Independent Publishing in Africa: Amalion in Dakar, Senegal.
In an age where Independent Presses are dying a natural death, or being bought by multinationals, it takes courage to dream of opening one. Amalion Publishing, in Dakar, Senegal, launched its first publication in June 2009, and has since published seven more books. That’s a big achievement in a continent that has for many years understood its publishing future as dependent on European and American institutions.
What pleases me is that at the very initial stage before any book was published, Amalion committed to publishing in several languages, and not limiting itself to only fiction and creative non-fiction. Of the eight publications so far, two are in French, six are in English, and publications in other languages like Wolof, Portuguese, Creole, and so on, are planned.
Amalion was quite daring to begin with creative works. For the few publishers in Africa, whether Anglophone, Lusophone, Francophone or the Maghreb region, it’s almost considered a death sentence to begin with poetry. (I’ll say it’s good luck and that’s what Amalion will get). Typically, publishers want to start with where the money is, which is in school textbooks. And they don’t always consider publishing in various languages critical. That leaves out beautiful writing that exists in local languages. Just think about it, if the local publisher isn’t concerned about publishing some books in the ‘home’ languages, then who should care? Isn’t that how some languages and dialects begin to die?
Of course Amalion is very ambitious, which is great. The eight books are hardback and paperback, and the quality of the content and production is extraordinary. I remember a Ugandan novel that was among the books being judged for the Commonwealth prize. One of the judges told me the book would have won because the story was chosen as the best by all the four judges on the panel. Here comes the big However. By the time the judges finished passing the book around, it was in tatters. They hadn’t mishandled it. The pages were literally falling because the binding was poor, the cover illustration terrible. Even though the story was very good, the book did not win. That taught me that even in writing, presentation is key, and by presentation I mean the general packaging, the way information is organized, the binding, font, and so on. Who wants to be involved with a book that won’t last a week in a person’s hands? The judges’ reputations would be at stake for declaring such a book a winner. And people, forgive us, we can be harsh: Man, did you see that book that won the Commonwealth 200x? It looks awful. The story may be there but man, it would have been better if it had been stapled. And those judges, how could they… Well, it’s become a habit of mine to judge a book also by its cover—yes, weigh it in my hand and see how strong the papers hold together. Of course I mind the content as well but beside that, I’ve come to place high value on production quality. That is something that eventually gets to pass as a trademark both for the writer and the publisher.
It’s comforting that Amalion Publishing is committed to print quality and content. Right now, I’m going through Amalion’s latest, A History of the Yoruba People, by Prof. S. Adebanji Akintoye, published 2010. It’s a 498-paged hard cover, complete with notes, maps, impressive content, indexing, lay out… and I’m saying to myself, here’s a publisher in Dakar, who respects authors and is doing the best to represent his outfit and the authors’ works so well. It comes with great respect, I think.
It’s been less than two years. We are yet to see how Amalion books fare globally, marketwise. Nowadays, good wine needs bushel, and that is always a challenge to navigate.
African Writers Trust appreciates such efforts by Independent publishers, authors, editors, etc, who are busy producing great books because of the larger vision they have at the center. It’s that vision that makes us teammates and partners, knowing well that our engagement will produce admirable results.
— Mildred Barya