UK and USA: New Honors for Bibi Bakare-Yusuf and Walter Mosley

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

In the UK, the African Studies Association has recognized publisher Bibi Bakare-Yusuf, and in the States, the National Book Foundation honors author Walter Mosley’s body of work.

Bibi Bakare-Yusuf. Image: African Studies Association UK

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Creating the ‘Archive of the Future’
A bit over a year ago, Bibi Bakare-Yusuf—who co-founded Cassava Republic Press with Jeremy Weate in 2006 in Abuj—said in a conversation with Publishing Perspectives after the Nairobi gathering of PublisHer, that control of capital may be the key deciding factor in how women fare in African publishing.

It was an insightful comment, illustrated by her explanation that the continent’s publishing industry has been dominated by educational content, and by men whose interest is in the financial potential of the business.

“The fact that men are not as well represented in the trade in Africa is only a matter of time,” she said. “They’re waiting for women to pave the road and show them the financial potential. And watch them try to take over, with try as the watchword.”

Now with Cassava Republic offices in both the Maitama district of Abuja and in London’s Mainyard Studios, Bakare-Yusuf has been named winner of the African Studies Association’s (UK) Distinguished Africanist Award.

The award was established in 2001 and, as organizers stress, is not restricted to honoring the work of academics. Instead, it’s designed to recognize “people who have contributed largely to African studies in the UK, or who have strengthened links between African studies here and in Africa itself.”

“I am a publisher because I am interested in the future. I am interested in how we can create the archive of the future in the present.”Bibi Bakare-Yusuf

Nevertheless, Bakare-Yusuf does arrive with her academic bona fides very much intact. The association’s commentary on her selection for the honor notes that she “began her career as an academic, obtaining a PhD in interdisciplinary women and gender studies at Warwick University in Coventry. “Her thesis explored the relationship between embodiment and memory in the African diaspora, examining structures of retention found in New World cultures.

“She has published widely on the subjects of gender, power, and sexuality in African and African diaspora studies, and she has worked as a gender and research consultant for organizations including the BBC, the Central Bank of Nigeria, and the European Union.”

There’s a useful description of her work in the lines, “Bakare-Yusuf has distinguished herself as a public intellectual, and her important contribution to scholarship and the world of publishing has been recognized in her selection as a Yale World fellow; a Desmond Tutu fellow; and a Frankfurter Buchmesse fellow. Bakare-Yusuf is also chair of the Initiative for Equal Rights, the largest LGBT organization in West Africa, and she is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

The African Studies Association’s rationale goes on to point out Bakar-Yusuf’s launch at Cassava Republic of “an African-language literature imprint, the inspiration for which draws on the scholarship of Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Mukoma wa Ngugui–who have centered the promotion and development of African languages in the continent’s efforts to decolonize.

“This provides a perfect example of how Bakare-Yusuf’s engagement in the academic world directly relates to her contribution to the building of a publishing infrastructure which centers African voices and African thought.”

And in a quote from Bakare-Yusuf for the association, we read, “I am a publisher because I am interested in the future. I am interested in contributing to and helping to shape what people in 100, 200, or even 500 years will be discussing and mulling over when they take a walk into the labyrinth of their past that is our present moment.

“I am interested in how we can create the archive of the future in the present.”

In case you’re new to Bakare-Yusuf and the work of her Cassava Republic Press, here’s an informational video.

The association goes on, “The impact of Bakare-Yusuf’s work is apparent within the academy but also in the broader public sphere. Bakare-Yusuf is both a thought leader and innovator.”

National Book Awards Honor Walter Mosley

Walter Mosley. Image: Provided by the National Book Foundation, Marcia Wilson

‘Distinctly Part of the American Experience’

The author of more than 60 books, Walter Mosley has achieved the status of a kind of dean among authors in the United States and is to receive the 2020 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters from the National Book Foundation in its digital National Book Awards ceremony set for November 18.

As is the foundation’s custom, it annually releases the names of its two special awards well in advance of the program.

On Wednesday (September 9), we had news of the Literarian Award going posthumously to Carolyn Reidy the late CEO of Simon & Schuster. Following that, the organization has named Mosley its Distinguished Contribution prize recipient.

In a prepared statement for the media announcement, foundation board chair David Steinberger is quoted, saying, “Mosley is a master of craft and narrative, and through his incredibly vibrant and diverse body of work, our literary heritage has truly been enriched.

“From mysteries to literary fiction to nonfiction, Mosley’s talent and memorable characters have captivated readers everywhere, and the foundation is proud to honor such an illustrious voice whose work will be enjoyed for years to come.”

Mosley was born in Los Angeles in the early 1950s and his debut novel, Devil in a Blue Dress, which kicked off his Easy Rawlins series and was made into a film in 1995 by Carl Franklin. Among the most interesting aspects of Mosley’s work is his range of genres. He has written not only mysteries but also science-fiction, a graphic novel, erotica, playscripts, and nonfiction.

“Mosley is undeniably prolific,” says foundation executive director Lisa Lucas, “but what sets his work apart is his examination of both complex issues and intimate realities through the lens of characters in his fiction, as well as his accomplished historical narrative works and essays.

“His oeuvre and his lived experience are distinctly part of the American experience. And as such, his contributions to our culture make him more than worthy of the Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.”

In 1909, Mosley established the Publishing Certificate Program with CUNY to address what he perceived was a lack of diversity in American publishing. In 2013, Mosley was inducted into the New York State Writers Hall of Fame, and he’s the winner of awards including an O. Henry Award; the Mystery Writers of America’s Grand Master Award; a Grammy; several NAACP Image awards; and PEN America’s Lifetime Achievement Award. I

n 2020, he was named the recipient of the Robert Kirsch Award for lifetime achievement from Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.

Presenting the award to Mosley in November will be author Edwidge Danticat, herself a 2007 finalist for the National Book Awards for Brother, I’m Dying (Penguin Random House / Vintage).

More from Publishing Perspectives on African publishing markets and issues is here, more on the work of Bibi Bakare-Yusuf is here, and more on the PublisHer series of events is hereMore from Publishing Perspectives on the National Book Awards is here, and on awards programs in general is here. More of our Industry Notes series is here.

More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here and at the CORONAVIRUS tab at the top of each page of our site.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.