“How we could make some of the books that were available in Diaspora available locally? It was about looking at what was happening at home on the writing scene and see if we could work with the writers and publish them.” - Bibi Bakare-Yusuf The above quote has been stated has the driving force behind rising Nigerian publishing house, Cassava Republic; as books by Nigerian writers in Diaspora were not being sold locally because most books sold by the few existing bookshops, then, were … textbooks! Cassava Republic was set up in 2006 by the husband and wife team, British Jeremy Weate and Nigerian Bibi Bakare-Yusuf in Abuja, Nigeria. Weate, who studied philosophy at the University of Hull, the University of Liège and earned his PhD in philosophy at the University of Warwick in 1998, is the author of the children's book – A Young Person's Guide to Philosophy (1998), which has been translated into 9 languages. While Bakare-Yusuf, a feminist and independent scholar, with a PhD in General Studies from the University of Warwick; has worked as a consultant for ActionAid, Unifem, and the European Union. In 2008, she was one of only twenty on the continent to be selected to be part of the Desmond Tutu African Leadership programme. Self funded with no distribution network, Cassava Republic published its first two books, Kemi’s Journal and Zack’s Story, novels by the London-based Nigerian writer, Abidemi Sansui, in 2006. And several years later, the company’s mission evolved into changing the way we (Africans) think about African writing; that the time had come to build a new body of African writing that linked writers across different times and spaces. Cassava Republic, today, is now an established publishing house that only publishes fiction and non-fiction for adults, young adults and children (of varying ages). They remain self-funded and their books are printed in India (after having had a negative experience with a Nigerian printer) – usually between 3,000 – 5,000 copies in order to keep cost and prices at a minimum. As for books published abroad, negotiations are made for either African, West African or Nigerian rights - with Diana Evans’ debut novel, “26a” (which won the Orange Prize for New Writers in 2005), the publishing house was awarded “distribution rights” for West Africa. In April 2011, the company launched its first illustrated children’s titles (eight in number), all of which were based on government-mandated Millennium Development Goals (MGD’s). Cassava Republic printed ten thousand copies of each, and the books have been distributed to children across the country (Nigeria). The publishing house developed an African romance imprint named “Ankara Press” in 2011 and a crime imprint (Cassava Crime series), which published its first book – “Nairobi Heat” (2013) by Mukoma wa Ngugi, son of Kenyan literary legend, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o. They are currently accepting submissions for these new imprints. Among the company’s first non-fiction titles was the reprint of a 1982 biography of the musician Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, title “Fela: This Bitch of Life” (2010) by Cuban writer, researcher and social scientist, Carlos Moore. The company has been able to discover new talent via the Internet, as one of their best-known books, Teju Cole’s debut novel, Every Day is for the Thief (2007), had its first incarnation as a series of posts by the author on his personal blog. And in 2008, the influential design magazine Monocles, named Cassava Republic, one of the brands worldwide to look out for. Today, Cassava Republic has gone on to publish books by 2001 Caine Prize winner Helon Habila, two-time Caine prize shortlisted Ugandan writer Doreen Baingana, the late South African novelist K. Sello Duiker, Sarah Ladipo Manyika and Toni Kan (whose “Songs of Absence and Despair” is at present the only poetry collection published by Cassava), and “The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives” by Lola Shoneyin. By: Olusola Agbaje
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