The Singularity Of The African Writer

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People have asked me time and again to describe the Nigerian publishing industry and the one word that comes to my mind is Singularity.

There is a singularity to the Nigerian publishing industry, a singularity/sameness to the type of books and authors that are carried by publishers. Step out of this band of singularity and you will find yourself like me in the murky waters of the self published world. It is nothing new, I have written about this in several articles most notably here.

I mean you could pick up several Nigerian published (by big publishers) books and you would swear they were the same, almost all the books have to have had a certain type of award, my friend Tunde Leye talks about it here. The book is likely set against a village back drop and the cover … well if this collage by Simon Stevens is anything to go by, they are like everything else the same …

book cover

Set against an orange sunset or sunrise depending on the mood of the publisher’s graphic designer. Everyone from Chimamanda Adichie to Ernest Hemingway is caught up in this sun background love cast against a tree type cover … as long as you are writing what is defined as an African book … chances are that you might get that same cover treatment. I mean it might not be exactly this cover, but it could be a slight variant.

So when publishers/agents say stuff like read our books to see the type of books we like to publish and adapt your manuscript to fit that style, I cringe. Because we know what that means, its another way to say “fit the mould or get out.”

At the end of the day, everyone is looking for the next award winning Chinua Achebe or Wole Soyinka or Chimamanda Adichie that could pass as African enough to receive international awards and be likely entered into the school curriculum for massive sales. That’s why we are stuck in a singularity mind set until we find publishers (and there have been a few) bold enough to break out of that mindset we would be stuck with one type of book.

twitterWritten By Okechukwu Ofili of
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Words by Okechukwu Ofili of
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12 comments on “The Singularity Of The African Writer

  1. Wowzer! have seen most of the books there but haven’t noticed the assembly line nature of the covers. in defence of HOAYS the cover blends with the title, as for the others…. No comment

  2. I remember seeing this collage about a month ago. It’s true, our publishers are stuck. I for one would like to read about post apocalyptic Africa, aliens or what not; something different, new, exciting supercharged, magical etcetera

    • Ofili
      Ofili on said:

      You should check out Nnedi Okorafor’s books. She is quite quite awesome. She writes about African aliens and stuff like that. However, publisher in Nigeria do not really like carrying her works, because the Nigerian populace do not generally like reading stuff like that.

  3. Thank you Ofili for this piece. It bothers me or let me say it used to bother me how similar our books are in African and how it makes other writers like me who have been blessed with writing about self-help tips on relationship and emotional health to cringe from taking the bold step of going forth because of the fear of non-acceptance by the masses. This now makes me see things differently. Thank you.

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