Postcolonial Writing and Theory Seminar, University of Oxford
Chinua Achebe and the African Writers Series at 50
Nana Ayebia Clarke MBE & James Currey, 2nd May 2013
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Audio Recording from Wadham College, Oxford University "Achebe & The African Writers Series" May 2013.
A panel disscussion between two former AWS Editors, Becky Nana Ayebia Clarke MBE & James Currey.
Africa Writes 2012 S.O.A.S. 30th June 1st July.
Richard Dowden, Director of the Royal African Society, welcomes and introduces African Writes 2012 Lecture by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie marking the 50th anniversary of the African Writers Series.
Also on the lecture panel: James Curry, Becky Nana Ayebia Clarke MBE and chaired by Ike Anya.
A Fine Madness
'One of the greatest works of African literature of the new millenium'.
Africa's tale of deprivation by former Air Force gunner.
By EMILIA ILIEVA
Published in the Kenyan Sunday Nation, March 6 2011
Towards the end of the last year of the first decade of the 21st century, as if in a symbolic offering of hope, one of the greatest works of African literature of the new millennium was released.
A Fine Madness, written by Mashingaidze Gomo, a Zimbabwean man in his mid-40s, after his retirement from the Air Force, is an epic narrative borne out of the author’s experience as a helicopter technician and gunner serving on the eastern and northern fronts of the Democratic Republic of Congo civil war.
Diary-drawn observations and descriptions have an exactness that lends authenticity to the story but they also provide the ground for the writer’s takeoff into historical and philosophical heights from where he takes a sweeping view of Africa’s troubled being in the world. As Memory Chirere writes, “A Fine Madness is a charmed, mad and maddening prose poetry in which an armed man snoops into Africa’s history of deprivation and strife to do the painful arithmetic.”
The war the narrator fights and watches is the product of a destiny malformed by a self-centred, racist and exploitative West and it, in turn, breeds poverty and desperation, so that they stick to Africa like leeches. But, as Ngugi wa Thiong’o observes in the preface, “Gomo’s Africa may bear the mark of tragedy, the heart of darkness of European making but, out of it, are possibilities of Africa learning to unite and protect its own”.
Ultimately, for Gomo, the rich world will reinvent itself and facilitate the laying of an even playing ground for the world. It will allow new international dialogue to sprout, enlivened by the pan-African voice. The “fine madness” is inspired by and bestowed on Tinyareri, the narrator’s beloved, left behind. “She is the perfect thing”. The presence of Tinyareri not only humanises the soldier’s whole experience but also points to the indestructibility of an image – a cause – that is worth dying and living for. She is all that Africa can be, and she is Africa itself.
The book also pays a rare tribute to the ordinary combatant: “And today’s African soldier is a man who has studied the concepts for which he fights …”
No wonder Air Commodore Jasper Marangwanda, Director General of Operations and Plans (Zimbabwe Defence Forces), writes: “It is not often that I have read a manuscript from a first-time author and was totally bowled over. This read surely reflects what was going on in the minds of many a soldier involved in the DRC campaign!”
Only a publisher of great passion for Africa like Ayebia Clarke Publishing Limited – based in Banbury, Oxfordshire, UK – could have welcomed Gomo’s manuscript. Ayebia is a power house that moulds the image of Africa in the world today. Ghanaian Becky Ayebia Clarke was one of the inspired makers of the African Writers Series (AWS) published by Heinemann Educational Books since 1962.
A decline in fiscal fortunes and lack of faith and vision led a new Heinemann management in 2003 to practically close the AWS, reducing it “to a rump of established titles by well-known writers, reprinting annually” (as stalwart Keith Sambrook wrote). “My world fell apart,” says Clarke about the effect of this decision. But only a few months later, she resolved to position herself “in the space vacated by Heinemann”.
With her husband David, they put together some 35,000 sterling pounds to start the company. Among its editorial advisory board are such prominent intellectuals and writers as Abiola Irele, Simon Gikandi, Kwame Anthony Apiah, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, and Kofi Anyidoho. In the tradition of the AWS, Ayebia publishes paperback editions of important earlier works and, especially, new work by both established and emerging authors.
Ayebia’s pride and success is the 21-story anthology African Love Stories, edited by Ama Ata Aidoo, which contains Monica Arac de Nyeko’s 2007 Caine Prize winning Jambula Tree, as well as Kenyan Wangui wa Goro’s Deep Sea Fishing. Apart from facilitating the Caine Prize win, Ayebia has received the Aidoo-Snyder Prize from the African Studies Association (USA) and, in 2009, the Best Creative Business Precious Award.
But the most significant praise comes from the writers she has nurtured. Mashingaidze Gomo says: “I find her hope and effort for Africa going beyond measure … Her bravery must change the world into a better place for the marginalised.” With writers such as the author of A Fine Madness and publishers like Ayebia, the 21st century may well belong to African literature.
The writer is an Associate Professor of Literature at Egerton University, Kenya.
© Daily Nation
Profile Nana Ayebia Clarke
Helping tell Africa’s stories
Nana Ayebia Clarke, a Ghanaian publisher who teamed up with her British husband to set up Ayebia Clarke Publishing in 2003 in Oxford, U.K., has been so successful in publishing cutting-edge African books that even Queen Elizabeth II has taken notice. In her New Year Honors List, the queen made Nana
Ayebia an honorary MBE (Member of the British Empire). Correspondent Martin Mensah tells the remarkable story of Nana Ayebia Clarke.
To a large extent it has been a homecoming for an illustrious daughter of Africa. Having succeeded in the highly competitive world of British publishing, Ghanaian-born Nana Ayebia Clarke turned her attention in 2003 to telling the African story, starting her own publishing house in Oxfordshire, U.K., and accomplishing her goal with great aplomb. Thus it came as no surprise when Queen Elizabeth II, in recognition of Ayebia Clarke’s achievements, dubbed her an honorary Member of the British Empire for her contributions to publishing. (Interestingly, Ayebia Clarke is royalty herself: named a queen mother of her paternal hometown of Larteh in 2006. Her traditional title is Nana Ama Ayebia I, Adantahemea of Akuapem Guan, a warrior queen.) Nana Ayebia Clarke was among 47 individuals on the queen’s New Year Honors List who received various awards in February. “I am deeply honored and humbled,” Ayebia Clarke said of the queen’s gesture. “The award is an acknowledgement of the huge contributions that Ghanaians and Africans in the Diaspora are making to world knowledge. Ghana made me. I dedicate this award to Ghana and all Ghanaians, and especially to my husband David, and my son Kweku.” Ayebia Clarke commended Ghanaian and African writers, teachers, academics and critics who often work in difficult and sometimes restrictive conditions for their unwavering commitment to telling their stories.
She also praised the reading public for supporting the African book market. “It is proof that Africans are capable of engineering and managing their own institutions to the highest standards,” she said, adding, “The award will inspire me to become even more radical in my approach in the selection and publication of works that speak to an authentic African sensibility in a progressive way by encouraging writers to be bold and fearless in their portrayal of the African identity in all its ramifications.” Ayebia Clarke’s background is impressive. She holds a bachelor’s degree from the Open University and a master’s degree from Oxford. She worked for 12 years as the literature submissions editor of the famous Heinemann African and Caribbean Writers Series at Oxford, where she was part of a team that published and promoted a list of prominent African and Caribbean writers, including Nobel prize-winning authors Wole Soyinka and Derek Walcott; and Chinua Achebe, Ama Ata Aidoo, Nadine Gordimer, Ayi Kwei Armah Buchi, Emecheta, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Kofi Awoonor and Kofi Anyidoho. In October 2003, she cofounded Ayebia Clarke Publishing Ltd. with her husband as a way of promoting new talent and taking African writing and publishing to new heights. Before emigrating to the U.K. in 1974, she worked as a sales assistant at a United Trading Co. (UTC) departmental store in Accra, where she sold copies of the famous African writers series. Within a short time, Ayebia Clarke Publishing has become a leading African International brand of quality that publishes African and Caribbean literature from both established and new authors. Distribution and marketing channels span the globe, covering Africa, the U.K., Europe and North America.
Ayebia Clarke’s books seek to bring a wealth of African experiences to world audiences. Her company strategically focuses its sales on schools, colleges and universities for adoption on curriculum reading lists. What drives her quest? In a recent interview, Ayebia Clarke said she would like to see more narratives experimenting with form and breaking new ground, thus expanding the African sensibility. She also would like to see more African publishers, editors, booksellers, reviewers, sales representatives and theater directors celebrating the black cultural heritage through the arts — with positive images that provide black youngsters with positive role models. Ayebia Clarke wishes to form partnerships with publishing houses that share her sense of mission. She has recently partnered with the South African-based Real African Publishers (RAP) to work on projects for children – to combat the negative legacies of colonialism and neocolonialism. Why? “Because knowledge is power,” she says. “And the control of knowledge has always been a political question that makes the arena for cultural production a site of struggle for dominance and struggle for the power to define, legitimize and consecrate ideas, producers and products. “The agents in this field are, of course, people — writers, critics, reviewers — and institutions — publishers, schools, journals, libraries and booksellers, etc. The power relations between these agents will depend on the specific capital that each agent possesses. Those with the power will dictate the manner in which our institutions are structured and instructed for their benefit, not ours.” She is keen to grow the next generation of African literature lovers. She insists that African children who are constantly reading Western books will grow up neglecting or rejecting their own culture and literature — with massive commercial and social consequences for Africa. “Watch out for the African Writers Children’s Series,” she said. “It’s a work of literary genius.” Nana Ayebia added: “Soon to follow will be African children’s stories from the late Efua Sutherland, Kofi Anyidoho and all the distinguished African writers that arehousehold names. New writers are welcome. This is about Africa’s answer to winning the future.” _
18 March 2011 Africawatch
Nana Ayebia Clarke
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