Jun 11, 2023, 7:04am EDT

Africa’s literature is finally getting visibility but isn’t prolific yet

Courtesy: Bibi Bakare-Yusuf

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The Facts

Bibi Bakare-Yusuf is the co-founder and publishing director of Cassava Republic Press, a Nigerian company which has published award-winning authors including Teju Cole, Lola Shoneyin, and Chigozie Obioma. She has worked in academia, has a Ph.D in Women and Gender Studies, and is also a Yale World Fellow, a Desmond Tutu Fellow and a Frankfurt Book Fair Fellow.

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Know More

💡 What was the inspiration behind starting Cassava Republic?

In the 2000s, I had just taken up an academic role at a Nigerian university. I was struck by the limited selection of books available and the lack of diversity among authors on the shelves of homes and libraries I visited. Many of the books consisted of motivational business and religious titles, and commercial fiction by authors like Dan Brown and Stephen King. It seemed like such a meager diet to build a vibrant world of cultures and institutions without stories from our own continent — despite our rich and diverse storytelling traditions. So, I made the decision to establish a publishing company that would serve as a platform for African authors to tell their own stories.

💡 What type of book best captures the Cassava Republic mission?

No single book can define the Cassava Republic mission, as we exist in and for the multitude within the Black experience. Therefore, our defining book must also reflect this multiplicity. Nevertheless, irrespective of the multitude it represents, an ideal Cassava Republic book breaks through the clutter and noise to offer a fresh perspective on issues rarely explored.


In the upcoming months, we will publish diverse works such as “Avenues by Train” by Farai Mudzingwa, an eclectic and linguistically innovative coming-of-age story set in Zimbabwe exploring coexistence between the living, spirits, and ancestors; “Crossing the Stream” by Elizabeth-Irene Baitie, a richly textured YA tale in Ghana that delves into self-exploration, environmental exploitation, and unmasking of false pastors; “Love Offers No Safety,” a collection of life stories by queer men in their own words; “The World Was in Our Hands: Voices From The Boko Haram Conflict,” an inspiring collection of narratives from individuals who bravely recount their experiences of terror, resistance, and resilience.

💡 What are the unique challenges of being an African book publisher today?

I could talk about the challenges posed by a limited distribution network and the huge expense of getting books from one part of the continent to another. I could talk about the paucity of good quality and affordable printing facilities and quality paper which makes production on the continent more expensive. We also worry about persistent copyright infringement and piracy which often lead to significant revenue loss and the erosion of trust between publishers and authors. These challenges notwithstanding, it is truly a privilege to be able to contribute to the Black cultural production and help shape the archive of the future.

💡 At times it feels like we’re in a prolific period of African writing talent. What’s the reality?

Relative to the size of the continent, I would not say we are in a very prolific period of African writing talent. We are, however, in a prolific period of visibility and representation of African writing talent. Hypervisibility can often exaggerate the voice of the few, creating false jubilation which then masks the voice of the multitude that are still not getting heard or published. We certainly have more visibility. I welcome this for the few African writers on the global stage writing fantastical, imaginative and diverse stories across gender, class, sexuality and genre lines. Yet, I do not want to ever confuse the ruse for the reality of proliferation.


💡 How have the manuscripts you’ve received over the years evolved since you started?

We have witnessed a greater willingness to experiment with storytelling approaches. Authors like Panashe Chigumadzi embrace nonlinear and evocative narrative styles. Manuscripts are becoming bolder in tackling a wide range of subjects. We are also seeing an increase in submissions of deep theoretical texts aimed at a more general audience. And there has been a surge in manuscripts exploring fantasy, horror, and crime fiction genres.

💡 Are TV/movie rights agreements now standard in your author deals?

Yes, they have always been, but it doesn’t mean you will get it, with many choosing to hold onto those rights and trying to explore it themselves.

💡  What are your next big bets for Cassava?


We have a grand ambition of becoming a global black publishing house that embraces the Afro-diaspora, catering to people of African descent regardless of their geographical location. This way, we can continue the legacy of Pan-Africanist conversations, fostering connections and understanding across our shared similarities and unique differences. We’ll shortly be announcing the launch of a new non-fiction manuscript prize  project for Black women, encouraging them to share their ideas and perspective on various topics in full-length books. We are also looking at the development of a podcast series that will offer dynamic conversations, interviews, and explorations of literature, culture, and social issues.

💡 Which non-literary African artist are you excited about right now?

I am really loving the visual artist Yinkore at the moment. I love the playfulness, the maximalism and scale of the work.

💡 What Nigerian vegan dish do you recommend to other vegans?

It probably has to be a vegan Efo Riro (vegetable stew), only this time it is made with mushrooms instead of assorted meat, which is heavy on the  grounded melon seeds and locust beans paste for that deliciously rich, lingering umami taste.