Heinemann has published the key texts in modern African literature for forty years. The online edition does not include all the works that came out in the print series but does have more than 250 volumes of fiction, poetry, drama and non-fiction prose, including works by Chinua Achebe, Ama Ata Aidoo, Steve Biko, Buchi Emecheta, Nadine Gordimer, Bessie Head, Doris Lessing, Nelson Mandela, Dambudzo Marechera, Christopher Okigbo, Okot p’Bitek and Tayeb Salih.
The Heinemann African Writers Series started in 1962 with the publication of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (originally published in 1958) as AWS No. 1, and with Achebe himself as Founding Editor. Achebe remained Series Editor until 1972, by which time the series included 100 titles, and continued to have input in the series for many years afterwards.
The initial plan was to produce a paperback series featuring the work of African authors that would be affordable for a general African readership. As African nations won independence, writers like Achebe began to forge distinctive national literatures across the continent. Independence also led to a demand from African schools and universities for contemporary African writing to replace the European bias on existing syllabuses. The AWS took on this role and published work by all the major authors of the period, together with earlier classics and new writing, giving the series a unique importance in African cultural history.
All the works published in the AWS are in English, and its emphasis is on Anglophone Africa. However, a number of volumes have also been translated into English from French, Portuguese, Zulu, Swahili, Acoli, Sesotho, Afrikaans, Luganda and Arabic. The ASC library’s collection contains most of the AWS books in print but as its policy has always been to collect works in their original language, it has, for example, the famous first novel of the Senegalese author Mariama Bâ, Une si longue lettre (1979), in its original language, namely French, while the English translation (So long a letter) can be found in the online AWS.
The digitized collection makes it possible to search the data in many ways. All the authors are indexed by gender, nationality and date of birth/death, and all texts by details of first publication (date, place, publisher and language) and of first publication in the AWS (date and AWS series number).
A very helpful addition is that biographies are included for all the authors in the series.
The AWS database contains an introductory essay by Robert Fraser with Nourdin Bejjit. And finally, the AWS is also notable for its striking book-cover designs that often incorporate elements of traditional African art. The ‘Cover Gallery’ shows full colour scans of many of these original covers.