PublisHer Opens Its New Initiative, With ‘Unmasked’ Interviews

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

Now 18 months old, the international PublisHer professional network of ‘bookwomen,’ rolls out elements of its new strategy for women in world publishing’s leadership.

At a PublisHer event during the 2019 Frankfurter Buchmesse. Founder Bodour Al Qasimi is at the center. Image: PublisHer, Nabs Ahmedi

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

Mentorship, Interviews, Guidelines
Today (September 3), the PublisHer professional network committed to working for gender equality in world publishing opens a new series of video interviews.

In the first of these interviews—the series is called #Unmasked, and is now available on the organization’s YouTube channel—the Nairobi journalist and storyteller Maïmouna Jallow interviews Angela Wachuka, who with Wanjiru Koinange has co-founded the nonprofit Book Bunk Trust.

These are familiar players to Publishing Perspectives readers.

Jallow, who directs Positively African, was featured in last summer’s Nairobi PublisHer dinner, with her stage adaptation of Lola Shoneyin’s novel The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives (Serpent’s Tail, 2010). Author Shoneyin, for her part, has just announced the coming iteration of Lagos’ Aké Arts and Book Festival, as we reported last week.

Maimouna Jallow, left, interviews Book Bunk’s Angela Wachuka in PublisHer’s first video in its new #Unmasked series of interviews with world publishing’s bookwomen. Image: PublisHer

And Angela Wachuka’s work is familiar for Book Bunk’s centerpiece project of restoring the McMillan Memorial Library in Nairobi’s city center. She talks with Jallow about how “One of the things that really bothered us from the beginning” was that the McMillan facility was originally opened in 1931 as a feature of what Wachuka calls “an ode to colonial opulence,” second only in age in Kenya to Mombasa’s Seif bin Salim Library.

“The thinking at the time was that Africans would not use” the McMillan Library “at any point.” Its restoration today is thus as much a redirection of the facility’s mission and availability as it is a redevelopment of a valuable physical property.

A new #Unmasked interview is expected to be posted to PublisHer’s YouTube channel each Thursday.

Formally Opening a Strategic Approach

The new #Unmasked series of interviews is part of a wider initiative from PublisHer, an effort to equip women in publishing with outlooks and approaches that may help them gain traction in the international industry, particularly once travel and more nearly normal business activity is permitted in our vaccinated future.

While for many of our readers this goes without saying, we want to be clear that at this writing, the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic is not over, as dearly as we all may wish it were. You have only to follow the alarming new spikes in the pathogen’s numbers in Europe—here is Francesco Guarascio’s coverage for Reuters of the European Union’s stark warning to its governments not to shorten quarantine timing—to see this.

The wisdom of PublisHer’s approach is that it’s capturing some of the remaining time under the brunt of the contagion’s threat to create a multi-pronged strategy that women in publishing can access and develop now, with an eye to positioning themselves for making new ground in publishing’s leadership when the world’s commercial engines rev back up to speed.

You’ll noticed, too, that the organization is beginning to use the useful term bookwomen, more frequently found in British-English dictionaries than in American-English references.

Women’s Leadership Mentors

PublisHer mentors announced today (September 3) are, top row from left, Ana Maria Cabanellas, Anne Bergman-Tahon, Bibi Bakare-Yusuf, Caroline Fortin, and Karine Pansa. On the lower row, from left, are Maria Pallante, Mitia Osman, Thabiso Mahlape, Tracey Armstrong, and Travsin Jittidecharak

A key element of this strategy is the creation of a team of highly placed mentors in the business.

“The women we speak to consistently call for mentorship,” says Bodour Al Qasimi, PublisHer’s founder and vice-president of the International Publishers Association (IPA).

Bodour Al Qasimi

“It’s something our board feels very passionately about. We believe mentorship will create positive ripple effects in the publishing sector, adding immediate value and inspiring mentees to support other women around them

“This is why we’ve started this scheme.”

While the mentors announced today are all women, it’s interesting to note that one of them—PublisHer board member Tracey Armstrong, president and CEO of Copyright Clearance Center—has said in past interviews with Publishing Perspectives that women should be mentored by men as well as by other women.

“I do think that mentoring is important,” Armstrong said to us in a 2017 interview. “But I think it’s as important for men to mentor women as it is for women to mentor women emerging in their careers. How those men made achievements in their careers, I think it’s important for them to impart that” to women.

As the mentoring program develops, it will be interesting to see if that logic plays out in participation by male leadership in the industry.

The program is set up as “a deliberately uncomplicated” plan that offers a confidential, one-hour meeting on a video conferencing platform. Mentors and mentees agree whether to continue to meet and how often. The program is free of charge.

Initial PublisHer Mentors
  • Ana Maria Cabanellas, president of Argentina’s Grupo Editorial Claridad and the first woman president of the International Publishers Association, 2004-2008
  • Anne Bergman-Tahon, director for 16 years of the Brussels-based Federation of European Publishers
  • Bibi Bakare-Yusuf, co-founder and publishing director of Cassava Republic Press, a recipient of fellowships with Frankfurter Buchmesse, Yale World, and Desmond Tutu
  • Caroline Fortin, publisher and vice-president of the Montréal-based Group Québec Amérique, which manages Éditions Québec Amérique, QA International, Éditions Cardinal, Chez l’Éditeur coffee shops and Diffusion Dimedia
  • Karine Pansa, owner and publishing director of Girassol Brasil Edições and IPA executive committee representative of the Brazilian Book Chamber and National Union of Book Publishers
  • Maria Pallante, president and CEO of the Association of American Publishers, formerly with the US Copyright Office and the Guggenheim Museums and Foundation
  • Mitia Osman, CEO and owner of Myurpankhi, a children’s publishing house in Bangladesh producing Bangla books as well as translations from English, Turkish, Indonesian, Italian, and Portuguese
  • Thabiso Mahlape, founder of South Africa’s Blackbird Books and an entrepreneur focused on developing and curating African literature that represents Black people realistically
  • Tracey Armstrong, president and CEO of Copyright Clearance Center and member of the International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organizations (IFRRO)
  • Trasvin Jittidecharak, an illustrator and the founding publisher of Thailand’s Silkworm Books, which produces English-language content, as well as a leader in Bangkok’s 2013 year as UNESCO’s World Book Capital
Diversity and Inclusion Guidelines

Bodour points out that the mentoring program is called for as part of PublisHer’s Diversity and Inclusion Guidelines (PDF), which were published in July.

The guidelines include a comprehensive and detailed set of steps to be taken under key categories and subcategories of an articulated platform. We’ll list out the basic outline of the points the document handles. Under each, you’ll many, you’ll find discussion about what’s needed and intended.

Embed diversity and inclusion as organizational values

  • Establish diversity and inclusion policy statements
  • Develop and implement a diversity roadmap
  • Ensure equal representation

Implement recruitment processes that emphasize diversity and inclusion

  • Develop inclusive job descriptions
  • Diversify candidate sourcing channels
  • Interview/selection process

Retain diverse talent

  • Cultivating an inclusive workforce culture
  • Ensuring equitable remuneration and benefits policies
  • Promoting equitable development opportunities

Women who are interested in a mentorship session are invited to write to

More from Publishing Perspectives on the PublisHer movement is here. More from us on women in publishing is here, more on Bodour Al Qasimi is here, and more from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.

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.