I would like to welcome our readers to this new addition on our website. Our aim in creating this new Blogpost is to connect with our readers and others who might be interested in the work we publish and what we stand for as Pan African Publishers championing the finest writing from Africa and its Diasporas.
Ayebia is an award-winning specialist African and Caribbean independent publisher based in Banbury in Oxfordshire. My background and training is in educational publishing having worked at Heinemann Educational Books at Oxford for 12-years on their world renowned African and Caribbean Writers Series. The Series that published and promoted the largest collection of African writers under one roof here in the UK. The books published in the Series is now acknowledged as the canon of African writing used in African Studies internationally.
First, I think it is imperative to give a brief historical perspective of the Series – The Heinemann African Writers Series started in 1962 with the publication of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (originally published in 1958) as AWS No.1 and with Achebe himself as the Founding Editor. Heinemann published 359 books in the series between 1962 and 2003.
The series has provided an international platform for many African writers including Chinua Achebe, Flora Nwapa, Wole Soyinka, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Steve Biko, Ama Ata Aidoo, Nadine Gordimer, Nelson Mandela, Kenneth Kaunda, Buchi Emecheta, Ayi Kwei Armah, Okot p’Bitek, Jack Mapanje et al.
How many people are actually aware of the fact that The African Writers Series has to-date published five winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature? They include Wole Soyinka (1986), Naguib Mahfouz (1988), Nadine Gordimer (1991), Doris Lessing (2007), and Abdulrazak Gurnah (2021) who I had the pleasure of working with as the then Series Editor from 1994 when I was at Heinemann. In 2002, in the 40th year of the anniversary of the Series, Heinemann Educational Books was taken over by an American company called Harcourt Brace and they decided to discontinue publishing new work in the Series. At that time, I was then the Editorial Submissions Editor in their Oxfordshire Offices at Jordan Hill and part of a team of about 21 staff in the International Department who published and promoted the Series to world-wide audiences. As the first port of call for in-coming manuscripts at Heinemann, my job effectively became redundant! I was re-employed as the Series Consultant for a year when I travelled to Africa, the USA and other parts of the world to inform the authors about Heinemann’s decision to cease publishing new material. It was a challenging year but there was a silver lining!
It was the year that I started Ayebia Clarke Publishing Limited with my British husband David and our son Nick Kweku later joining us in 2003 by publishing our first book – The Cry of Winnie Mandela by the South African academic and author Njabulo S Ndebele which was launched at South Africa House by the then South African Ambassador to the UK – Dr Lindiwe Mabuza (now of blessed memory). The rest as they say is Herstory!
Ayebia was founded in 2003 on my belief that the Heinemann African Writers Series had taken African writing as far as it could at that time and it was now up to Africans to take up the mantle and publish their own writing by being more daring and radical in our selection of African narratives and expanding our international reach. I find a proverb of the late Chinua Achebe useful here … in a 1994 interview with the Paris Review, Achebe said and I quote: “There is a great proverb — that until the lions have their own historian, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter!”
Ayebia has gone on to publish over 36 books including novels, poetry, short stories, biographies, autobiographies, literary criticism and books on important subjects such as FGM and the immigrant condition in the world.
In subsequent Blogs, I will walk you through Ayebia’s journey thus far and pick a book each month to blog about. Suffice to say Heinemann’s training has stood me in great stead and my unwavering belief and confidence in the African story as an enabler for change has empowered me to channel my cultural activism by carefully selecting the work that we choose to publish.
Ayebia’s mission is to counter the negative stereotypes often paraded in western narratives about the African continent and the people of Africa by providing positive images and narratives that champion and celebrate Africa and Caribbean history, culture and the Continent’s contribution to world knowledge.
In subsequent Ayebia Blogs, I will select and demonstrate how the books we have published tell the story of Ayebia thus far.
I invite you to come with me on this exciting journey of rediscovery and affirmation to champion and celebrate the best writing and storytelling from Africa and its Diasporas.
Nana Ayebia Clarke MBE.
Ayebia Clarke Publishing Limited