The Rebirth of Publishing in Nigeria

November 2003.  We’d just moved to Lagos from London and were keen to get involved in cultural production (and escape the wasteland of living in VGC).  Sensing kindred spirits, we volunteered to help Ebun Olatoye (now Feludu - pictured) and Yemisi Ogbe, then editor on how to improve Farafina magazine’s online presence and make it more financially viable. This was in the context of Jeremy’s experience in the new media sector in the UK.  At our first meeting (a quiet Saturday in Onikan), we offered the best free advice we could give.  Meanwhile, Ebun had brought copies of the novel of a new writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.  Her excitement and desire to promote it in Nigeria was so infectious that we could not help but share in her enthusiasm. We got hold of a copy and devoured it in days.  Purple Hibiscus drew us in: Nigeria had a new talent.  We agreed with Ebun that Adichie must be widely known in Nigeria. Jeremy wrote the first review of Purple Hibsicus and had it published in the Guardian a few days later.

The rest of the Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie story is history (or herstory), if not quite a single story.  It was inspiring to be a part of the early days, supporting the first tour from behind the scenes (Jeremy was pushed forward, reluctantly, to interview Chimamanda at the first book event, at Yellow Chilli restaurant).  Ebun’s workload and passion for the project back then was awesome: we can’t forget the late nights she worked (and the vulnerable after-midnight drives home to Agege), the sheer hustle of the woman as she made one jigsaw piece click into place after another.  She managed to get Fatai Rolling Dollar to perform his wonders that evening, re-introducing many of the guests to the music of their parents. The relatively shy and unknown Asa also performed that night, singing ‘Iwa El’ewa’ written by Ebun and Alaba Ajani.  Rolling Dollar even took a shine to Ebun and had many of us rolling!  Had Nigeria in recent times witnessed such a beautiful evening in a contemporary Nigerian culinary setting?  Actors acting out parts of the book, beautiful music wafting in from outside.  There was a sense of a new cultural moment everyone in the audience felt.  That night and all the activities leading up to it placed both Farafina and Chimamanda in the minds of Nigerians.  In our view, it was also what led to the birth of NLNG’s involvement in literature as Yemisi Ogbe drafted a proposal for Farafina to organise the NLNG event.

The energetic and fluid way Yemisi and Ebun worked together to put Farafina and Adichie on the map is a constant reminder of what women can do to support other women.  Their role in the rebirth of Nigerian publishing will likely be lost in the forest; they will be women yet again written out of history.  But we remember Yemisi and Ebun and their contribution to a new era in Nigerian publishing and writing, just as we remember all those indomitable women around the continent who continue to sweat quietly to ensure that our multifarious stories are kept alive and read: Colleen Higgs at Modjadji, Irene Staunton at Weaver Press, until not long ago Simi Dosekun and now Yona Oyegun-Masade at Kachifo, Afi Omoluabi at Parresia, Muthoni Garland at Storymoja, Melinda Ferguson at MF Books, Angela Wachuka at Kwani, the FEMRITE women and many more.  They are all part of the exciting re-emergence of publishing across the continent. 

The efforts of Yemisi and Ebun at Farafina were the second spark that led eventually to setting up Cassava Republic three years later and the publication of Teju Cole’s Every Day is for the Thief.  The first had happened three years before in 2000.  We’d visited Unilag bookshop (during a trip to Nigeria), and noted the heart-breaking paucity of books available.  We both felt a pang of pain and a visceral “something must be done”.  At that time, we just didn’t know quite what it was.

And so, ten years on.  It’s wonderful that Chimamanda Adichie is now an icon in Nigerian (and African) writing and alongside Helon Habila - who opened up the fourth wave in Nigerian writing with his Caine Prize winning story ‘Prison Note’ which later became ‘Waiting for An Angel’ – as well as Teju Cole, are among the Nigerian/Africa/global literary superstars of our time.  We celebrate the work Farafina/Kachifo has done in casting the words of Adichie, Sefi Atta and others far and wide across Nigeria.  We also applaud their work in organising prestigious writing workshops, and bringing emerging talent together from across Nigeria and beyond.  Long may Farafina/Kachifo, and our other fellow publishers such as Chimurenga, Parresia, Bookcraft, Modjadji, Weaver Press, MF Books, Amalion, Kwani! and others continue to thrive despite the challenges.  Of course we cannot go without acknowledging the dogged determination of the men and women at CORA who, by keeping Lagos Book Arts and Festival going for over twelve years, continue to inspire others such as the Garden Literary Festival and the forthcoming Ake festival (organised by that unstoppable force of nature, Lola Shoneyin) about the importance of offering a space for creative minds to come together amidst the brute, chaotic and commodified fetishism of the Western myth-making machine and its ongoing symbolic erasures.  

The raw talent will keep coming – all the stories of Nigeria cannot be captured or told by a single author or publishing house - our mission is to spot it, nurture and challenge it, and then to publish it.  We need more celebrity authors, just as we need many more publishing houses to nurture the next generation of writerly superstars.  We all know the work of pioneering companies – after all, for a while, publishing in Nigeria went through a death phase - is never easy.  Long may we also reach out and support each other on the journey.  And viva the Etisalat Prize! And the Caine Prize too!

The challenges for we small publishers are mountainous: a scant number of reliable bookshops (those that keep records and pay on time such as Quintessence, Terra Kulture, Salamander Café, Booksellers: we appreciate you!), no distribution networks, unreliable printers, a low buyership of books outside the south-west, endless port delays and theft.  However, these challenges are tiny blips in comparison to the existential opportunity: to generate powerful narratives that speak of the present, through conversations with the past and the future, and that take the conversation on who we are and where we are going forward.  The privilege of publishing is also to dream up ways of engaging technology to amplify all that we do, social media is definitely our friend as we embrace the emerging e-commerce sites such as Konga, Buyam, Jumia who are already transforming our bottom-line, just as we continue to appreciate all our small retailers and those who buy books by us and by other African publishers.  

Writers, readers and publishers work together to dream of a new present, where a thousand voices articulate the passions and the contradictions of the now.  Who would baulk at such a privilege?  Publishing is just giving birth in Nigeria today.  The future is shiny bright.


  • I have a narrative that i want to publish, it is titled ‘FLOODGATE’. It is a story about the spirit world of the Igbos their Osu caste.

    Posted by on December 11, 2014
  • Honestly,you guys are really doing a great job;i appreciate.please,i have a manuscript that is ready for publishing.the title is ‘’The festac deal’’moreover i am seriously working on another fast paced fiction novel.what do you guys think?

    Posted by Malcom, Emenike on June 17, 2014
  • I am a Professor of History. Can you publish serious academic work? If so can I publish with you? If your answer is yes, please send me your brief.

    Posted by J. H. Enemugwem on May 03, 2014
  • I want to publish my 1st book of poems titled ‘If Only I knew’ Hw exactly do your service vome in since there is no avenue for uploading a book on cassavarepublic website. Hw do you guys do d epublishing?

    Posted by Odunade rasheed on April 21, 2014
  • Looking for a Nigerian Publisher. I live in Kenya, but I am an African American with publications in the USA

    Posted by MUSAU on April 04, 2014
  • I needed to know how much I. am actually going to pay in other for you to get my manuscript published

    Posted by adekunle adebayo on January 03, 2014
  • Very informative article. Thanks to everyone who is contributing to the development of creative writing and publishing in Nigeria.

    As an author resident in London, am facing the difficulty of overcoming the issue of poor network distribution of my books in Nigeria.

    Eventually, solutions will emerge for the problems highlighted in the article .

    Posted by Stella Eromonsere-Ajanaku on October 03, 2013
  • The writer of this post is a great one at that.
    I have a manuscript ready for publishing, how do I come in?
    This is my second work. The first is title; The Weeping Palm Tree and the second; Spine of Peace.
    Thank you!

    Posted by Gideon Dashe on September 20, 2013
  • Btw, you guys missed out Adewale and Dulue’s New Gong Press.

    Posted by OOOBs on July 20, 2013
  • Great points and you give props to whom props are due!
    Cassava Republic, big up your chests!!!
    Keep up the good work!

    Posted by OOOBs on July 20, 2013
  • Its nice to see the appreciation for all the hard work that the farafina team had put into becoming what they are today.
    There is a lot to be said for the cultural approach to our works.
    There is room for more to be done in terms of value chain.
    Once again……i doff my hat to your achievements.

    Posted by Inyene on July 17, 2013
  • Kudos to this writer. I believe he or she (most likely a he) has succinctly captured the true picture of the pioneering zeal Ebun Olatoye (Mrs. What now?) brought into the cauldron of the emerging creative writer, the emerging publishing houses and the fast-growing readership base. She was a trojan in the fight to put the ‘book culture’ in the country back to where it belongs on the world map. Ebun Olatoye, Yemisi Ogbe and Farafina unleashed a literary revolution in Nigeria whose after-quake… oh, NEPA!!

    Posted by Kunle Idris on July 16, 2013
  • Great piece, though Habila’s Caine story is Love Poems not ‘Prison Note’.

    Posted by Ladi on July 16, 2013
  • right on the spot, pal. i agree.

    Posted by henry on July 16, 2013

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