France’s Biennial Salon du Livre Africain Grows in Its Second Edition

In News by Olivia Snaije

The second iteration of the Salon de Livre Africain de Paris featured some 60 publishers from France and 11 markets in Africa.

At the 2023 Salon du Livre Africain de Paris. Image: Salon du Livre Africain, Olivier Thibault

By Olivia Snaije | @OliviaSnaije

Some 6,000 Attend the Show’s Second Edition
The second edition of the Salon du Livre Africain de Paris last weekend comprised three days of seminars, book signings, and cultural events.

The biennial fair, which had its first outing in the autumn of 2021, this time had nearly twice as many visitors. Organizers say that some 6,000 people attended, and that there were twice as many publishers present as were on hand in 2021. Those 60 publishers from France and the African continent included houses from Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Senegal, Mali, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, the Republic of Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, and the Republic of Guinea, which was the fair’s first guest of honor.

The show’s director, Erick Monjour, said that the number of seminars had also increased, and he cited additional funding for the event besides that from the City of Paris and the Fondation Jan Michalski. This included support from two entities of the Institut Français: Livres des deux rives—a cooperative project that encourages exchanges in the book sector between France and North Africa—and Ressources éducatives, which supports educational resources in Francophone sub-Saharan Africa.

“This means that institutions can also be interested in the book fair,” Monjour said.

Indeed, a member of Togo’s delegation to UNESCO was present in the audience at a packed session on the development of children’s literature in Francophone Africa. Getting institutions to support reading initiatives and to further develop the industry is essential, according to Patrica Defever of Langages du Sud in Morocco.

Aliou Sow—who co-founded Éditions Ganndal in 1992 in Guinea and won the Best African Publisher honor at the 2017 Bologna Children’s Book Fair has long worked to improve distribution across Africa, which all panelists agreed is a persistent problem. One solution is to co-publish, Sow said, along with sharing marketing strategies. Ganndal now publishes at least 20 titles in co-editions.

Sow also stressed the need to publish in transnational languages, such as Fulfulde, which is spoken in multiple countries. Johari Ravoloson, of Madagascar’s Dodo Vole said his publishing house produces bilingual books. Even if schoolchildren are taught in French, they speak Malgasy at home, he pointed out.

Issues in the African Rights Markets

Salon du Livre Africain de Paris director Erick Monjour is with Gabon’s ambassador to France Lilianne Massala, left, and Ambre Delcroix. Image: Salon du Livre Africain de Paris, Olivier Thibault

A well-attended seminar session explored how to make the rights markets on the African continent more dynamic. Panelists included:

Stefanini praised the energy of African publishers and said that at JC Lattès they encourage co-editions with African publishers and recommend more south-to-north and south-to-south publications. She suggested working with African authors who have recently started publishing houses, such as Gauz’ Srèlè Editions in Côte d’Ivoire; Felwin Sarr’s Éditions Jimsaan in Senegal; and Leonora Miano’s Quilombo Publishing in Togo.

Retnani and Astier were less enthusiastic about how readily other French publishers will co-edit with African publishers, despite the fact that Philippe Rey, for example, co-published his Prix Goncourt-winning author Mohamed Mbougar Sarr’s La plus secrète mémoire des hommes (The Most Secret Memory of Men, 2021) with Éditions Jimsaan.

Aicha Diara of Mali’s Éditions Gafé. Image: Salon du Livre Africain de Paris

Astier, however, offered several positive examples of how splitting rights territories is possible.

In the case of his author Blaise Ndala—a native of the Democratic Republic of Congo who is a Canadian resident—Astier was able to divide the rights for the novel Dans le ventre du Congo (In the Belly of the Congo) between three Francophone territories: in France with Le Seuil; in Canada with Mémoire d’encrier; and in Francophone Africa in Côte d’Ivoire with Vallesse Éditions. For his Cameroonian author Hemley Boum, the agency split the English-language rights territory with Boum’s Days Come and Go translated by Nchanji Njamnsi. It was published by Two Lines Press in the United States, and in Cameroon with Bakwa Books.

“Sharing territories and making partnerships is the future,” Astier said. “It’s crucial to go in this direction and is essential for us at the agency.”

Retnani said his publishing house often does co-editions, with sub-Saharan publishers as well as with French publishers such as Actes Sud. He cited the work of the International Alliance of Independent Publishers, which coordinated co-publications for Djaïli Amadou Amal’s Munyal les larmes de la patience (Munyal, the Tears of Patience) first published by Éditions Proximité in Cameroon, then co-published by seven members of the alliance in Africa in the collection Terres solidaires before being published in France as Les Impatientes (Emmanuelle Collas Éditions). The book won many prizes, among them the Prix Goncourt des Lycéens in 2020.

“The price was accessible for people, Retnani said. “It allows an author to shine the way they should. We should analyze all the examples that were successful.” Amal, the author to whom he had referred, drew big crowds at the Salon de Livre Africain, where she signed her fourth novel, Cœur du Sahel (Heart of the Sahel).

Diakité discussed the need for publishers in sub-Saharan Africa to have training in rights. “There isn’t a real market,” he said, “only a handful of publishers deal in rights and it’s a pity, because all our important authors are published elsewhere.”

As an example, he mentioned the prize-winning Guinean author Tierno Monénembo, who is published by Le Seuil but whose work is not available in Guinea.

Platforms and Digital Publishing

Journalist Yvan Amar speaks with author Djaili Amadou Amal. Image: Salon du Livre Africain de Paris, Olivier Thibault

Another popular seminar at the Salon du Livre Africain was focused on streaming platforms, audiobooks, and ebooks.

The Togolese author Sami Tchak. Image: Salon du Livre Africain de Paris, Olivier Thibault

Speakers on this panel included:

  • Anne-Sophie Steinlein, head of operations for YouScribe, a French streaming platform operating on the African continent
  • Zakia Bouassida of the new Tunisian audiobook company, Livox
  • Tunisian author and publisher Sami Mokaddem, who launched the streaming platform Oreadz

They exchanged views about the positive aspects of their platforms as solutions to distribution problems; the exorbitant cost of paper; and the ability for customers to make micro-payments using their mobile phones.

“Africa is a continent where things move very quickly, in particular digitally,” Steinlein said.

The Salon du Livre Africain also drew the participation of Italy’s Edizioni E/O and Europa Editions founder Sandro Ferri, who made the trip to Paris not only to scout for literature from Africa but also because he’s one of the organizers of an upcoming festival for African literature, CaLibro Africa, scheduled for September 28 to October 1 in Umbria.

This second edition of the Salon du Livre Africain de Paris demonstrated again that there’s avid interest, not only in literature coming from the African continent but also for co-editions between publishers, whether south-to-north or south-to-south.

More from Publishing Perspectives on the French market is here, more on international book fairs and trade shows is here, more on literary festivals is here, and more on publishing in Africa is here.

About the Author

Olivia Snaije

Olivia Snaije is a journalist and editor based in Paris who writes about translation, literature, graphic novels, the Middle East, and multiculturalism. She is the author of three books and has contributed to newspapers and magazines including The Guardian, The Global Post, and The New York Times.