Stephanie Kitchen (SK): In around ten years Langaa has published over 500 books in English and French and other languages, across a range of subject disciplines, both fiction and non-fiction. This is a tremendous achievement. To what do you owe this success?
Francis Nyamnjoh (FN): Our vision is a world in which the enhanced circulation of African worldviews positively shapes the evolution of humanity. Since 2007, Langaa has published over 500 books because of dedicated authors, including a good mix of men and women, and of junior and seasoned scholars, quality manuscripts on Africa, and an international network of committed volunteers. Volunteers design covers, review and edit manuscripts, help with layout, and write grants for example. They are based in Australia, Botswana, Cameroon, France, Ghana, India, Kenya, Mali, Netherlands, New Zealand, Senegal, South Africa, the United Kingdom, the United States and beyond. Langaa also partners with African Books Collective and various universities around the world, for example Addis Ababa University, Kyoto University, Leiden University, and the University of Montreal. For a list of our Editorial Board members, please see the Langaa web site: http://www.langaa-rpcig.net/-Langaa-Editorial-Board-.html
SK: How would you describe your commissioning/acquisitions strategy? What are your present priorities e.g. in terms of subject disciplines and focuses for literature publishing?
FN: All manuscripts expose the conviviality, complexities and predicaments of life in Africa and/or contribute to theory-building in the social sciences and the humanities. They stir the imagination and contribute to the cultural development and renaissance of Africa. Most authors are African, and some are not. We encourage manuscripts from women, understanding the barriers women face in society and in publishing, and the need to see the world through their eyes. Recognising the complementarity of non-fiction and creative texts, we accept both. We are less inclined to accept poetry now than before, because it has been less popular than edited collections, scholarly monographs, novels and short stories. Children’s literature is important, but that has not been our focus.
SK: How do you market and distribute your books? In Cameroon/Africa? Internationally?
FN: Langaa books are distributed in partnership with African Books Collective (ABC). Through ABC, Langaa books are available from Amazon interfaces in multiple countries, from China to Spain, and via other online distributors. Increasingly, many of the books are available not just as new books but also, for lower prices, as used books in good condition. The books are marketed via the Langaa web site and social media (i.e. Facebook and Twitter), by the ABC website, by partner institutions in the case of co-publishing, and by online distributors.
SK: Can you give us a sense of where your books are stocked, read and used?
FN: Langaa books are printed when they are ordered and then shipped. This technology is called print-on-demand. Distributors thus keep only a few copies of the books in stock. Africans around the world read the books, as well as others interested in better understanding Africa, from African perspectives. Libraries around the world purchase Langaa books. Many Langaa books are in 800 to 1,000 or more libraries around the world. People also read Langaa books on mobile devises via Kindle, iBook (Apple’s reader) and other electronic readers. Some scholars consult and cite from Langaa books via Google Books. To facilitate access to Langaa publications for use in scholarship, some authors make all or parts of their publications available via researchgate.net and/or academia.edu.
SK: Do you publish both print and ebooks? Could you comment on both author and reader expectations for both?
FN: Yes, Langaa publishes print and ebooks. If a book is published in both formats, a separate ISBN number is used for each. Authors and readers both expect editorial input to enhance manuscripts. At the same time, we try to balance the amount of time we spend on each manuscript and the need to get it out in a timely fashion. We all know the value of a book cover, and this is no different in the case of Langaa.
SK: Could you tell us a little about your writing workshop programmes: why these are so important, how you organise and fund them, and how they feed into Langaa’s publishing programme?
FN: Supporting collaborative research and writing is part of the publication process. Langaa has hosted several research and writing workshops at the Langaa Guesthouses in Buea and Bamenda in Cameroon, on themes such as natural resource management in contemporary Africa, mobile Africa, information and communication technologies, the future of anthropology in Africa, and archives. The 2011 Caine Prize for African Writing workshop was held at the Langaa Guesthouse in Buea. Workshops for Cameroonian authors and readers are made possible by authors and readers who invest their time and creativity and volunteer facilitators. See for example www.langaa-rpcig.net/+Literary-Workshop-Cameroonian+.html. Other workshops are part of transnational and interinstitutional collaborations funded in part by research grants provided by organisations such as the Prince Claus Fund, the Wenner Gren Foundation, and WOTRO which is a division of the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research, and the International Development Research Center (IDRC).
SK: What do you identify as Langaa’s current and future challenges?
FN: Langaa seeks to make its publications more available in Africa. This will require funds for printing as well as some part- and full-time staff in Buea and Bamenda to engage in outreach, partnership development, volunteer coordination and enhanced community building–in person and via social media.
SK: This is a big question, but what do you think is needed to strengthen research, publishing and distribution systems for general and academic publishers in the African continent, or at least in the parts of the continent with which you are familiar, particularly in the social sciences and humanities?
FN: We need to be curious and ask questions. We need to read and write. We need to encourage reading and writing. We need to promote Langaa, a desire for knowledge. We need to value knowledge generation in Africa and from African perspectives. We need to support African publishers.
SK: As you will know, in the global North, particularly around European and North American universities, and as I understand to some significant extent in South Africa, there is great deal of focus on developments arising from electronic publishing – such as Open Access, the interface of research publishing with social media, and digital repositories. How do you see such developments from your perspective as both an academic/writer and publisher in the African continent? E.g. as concerns publishing models, African publishing/media autonomy, access to knowledge and academic freedom?
FN: Publishing is part of the material and virtual worlds, and we do not see it as otherwise.
SK: Besides working as a publisher, Francis, you are also a leading African public intellectual, not shying away from controversial and critical issues. I was interested to see two recent books you have published at Langaa: African Studies in the Academy, edited by Munyaradzi Mawere and Tapuwa Raymond Mubaya; and, Death of a Discipline?, also co-authored by Munyaradzi Mawere, on the future of social of anthropology in Zimbabwe. Despite the considerable challenges they set out, both books appear to articulate a positive vision for African studies and cognate disciplines including anthropology, cultural studies, sociology, history and so forth, driven by institutions and academics in the continent. What is at stake here? How can scholars of Africa, within and beyond the continent, ensure a healthier future for such fields?
FN: Africans take their continent and their experiences in and of the world seriously. African scholars are no different. They seek international recognition but not to the detriment of relevance to Africa and Africans. I am no different. I expect African contributions to global scholarship and to the study of Africa in its interconnections with the rest of the world to seek and be accorded prominence beyond tokenism. This I seek to reflect in my research and publications, and in my commitment to making a modest contribution in bringing up the next generation of scholars. The authors to whom you refer in your question are part of that crystallising young generation of scholars who are committed to conversations, not conversion, and are acutely sensitive to knowledge production as an exercise in humility.