Is Africa Hot or Not?

In Discussion by Edward Nawotka

By Edward Nawotka

Every couple of years a new African writer appears to take the publishing world by storm. Two recent examples include the literary-minded Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, whose Half of a Yellow Sun won both the Orange Prize for Fiction in the United Kingdom and a $500,000 MacArthur genius grant in the United States. And on the commercial side, Alexander McCall Smith—a Scotsman writing about Botswana—has produced the phenomenally popular No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency Novels (books that have inspired numerous imitators).

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie © Karen Jackson

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie © Karen Jackson

Even more recently, Oprah Winfrey—perhaps the most powerful sales force in American media—picked Uwem Akpan’s collection of short stories, Say You’re One of Them, for her famous book club. It would seem that African books are hot (or at least getting hotter). Yet, in our lead story today about Africa Literature Week held in Oslo, Norway last month, a variety of Norwegian publishers expressed their disappointment in the sales and lack of review coverage for their translated African novels.

So, the question is this: Is Africa hot or not?

Earlier this year Rob Spillman, editor of Gods and Soldiers: The Penguin Anthology of Contemporary African Writing, pointed out that there are 54 nations and over 2,000 languages in Africa, which would suggest that language is the first issue—since the number of African writers working in their indigenous languages is likely ten-times the number working in English (or German or Norwegian…). Will African writing always be a curiosity in the West or does it represent a larger opportunity for Western publishers in search of new talent?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments below or via Twitter using hashtag #ppbonus.

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.