group (ABG), which I joined in 2002 and led from 2014 to 2018. The memoir looks at authors and literature that the international women of ABG have engaged with, and at meetings at which guest experts spoke on aspects of African studies and affairs. It highlights the power of ABG—a shared reading experience—to advance that part of my cultural liberation facilitated by good postcolonial literature and open, unconstrained discussions with other women.
Publishing is often characterized by instinctive decision-making with little attempt to apply a scientific methodology to an obvious question: why does one book sell and another not? The thesis of this paper is that, although there are aspects of a book’s publication history that one cannot predict in advance, one can know what these aspects are. A simple syllogism underlies the argument: if human behaviour can be understood through psychology and if book-buying is a form of behaviour, the motivations for book-buying can also be understood through psychology. This approach can be applied historically, through recourse to sales data, to trace the fossils of books published long ago and so discover the type and strength of the motivations that once drove people to buy them. History demonstrates that these motivations, once properly framed, can be understood to be influenced by context. Book-buying motivations also appear cyclically. This leads to a discussion of why it is that one book rather than another may satisfy a motivation and therefore sell better than another. Using the concept of prisms combining to reflect a motivational ‘light’, we see that books exist as constructs of a finite range of elements that cohere (or not) in a multiplicative way to enhance or diminish their effectiveness. Evidence is also given for what appears to be a universal ratio that dictates a natural entropy in the effectiveness of these prismatic elements.
Background: There has been little formal reflection by independent publishing practitioners on how they (do or don’t) capitalize on their brand or imprints.
Aim: To discuss the unique opportunities presented by a small press’s ‘small’ identity.
Method: To document my own experience—as commissioning editor for a trade press, after co-founding a tiny start-up—in the broader context of industry knowledge acquired as editor of the Australian national trade press journal and a publishing academic.
Results: Through the creative writing of a personal opinion piece, I explore how our ad hoc personality-driven small press network may be particularly well primed to respond to challenging—and changing—circumstances.
Conclusion: That it is the nature of independent publishers, whether commercial ventures or micropresses, to be agile and adaptable; to respond intuitively to perceived opportunities; to connect directly with reading communities. That it may also be in the nature of an industry that proudly identifies and markets itself as individualistic and personality driven to not necessarily identify and articulate any such specific strategies … or, indeed, maintain them.
Cody’s Books, in Berkeley, California, had its roots during the mid-1950s in the left-wing sympathies of its founders, the husband–wife team of Fred and Patricia Cody. Serving the University of California nearby, the much admired bookstore became a hangout and haven for intellectually curious students and faculty. In the social protest movements of the 1960s, the store functioned as a refuge from street violence as students and police clashed outside. When long-term employee Andy Ross bought the shop upon the Codys’ retirement, it was a thriving business but soon ran into challenges from encroaching chain stores and the emergence of online shopping. Ross responded variously: sometimes with ambitious, effective bookselling tactics, sometimes with ineffective resentment towards consumers who had abandoned the store. Attempts to survive through risky refinancing and the infusion of foreign investment money to support expansion into San Francisco all backfired. The last Cody’s branch closed ignominiously in 2008.
During the American hardcover revolution, in the 1980s and 1990s, Alfred A. Knopf established itself as the leading publishing house in book design. Founded in New York in 1915, Knopf has been the recipient of many literary prizes and in 1999 was awarded the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) Corporate Leadership Award, a prize that recognizes forward-thinking organizations that have been instrumental in the advancement of design by applying the highest standards. Knopf made a name for itself using quality in design along with quality in writing as a strategy for its long-lasting success. One of the main people responsible for this success has been the graphic designer Chip Kidd, one of the most renowed American book cover designers alive. Kidd started working at Knopf in 1986 and soon became the go-to designer for well-known writers such as Michael Crichton, Haruki Murakami, and James Ellroy. His work shows an intuitive understanding of the narrative and a unique and deep connection between text and paratext. Kidd stretches the visual boundaries between words and visuals, asking readers to bridge the gap between what they read and what they see. His covers leave the image open to interpretation; this deliberate lack of definition engages contemporary readers more than traditional covers do. This article illustrates, through the analysis of a selection of the most significant covers designed by Kidd, how his work at Knopf helped create a revolution and shape a new visual language in American book design.