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Zukiswa Wanner.

Zukiswa Wanner recently wrote an essay in South African newspaper Mail and Guardian calling out the country’s white-dominated “parochial publishing industry.” Titled “Writings on the Wall for Parochial SA Publishers,” the piece zeroes in on prevailing one-sided narratives: that nonfiction sells more than fiction in the country, that black people don’t read. Recently, Wanner also called out misogyny in South Africa, Kenya and Zimbabwe.

Read an excerpt below.

As a writer published in South Africa, I work in an insane industry.

Elsewhere, problems might arise because of the writers and their “feeling misunderstood” artsy attitudes. In South Africa, it’s because of a parochial publishing industry.

Twenty-seven years after Nelson Mandela walked out of prison, the South African publishing industry’s articles of faith still remain that middle-class white women are the biggest readers and buyers of books, and that nonfiction sells more than fiction.

Sadly the insistence to hold onto these beliefs, while not likely to kill the industry, is bleeding it in the same way that traditional churches that refused to transform became less popular than the newer, shinier prosperity gospel churches.

The only difference being that, in the transformation happening in literature, there is a depth that perhaps is not seen in grass-eating, petrol-imbibing churches.

Many years ago, I was visiting our family home built on land we don’t own in Orlando West Extension, for one of those “one of ours who’s made us proud” homecomings that many of us dream of. The reason for all the love stemmed from the fact that many people in the street had read my first novel and enjoyed it. Or they said they had enjoyed it.

Conversations ekoneni even went something like: “Vuyo’s mother’s home maZuki, is that …” and “Zooks mfethu, you put me in there, and my joint. That’s me, akere?”

It was music to my ears. And the glow continues 10 years later as I write this, although I would find out later that day that everyone on the street had read and circulated just one copy of my book.

Thando Mgqolozana calls it travelling books. One person buys it, reads it and says: “Tjo. Maar this book.” Then passes it on to another who passes it on to another and so forth.

So the first mistake that the publishing industry makes is to believe that only a certain demographic is not reading. Not buying books is not the same as not reading.

But even the book-buying dynamics have changed.

In my own family it began with one of my cousins asking me for some cash. “I don’t have any,” I answered. But why didn’t I since I had just had a book out? Well since she was sharing the one copy I bought for her with the whole street, where was I supposed to make money from?

Now she tells the neighbours to buy books and when I walk in the hood and am told about a book, it’s because someone wants to know how long I am at makhulu’s so that they can come and get their copy signed.

I think part of the disconnect between writers and white publishers has been very much ingrained in this fallacious belief that a certain demographic of people does not read.

Read the full essay HERE.

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About Otosirieze Obi-Young

View all posts by Otosirieze Obi-Young
Otosirieze Obi-Young is a writer, an academic, literary journalist, and Deputy Editor of Brittle Paper. His fiction has appeared in The Threepenny Review, Transition, and in an anthology of the Gerald Kraak Award for which he was shortlisted. His work has further been shortlisted for the Miles Morland Writing Scholarship in 2016 and a Pushcart Prize in 2015. He attended the 2018 Miles Morland Foundation Creative Writing Workshop. He is the curator of the ART NAIJA SERIES, a sequence of themed e-anthologies of writing and visual art exploring different aspects of Nigerianness. The first, ENTER NAIJA: THE BOOK OF PLACES (October, 2016), focuses on cities in Nigeria. The second, WORK NAIJA: THE BOOK OF VOCATIONS (June, 2017), focuses on professions in Nigeria. He studied History and Literature at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, is currently completing a postgraduate programme in African Studies, and teaches English at Godfrey Okoye University, Enugu. He has completed a collection of short stories, YOU SING OF A LONGING, and is working on a novel. He is represented by David Godwin Associates literary agency. When bored, the boy just Googles Rihanna.

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

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