Les Éditions Vives Voix is a publishing company and a non-profit organization founded in 2009 by Ghaël Samb Sall and Vydia Tamby Monteiro. Since then, nine coffee table books have been published by Vives Voix which combines fine art, photography and carefully-crafted texts exploring Senegal’s cultural heritage.

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Praxis speaks to Mamadou Diallo, who is in charge of non-fiction collection at Les Éditions Vives Voix, about publishing in Senegal.

Mamadou blames poor editing on funds…

What I will say here is valid for the Senegalese publishing industry. I think we must agree and take it as a fact that today, most of the books published are lacking quality. Most good Senegalese writers would rather be published elsewhere than in Senegal for many reasons including the quality of the editorial work. Good publishing comes from a qualified workforce that must have been trained, which makes it costly. As long as we don’t have local publishers with a reach to global or, at least, continental markets that would allow for increases in business size, we won’t be able to employ good and trained human resources.

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We talk about the problem of distribution…

This problem is not specific to the book industry and continental trade in Africa, whatever product we’re considering, is particularly indigent. We’re still too busy selling raw products to the West and the Chinese for their currencies to think of our neighbours as business partners. But if we look at the creative sector alone, we can see that other creative endeavours in Africa, I’m thinking of fashion for instance, are in the same situation. We today have all these great fashion designers on the continent that can’t reach potential customers. I’m seeing all these great pieces of clothes on Pan-African websites, but I can’t buy them unless I’m traveling.

Distribution, just as the output of quality products, has a lot to do with financial strength and investment. If we are talking about literary fiction, I think there is a market wide enough to sustain good publishing, and that the market can grow bigger if we invest more in marketing, communication and specialized media. The market is disseminated on the continent and the diaspora, the question is: is there somewhere on the continent where capitalists are ready to invest in such sector? I’m envisioning a book and cultural products distribution firm that would cover many African countries and if it is able to do so in a profitable way, it will be because big money have been invested in its operations giving it the possibility to be profitable in the long run.

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To solve the distribution problem, Mamadou agrees that creating an online platform catering, specifically, to the needs of African literature can be a solution…

I’m for the emergence of one consistent and Pan-African platform that will be a reference and can contribute in building an African literary agenda.

But what about creating more publishing opportunities to fish out new names in the African literary scene?

I think African publishers today must be more preoccupied by the emergence of new readers than by new names in literature. If we ensure that more Africans are excited about books and ready to pay for them, we’ll have much more publishing opportunities for up and coming writers.

In getting Africans excited about books via digital engagement, Mamadou explains…

I was born in the mid 80’s and I’m both a book nerd and a digital native; to me, screen, paper, those are just mediums and if I’m interested by the content, I’ll read it in whatever available media. Going digital, although not necessarily exclusively digital, for many reasons, is a must for African publishers. We don’t have kindle services in many African countries, which opens a boulevard for investors.

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Lastly, Mamadou talks about breaking language barriers in writing across African countries…

I’ve been noticing, in my conversations with fellow young African literary enthusiasts, an interest in Lusophone and Anglophone literatures. We are curious about each other and the fact that it is so is a pillar upon which we can build the bridges across language divides. The work that Jalada have been doing: bringing together young writers from all over Africa to translate each other’s work is essential and I hope it can become a regular thing. Chimurenga’s openness to Africa beyond Anglophone countries, if we consider the Pan-African significance of that title and its reach among intellectuals from the continent and the diaspora, is also a good sign. We at Les Editions Vives Voix are working on the Cheikh Hamidou Kane residencies, which will be bilingual and result in both translation and exchanges between Anglophone African writers and the Dakar francophone readership.

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To write is to make art, and it’s on each artist to see what languages he wants to write in. That said, languages, all of them, are literary gold mines. On a purely artistic level, it makes sense to write in any African language. My favourite novel by my favourite Senegalese novelist is written in Wolof, and because of that, it captures Senegalese life, Senegalese thought, Senegalese humour, better than anything I’ve read before. To read that book was to discover how great Senegalese novel could be. For someone used to writing and reading in French, making the decision to write a whole novel in Wolof and to actually do so is an act of immense intellectual courage.

If we want to make writing in Wolof less of a heroic act, the language must be introduced in the school system. My guess is that we will have much more good and original writing if we do so.

So, yay! New things are coming, yeah? Let’s find out what’s happening in Uganda with Crystal Rutangye. Don’t stop reading 😉

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