Changing the Color of Literature

In a previous post, I observed that one of the major ways we can begin growing African readers is by encouraging publishers who are developing a literary cannon directed at the continent.

This is vitally important because African publishers occupy an important place in the cultural landscape of the continent. They aren’t just creators of a product, they are making important strides towards shifting the balance of literary power.

We may not realise it, but those who currently hold the reins of power in international literary circles aren’t really the readers. Even though Western readers are as diverse as their populations, the literary establishment does not reflect this.

In a recent Daily Mail article, Joanna Trollope pointed out that even though women make up 67% of readers in the UK, most of the books that are reviewed in newspapers are by written by men. The majority of reviewers are male and male reviewers don’t often review books written by women.

Last year, the London Review Of Books used 29 women reviewers compared with 155 men, and reviewed 58 books by women as opposed to 163 by men. Even that academic bastion, the Times Literary Supplement, managed to allot only a quarter of its annual 1,314 reviews to books by women. Bookshop windows favour books by men, as do arts programmes and literary festivals. Surely this is unfair.

The bias extends not just to gender, but race as well. An informal review of the New York Times last year revealed that 90% of books reviewed in the paper were written by white writers. It is unlikely that this figure is representative of the racial demographics of readers in the United States.

In fact, the creative industries in the US as a whole are dominated by White males. According to Richard Florida’s Rise of the Creative Class, men outearn women by nearly 50 percent while more than 80 percent of creative class jobs are held by whites.

African publishers, by producing books by African authors for African readers, are bringing more diverse perspectives into the literary establishment. More importantly, we are allowing Africans to control their own narratives.


  • i do agree with the article.but my concerns is the reviews. its directs or suggests the books we the readers should read and talk about.creating a buzz in the literary community. African publishers should also take advantage of all social media promote the works and also use stars(music n films) to give their review.using these reviews as a buzz to promote sales.making it available to consumers.cos most times the consumers can t easily get the books to buy and affordability is another subject for another day.most times publicity is not sufficient enough.women groups should also endeavor to promote women writers too.starting from their immediate groups and it will water down the family and society at large.

    Posted by gbemi on July 02, 2012
  • Social media is definitely one way of going around the literary establishment, but there is evidence that even there divisions are starting to become evident. Publishers across the continent are finding innovative ways to get the word out on books, but in the end it’s the reader who is the best promoter of a good book. So if you’ve got any books of African literature that you particularly enjoyed, go online and talk about it. That’s the best way to get any book the buzz – and sales – that it deserves.

    Posted by chinelo on July 05, 2012

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