For years now, I've been saying it is not that Batswana don't read, they just don't buy books. They don't buy books because 1) they're prohibitively expensive and 2) the books that mention their lives, at all, are often far too serious and not very entertaining. What's needed are cheap, fun books about Botswana and cheap, fun books about Africa as a whole. The same applies to the black population in South Africa. People complain that they don't buy books, but yet no one can shift the marketing plan, even a fraction, to entice them. I think this is, thankfully, beginning to change.
There is a great article in this week's Mail and Guardian (14 August) about a new South African publishing house that is doing just that- Paper Bag Publishing. The company was started by Pat Hopkins who wanted to use the model set down by American and European dime novels and penny dreadfuls that helped build a book reading and book buying public among the working class of those countries. Paper Bag's first title was launched at the just ended Johannesburg Book Fair titled "I Ain't Yo Bitch" by Jabulile Bongiwe Ngwenya. It's the story of a budding lesbian hip-hop artist. (Buy it at Amazon here)
Paper Bag's strategy is to mentor young black writers to write their own stories and then to publish them cheaply so that young black readers can buy them. I think it is exactly what the continent needs.
Elsewhere in this blog I have spoken about the fact that for so long if African books were to be successful that success was only found off the continent. It is time African books, by African writers find their success here in Africa, but that will only happen when our books are written for our readers-the whole wide spectrum not, the little slivers the publishing houses now pander to.
A similar theme comes out in a recent interview at Litnet with South African Fiona Snyckers, author of Trinity Rising .
She is asked: It is very refreshing to read a South African novel which isn't beating a drum about issues. How has Trinity Rising been received so far?
And she has this to say: The feedback I’ve been getting is that local readers generally don’t expect to be entertained by local fiction. Instructed, moved and harrowed perhaps, but not entertained. So a lot of readers have expressed relief at coming across a novel that doesn’t preach to them about social issues. They have enjoyed the familiarity of the local setting without the angst that usually goes with it.
African fiction needs to lighten up and pull everybody into the wonders of reading and books. I think the changes that are happening are fantastic. Already bigger publishing houses are jumping on board. I think it is the beginning of change.