Beginning in the early 2000s, a new generation of Nigerian publishing houses began to appear. They were daring enterprises; there was promise bubbling underneath the surface, but the surface looked barren. It cried out for pioneers willing to plough through the lack of interest in books and the arts in general.
Cassava Republic was one of the few establishments willing to take a chance on the business of literature. Its founder, Bibi Bakare-Yusuf, had been an academic in the United Kingdom, prior to delving into publishing in 2006. But it was a real risk she took- she had no experience in the field and was drawing on a
Bakare-Yusuf recalls that she was driven by a desire to bring African writing to Nigerians. It was her response to the odd situation which prevailed at the time. Native writers were getting recognized outside of the continent but were scarcely known back home.
But there’s an even heavier near-activist bent to this publisher’s stated intentions. Yusuf-Bakare says she wanted to reinvigorate Nigerian literature, not just for the sake of it, but so that young Nigerians would become self-aware and more critical of accepted social ideals and mores. According to her, the plan was (and still remains) to create an attitude of “questioning” things.
While it’s hard to gauge the extent to which this idealistic project has succeeded, it’s clear that there’s been at least a mini-revival of bibliophile culture among sections of Nigeria’s population. More people are purchasing literary fiction- which is Cassava Republic’s forte -especially those written by the more recent authors.
Another marker of Cassava Republic’s successes has been the array of writers it has published. The roll call in this respect includes well-known, award-winning figures like Nnedi Okoroafor, Lola Shoneyin, Abubakar Adam, Teju Cole, Sarah Ladipo Mayinka, and Elnathan John. As it expands, there could be more names added to this impressive list.
In just over a decade, this publisher has landed book deals with fine literary finds, who have gone on to achieve global acclaim. This is thanks in part to its editor’s sharp sense of spotting and curating promising material from a host of options. Each year, it accept submissions from aspiring authors; the result is that it gets access to some of the country’s latest and best literary talents and helps them put their works in the limelight.
In 2016, Cassava Republic opened a subsidiary in the United Kingdom; and in the next year, it launched in the United States. The move to establish its presence outside of Africa was made to expose Africa’s best new books to a world which has grown more interested in the continent’s art and self-expression. The New York Times heralded its coming to the USA as a chance for western readers to broaden their grasp of Africa’s rich literary output.
For all the expansion into the rest of the world, Cassava Republic remains primarily devoted to filling Nigeria’s local literary space with stimulating material. This mission stretches from the brand’s very name- derived from an inexpensive and nutritious crop -to the many ways by which it encourages readers and writers to pursue their love for the written word, and of African narratives.
Featured image source: Cassava Republic Press