Monday, 16 May 2011

African Perspectives...

Esplorando il panorama letterario sudafricano, ricco di promesse e voci "nuove", mi sono imbattuta in Rose Francis, editore di  African Perspectives, un progetto editoriale che intende promuovere scrittori africani nel continente e nella diaspora. Riflettendo con Rose si evince quanto sia ancora difficile oggi per gli scrittori in Africa, uscire allo scoperto, condividere il proprio lavoro inghiottiti da un sistema in cui i  governi  tendono a considerare l'arte e la cultura come una sorta di "servizio sociale"- per dirla con il filosofo Achille Mbembe - "per curare i sintomi della povertà e del sottosviluppo". Lo stesso Mbambe, a ragione fortemente critico sulla questione, chiede che "il Sudafrica  immagini se stesso come un nazione afropolitana ponendo una distanza dal concetto di cultura come un semplice insieme di tradizioni, costumi monumenti e musei."
"Instead of creating art, many artists in the Continent are forced to spend most of their time, energy and intelligence filling useless bureaucratic forms, begging, desperately trying to respond to ever-changing fads and policies when they are not checking the mood of ever-touchy 'cultural attachés' of Western consulates or agencies from whom they hope to get some support. This is a huge waste."
Rose Francis
Professor Achille Mbembe points the attention on a very important issue concerning the difficulties of being an artist in modern South Africa and not only here. It's basically a common state of the whole African continent. Among the interesting projects around the country (South Africa) which are dedicated to promote authors within a new order of ideas and discussion boards, I've stumbled in Rose Francis' African Perspectives,  a publishing project based in Johannesburg which publishes writers living on the Continent and in the Diaspora. Here the interview kindly given by Rose Francis, the directory of African Persepctives.

VALENTINA -  Rose, can you tell us about African Perspectives, its aims, goals and the philosophy which is behind this project?
ROSE FRANCIS - African Perspectives is the Holding Company for African Perspectives Publishing and African Perspectives Heritage.
African Perspectives is a niche communications entity that has print publishing and a soon to be launched audio publishing component in June.
We publish African writers and poets living on the Continent or in the Diaspora in English or English and Arabic jointly. Our focus is history, politics and literature.  In a Eurocentric World, where opinion and thought is largely framed within the context of rigid academic training, referencing is mainly by way of classical Western thinking, market driven economic theories - irrespective of the film covering it.’ Rich Dad, Poor Dad’ stuff in South Africa, when you have no access to drinking water, share your four roomed house if you lucky, with twelve cousins, brothers and sisters is a bit much to stomach. The fields are not equal and we must stop pretending they are. African Perspectives seeks to engage in a critique of resistance to the callous indifference of the mind, soul and therefore society. To the very value of dialogue;  to the questioning of  authority, dogma, parochialism, fundamentalism and indoctrination – delivering content through a growing number of diverse channels. Radio, national distribution of literature through traditional book retail outlets with print and audio and a schools programme we are looking at starting soon in the publishing division. But our greatest success is going to be in the field of new market development. We just started this in lifestyle establishments, trendy bars and restaurants where we bring our writers for an hour engage, sell our titles and leave them to eat, drink and engage further on their own turf but always ensuring the network remains available and accessible through face book.  African Perspectives Heritage is been developed and will launch it’s first project in October. It is an experiential communications platform that focuses on legacy and will benefit directly from these Lifestyle encounters and face book and other social networks.

VALENTINA -  On AP ‘s site, it is said that AP wants to be a “place” promoting dialogue between cultures offering opportunities to confront ideas and free thoughts against fundamentalism and  stereotypes which characterize many cultural context especially in western world. In few lines what Africa propose as a new discussion points?
ROSE FRANCIS - Discussion Points and Themes are as I said, in the genre of politics, history and literature.  We have just completed the reading on National radio of Don Mattera’s biographical account of forced removals which will soon be launched on compact disc. Whilst the theme of forced removal might appear ‘pre 1994’ rooted in apartheid philosophy, it still is been used as a mechanism to resettle communities and destabilise without their consent. There is also the underlying intension of asking the difference between forced removals and that of forced migration, which speaks into the xenophobic tendencies   Africans experience on many levels. Of course this is not acknowledged, but it is evident. Our own very recent history of attacking so - called foreign nationals in South Africa from the North of The Limpopo is a good example. South Africa is far from being a Country of the Rainbow Nation status we gave ourselves for whatever expediency. It is deeply conflicted. We address other themes such as our history or lack of knowledge of our history, what was happening in other parts of the World at the same time and cross reference this with the reality of similar situations in other African  Countries.  For me, history is everything. You cannot evaluate Society without access to this – the historical imperative or perspective.

VALENTINA- Philosopher Achille Mbembe said that Africa and Africans, has to find its own “voice”, has to start telling things from its own point of view and break the ethnocentric view of Europe. Can you say this is already happening? 
ROSE FRANCIS - Is telling things from our own historical perspective happening? Well, I do think it is happening but the stories are not been published and distributed so this becomes a mute point. Many of the writings are also not mobile beyond a specific and sometimes parochial regionality. Also, one needs to understand what it is one is publishing and why? In my opinion, the manuscripts I publish must reflect at least a part of  this larger contextualisation and universality which allows the broader society to engage in the issues. Publishing is a volume based business. The margins are low and therefore the narrative must be transferable beyond the region of its source.

VALENTINA -   How is the new generation literary scene in Africa today? Can  you list for us names of authors who deserves an international attention and might be even translated?
ROSE FRANCIS - Well I believe I alluded to this scene in my previous response. It is tough for new writers World wide. In Africa and South Africa it is particularly difficult. Everyone wants to write but few read. We are seeing wonderful young writing but I am not the one to ask with regard to this. I don’t engage with many writers. I select a few and concentrate on the marketing and packaging of their writings. Without this, you dead in the water, no matter the brilliance of the manuscript. Also, I don’t publish ‘kiss and tell’s’’ or’ who shot so and so’? So I am not looking for the next BIG thing in the same way a multi national publishing house would be. I am building more than my bottom line. I am trying to build a Society. A new one – with a different sensibility - as naïve as that might sound.

How is the new generation literary scene in Africa today? Can  you list for us names of authors who deserves an international attention and might be even translated?
ROSE FRANCIS - Well, Don Mattera and Lebo Mashile’s works have been translated. But is it the author that needs to be translated or is it the particular manuscript? I think it is the particular manuscript. But I might be picking at stones in the same kraal, although I doubt it.  Don Mattera‘s Memory is the Weapon is a reprint. It was first published by Ravan Press. Do you know the history of this publishing house? It was started by Beyers Naude    and published protest literature. The manuscript was translated in Sweden long before I came across this work. It was out of print in South Africa as many of our great works are. They are out of print - left to rot on the heap of manuscripts that don’t translate well, into 30 second sound bytes and our sensational appetite for fast food, so to speak. Lebo’s first collection of poems called ‘In a Ribbon of Rhythm’ has been recently translated into German. Memory is the Weapon and Azanian Love Song by Don Mattera, Nostalgic Waves of Soweto: Poetic memories of the June 16th Uprising  by Sol Rachilo, The Politics of South African Football by Oshebeng Alphie Koonyaditse are available online from Barnes and Noble, and Amazon. u.k. , The African Books Collective based in Oxford and Red Pepper Books in South Africa . The Politics of South African Football is a major work by first time author, Oshebeng Alphie Koonyaditse and is an inspiring account of the journey that led to that memorable day in May, 2004 when for the first time in World Cup History, Africa hosted the FIFA World Cup in 2010. It’s strength is that it is seriously well researched and superbly edited since it goes back to before the formation of FIFA in 1904 in a narrative style of the thriller. This is African Perspectives as I see the future. The audio Rights was sold to our National radio staion during the FIFA World Cup and broadcast during prime time National radio when the Country was filled with tourists particularly to hear, see and watch the game of football and within that context, enter ‘The Politics of South African Football by possibly the youngest publishing house in South Africa. I am very proud of this work. Whichever book is written on South African football in the future, it will have to reference this title. It is truly remarkable. I am not a football lover particularly, so for me to be engaged in this manuscript was in itself testimony to the history and relevant cross referencing and narration.

VALENTINA -  Is there a difference , in themes / topics, between African authors in their countrues and Africana living in the diaspora? If yes, which one?
ROSE FRANCIS -  My sense is that fiction is much more accessible on the Continent. Non fiction is written more by Africans in the Diaspora because of the funding that many have access too. Non fiction requires much research. Which is not to say that fiction does not,  but certainly not in the same sense that non fiction does.

VALENTINA -   What are the most prolific countries in Africa in terms of literature?
ROSE FRANCIS -  I would say Nigeria for reading and writing, followed by Sudan for writing.

VALENTINA  -  What are the main difficulties of new authors to be published in African countries?
ROSE FRANCIS - The difficulties of new authors been published in African Countries:? It cost a lot to position a new author. Nobody knows them, nobody gives a damn. That kind of investment is difficult to ever recover from a new author’s first book.

VALENTINA -  We know how difficult is having access to books for the majority of the population either in South Africa either in other African countries where the prices of books are not proportional to the capacity of buying, according to your experience how would it be possible to break this barrier and  allow access to books to everyone?
ROSE FRANCIS - The traditional publishing industry in South Africa is selling books like’ Who killed Kebble’ - a well resourced and connected mobster owner of diamonds and gold and many other well connected people - an excellent crime- thriller type story, Harry Potter - are the books that many are interested in. Many, particularly white Anglo Saxon of Presbyterian origin. Look I am a marketer, so I dissect audiences. That is what I do. It is not a racist slur. It is what it is. This is what I am up against. This and ‘The Oprah Best Reads,’ which just happen - never to be written by any African and are in the main, about Rich Dads and Poor Dads. 

Among the last works published by African Perspectives you can find:
Memory is the weapon by DON MATTERA
Nostalgic Waves from Soweto by SOL RACHILO
Politics is the greatest game by PAT STEVENS
The Centre is Black by MGN KAHENDE
The Empowered Native by LEITEPE MAISELA
Tehka's Journey by MURRAY MC MILLAN

African Perspectives' Books can be purchased at
U.K. and Europe:


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