Guest Post ~ African youth literature: what visibility on the international market? by Mariette Robbes
Mariette Robbes is a volunteer with the International Alliance of Independent Publishers, following an internship with the organisation in 2011. She holds a Masters in the”World of the Book” (Aix-en-Provence University), for which she specialized in children’s book publishing in India; and she has just completed three months with the International Youth Library in Munich, pursuing her research into the history of youth publishing in India. Mariette is also working concurrently on several textile and graphic creation projects.
At this year’s Bologna Book Fair, the International Alliance of Independent Publishers ran a workshop with African children’s book publishers (from Mali, Guinea, Togo, Senegal, Rwanda, Madagascar and Benin) and a Brazilian publisher specialized in the Afro-Brazilian culture. We are delighted to welcome Mariette to PaperTigers with an article about the workshop and some of the issues discussed, and in which she highlights some of the challenges facing these small, independent publishers.
~ African Youth Literature: What Visibility in the International Market? ~
A reflection on multiculturalism, African children’s literature
and the international market place.
Children’s books publishing, in expansion in many regions in the world, is particularly strategic in countries where publishing is emergent – it is indeed through youth literature that tomorrow’s readership is formed. While catering for their local readership, publishers in Africa also wish to be known internationally and to have business with publishers from others countries. Their participation at some public book fairs in the North, for instance the Montreuil Children’s Book Fair (the biggest French children’s book fair) shows the existence of a readership on the Northern markets. However, publishers from African countries still participate very little in the global exchange of rights that animates the publishing world – and which is the core of international events like the Bologna or Frankfurt Book Fairs.
This question of visibility and intercultural exchange is quite complex and not specific to African children’s literature, as Gita Wolf – from the Indian publishing house Tara Books – underlines in her book Picturing Words & Reading Pictures (Tara Books, Chennai, 1997):
“Whether rights are bought for books from India or Africa also depends largely on current political climates. What should children in Europe or North America be reading? Are multicultural books exotic, or are they necessary? As in other industries like fashion, countries like India can be ‘in’ one season and ‘out’ the next.”
Those topics were the main subject of exchanges in a two-day workshop that saw eight independent publishers from different African countries and Brazil share their experiences and think of innovative solutions that would help them to be more visible at international book fairs, in order to promote their publishing houses worldwide.
Publishers present were:
Paulin Assem – Ago editions (Togo)
Agnès and Peter Gyr Ukunda – Bakame (Rwanda)
Antoinette Correa – BLD (Senegal)
Sékou Fofana – Editions Donniya (Mali)
Aliou Sow – Ganndal (Republic of Guinea)
Marie Michèle Razafintsalama – Jeunes Malgaches (Madagascar)
Cristina and Mariana Warth – Pallas editora (Brazil)
Cendra Gbado Batossi and Pierre Gbado – Ruisseaux d’Afrique (Benin)
All these publishers come from very different countries and backgrounds, and publish a wide array of books; from poetry to comics, to picture books and young adult literature. Their readerships are different, as well as the government policies supporting the development of book industries in their own countries. In this sense, all the publishers had different stories to share when it comes to marketing their books in the global market.
During the two days of the workshop, intense discussion took place between publishers, sharing their own experiences of the international marketplace: for example, Marie Michèle Razafintsalama from the publishing house Jeunes Malgaches (Madagascar) related her experience of buying the rights of The Little Prince by Saint-Exupéry to translate it into a bilingual Malagasy and French edition Ilay Andriandahy Kely; while Cristina and Mariana Warth from Pallas Editora (Brazil) explained their preparation process for the Fair, beginning months in advance.
Though it is well noted that the invitation program of Bologna Book Fair is a great opportunity because it allows publishers to attend, it is not sufficient in itself for creating a convincingly visible presence at the Fair. On this point, a presentation by Hannele Legras, Literary Agent from Hannele and Associates agency, was very helpful. She gave an introduction to foreign rights management, practices of the profession, a panorama of international markets, and a lot of tips and advice that publishers were eager to try.
The workshop was also the place for publishers to express their views on the difference between their local readerships’ tastes, expectations and purchasing power, and what can be seen in the Western marketplace. Do publishers need to adapt their books in order to market them internationally? What are the market standards in other emerging markets i.e China, Brazil, Mexico, etc? How might they differ from the Western standards, thus creating not one standard for publishing, but many different business models?
In the coming months and as a follow-up to the workshop, the Alliance will produce a small guide which will summarise all the ideas shared by publishers and the different speakers at the workshop.
The workshop also allowed publishers, who do not often have the opportunity to meet up, to exchange projects, books and ideas among themselves. Watch out for new projects and collaborations coming soon!
N.B. This workshop took place in the context of the International Assembly of Independent Publishers (more information here), and thanks to a partnership with the Bologna Book Fair to engage in reflection about the visibility of African independent publishers in international book fairs and rights events.