Irene Staunton and Murray McCartney. Image credits to Cynthia R Matonhodze/The Guardian.

Zimbabwean publisher Weaver Press has shut down after 25 years of publishing Zimbabwean literature. The Harare-based independent publisher closed its doors at the end of 2023.

Formed in 1998, the press was co-founded by Irene Staunton and her husband Murray McCartney. The Press has published many notable African books on political and social history, the environment, media issues, women’s and children’s rights, fiction and literary criticism. It has uplifted the voices of up to 80 fiction and over 100 nonfiction writers from Zimbabwe.

Al Jazeera reported that the press celebrated its 25-year anniversary on Dec 7, 2023, bringing together authors Shimmer Chinodya, Petina Gappah, and Chiedza Musengezi; poet and university lecturer Musaemura Zimunya; former education minister and memoirist Fay Chung; and retired priest and writer David Harold-Barry.

Soon after the celebration, Staunton announced the press would shut down at the end of the year in an interview. McCartney added, “Much has changed over the years. We aren’t able to survive just from book sales…we get more revenue from freelance editing work. And that doesn’t need to be Weaver Press.”

At the time the husband-and-wife duo founded Weaver Press in the late 1990s, Zimbabwe’s political and economic climate was rockly due to former president Robert Mugabe’s regime. In a statement to Al Jazeera, Staunton commented on Weaver Press’ journey:

For the first few years we were more like an NGO than a publisher in that we tried to find funding for projects to get us off the ground because we ourselves didn’t have any capital except our time . . . In the last twenty years, the publishing scene has changed dramatically. Nowadays a great many people are self-publishing, and our best writers are being published outside the country for obvious reasons. They get much better advances, royalties, promotion, [and] they achieve an international reputation. If I was them, I would just do the same.

And unfortunately, in today’s digital era, the publishing press was unable to keep up with the times. McCartney told Al Jazeera, “Weaver Press has never been particularly good at marketing and publicity. I will concede that. That’s not our strength.”

Over the years, Weaver Press has a long list of accomplished writers and it is time to give credit where it belongs. Weaver first published Noviolet Bulawayo’s Caine Prize-winning story that transformed into We Need New Names, shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Weaver believed in Zimbabwean author Valerie Tagwira’s debut novel The Uncertainty of Hope, which received 13 rejections but after being published by Weaver Press, it won one of Zimbabwe’s National Arts Merit Awards, the country’s highest recognition in arts and culture.

Tagwira commented on Staunton’s expertise as a publisher to Al Jazeera, “When nobody else would, Weaver Press gave a voice to the stories that I felt compelled to tell as a novice writer. Irene’s patience and expertise as an editor inspired me and brought to fruition my long-held dream of becoming a published writer.”

Weaver Press has positively impacted Zimbabwe’s publishing landscape for the past 25 years. Some of their notable publications include Fay Chung’s war memoir Re-Living the Second Chimurenga, the late war veteran Dzinashe Machingura’s autobiography Memories of a Freedom Fighter, Tendai Huchu’s The Hairdresser of Harare, Yvonne Vera’s novel The Stone Virgins which won the 2002 Macmillan Writers’ Prize for Africa, Brian Chikwava’s short story “Seventh Street Alchemy” which won the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2004, and Petina Gappah’s 2009 Guardian First Book Award-winning collection An Elegy for Easterly, of which two of her stories were first published in Weaver short story anthologies.

Petina Gappah also shared her thoughts on Twitter upon hearing the news of Weaver shutting down:

We are sad about Weaver Press’ dormancy, as the literary landscape gets less diverse with more and more presses in Africa shutting down. Last year, Okada Books in Nigeria closed its doors as well. We are grateful however that Weaver was able to launch so many emerging African authors during its 25-year tenure. For that, it will be sorely missed.