5646953450_a31b2163c4_zCyprian Ekwensi who has published 24 books, Naguib Mafouz 46, and Wilbur Smith 36 are up there on Africa’s most published list.

But the person who tops the list is, as far as we know, an eccentric but brilliant writer little known outside his native Kenya.

Some say he made his name writing pornographic drivel, but I see him as one of  of Africa’s most innovative publishers.

“I stand as the most published author in African continent,” says David Maillu on his website.

There’s little to argue with in this statement.

Maillu has published about 60 fiction and non-fiction books.

Maillu’s 60 books many be small compared to other prolific authors in Europe or America whose work run into the hundreds. But his journey to writing and publishing is a story that can inspire a new generation of entrepreneurial writers.

Maillu was born in the late 1930s in Kenya. Even though he did not finish secondary school, he developed a passion for writing and the business of publishing.

In the 1970s, A-list African novelists like Achebe and Ngugi were looking to international publishers to get their work out. Maillu didn’t have access to their elite publishing network or their exclusive literary circles. All he had was the brilliant idea to approach writing entirely as a business.

In 1973, with the help of a loan from a friend, Maillu set up his own publishing company called Comb Books. The first title, which he wrote himself and published under Comb Books, is titled Unfit for Human Consumption. The novella was an instant hit. Like a Nollywood marketer, Maillu kept writing and churning out titles after titles that sold out. By 1976, each of Maillu’s titles were selling tens of thousands of copies.

His fictional writings are “mini-novels,” purse-size novellas about very racy subjects—sex, alcohol, marital drama, and so on—most of which are quite raunchy.

Self-important African literary critics have called him out for writing what they say are little more than pornography. Raunchy or not, Maillu had achieved literary success riding on the tastes and desires of an urban African audience.

Maillu was all about giving the general reader what they wanted, and we should respect him for that. He’s running a business and not a church. If the people want sex, if that’s what they’d pay for, then give them sex. It’s all about demand. Maillu went as far as doing market research to decide on what to write. That’s how much he thought of novels and poetry as commercial products.

Maillu fell into financial troubles in the 1980s. But his early success in writing and publishing should inspire us. Aspiring African writers should seek out innovative ways of getting their work out instead of endlessly waiting to get “picked up” by some American publishing house.


Reference for post: The New David Maillu by Bernth Lindfors

Author image via Art Matters

Feature Image by ivanneth via Flickr