On October 29, 2019, five African organizations related to writing and publishing, including leading Nigerian publisher Cassava Republic Press, were awarded a $20,000 grant each by the African Publishing Innovation Fund. In a statement published on Facebook on November 1, 2019, which Brittle Paper is recirculating in full with permission, Bibi Bakare-Yusuf, co-founder and publishing director of Cassava Republic Press, details the genesis of the idea behind the Press’s grant proposal and its plans to launch an African language imprint with the grant:
I [Bibi Bakare-Yusuf] have been nursing the idea of a publishing imprint devoted to African languages forever. The idea became even more urgent after reading Mukoma Wa Ngugi’s The Rise of the African Novel (I urge you all to read it. And if you’re in Nigeria, wait and buy the Cassava edition, coming soon!) and when I witnessed the birth of my grand-nephew last year, and the mother, my niece, wanted a Yoruba-style naming ceremony and party, yet does not speak Yoruba. Young mothers like her are desperate for their children to speak the language their parent did not speak to them (maybe they are ones we’ve been waiting for!). I started making notes about what it would mean to have a publishing imprint in African languages, but the cost was enormous! I decided, I’d tackle it in 2020, as a 50th birthday gift to myself and to African publishing.
Then the indefatigable Bodour Alqasimi [International Publishers Association vice-president] emailed suggesting that I attend the IPA-Nairobi seminar and be ready to put in a proposal for a new innovation fund for African publishing. Here was my opportunity to put into motion the dream of an African language imprint. From the presentation in Nairobi to a gruesome proposal writing process over a 5 month period to Cassava Republic being one of five recipients of the Dubai Cares-IPA Africa [Publishing] Innovation Fund in Sharjah this week, I feel we can begin that journey of creating an African language imprint, starting with children’s books and Nigerian languages. Of course, we still need more money, but that journey has started with Dubai Cares-IPA, joined by OlaTukunbo Ishmael, co-founder of Alitheia Capital, the first women-owned fund management in Nigeria who has also committed a sizeable amount to kick-starting this new imprint.
In the first phase of the initiative, we’ll invite and commission select authors to write children’s stories in Yoruba, Igbo, and Hausa. The second phase will see the translation of existing children’s books into these languages and open submissions. So, we’ll be looking for translators, editors, authors, and illustrators, watch this space! We are not ignoring the smaller language groups, it will come.
In the meantime, I want to say thank you to Bodour Alqasimi, Dubai Cares, IPA, and OlaTukonbo Ishmael for leading the way in Nigeria, for supporting this initiative, and matching the Dubai Cares-IPA fund. I hope others will follow! I’ll be calling on you all for support soon.
Cassava Republic Press was co-founded by Bibi Bakare-Yusuf in 2006. Since then, it has published groundbreaking fiction and non-fiction books such as Yemisi Aribisala’s memoir Longthroat Memoirs: Soups, Sex And Nigerian Taste Buds (2016), which became the first African book to win the John Avery Award for food writing; She Called Me Woman: Nigeria’s Queer Women Speak (2018), co-edited by Azeenarh Mohammed, Chitra Nagarajan, and Rafeeat Aliyu; Teju Cole’s novella Every Day Is for the Thief (2007); and Sarah Ladipo Manyika’s Goldsmiths Prize-shortlisted second novel Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun (2016). In April 2018, at the London Book Fair’s International Excellence Awards, Cassava Republic Press was recognized with the Inclusivity in Publishing Award, and in December 2018, Bibi Bakare-Yusuf was named Brittle Paper‘s 2018 African Literary Person of the Year.
Congratulations once more to Cassava Republic Press and to Bibi Bakare-Yusuf for making a dream a reality! African publishing and African literature are richer because of your vision.