What is the African Review of Books (ARoB)?
The African Review of Books is a space in which the books, literature and scholarship of Africa can be discussed and debated. It is a step towards bringing together, in one place, news, reviews and information relating to Africa’s publishing industry and African scholarship. It aims to act as a forum and a virtual meeting point. Comparisons with other reviews of books, such as those of New York and London, the Times Literary Supplement and the Southern African Review of Books are inevitable. ARoB has a long way to go before such comparisons carry any justification.
Is this a Codesria initiative?
In December 2003 the Council for Development of Social Science Research in Africa (Codesria) launched the Africa Review of Books, an academic journal. There is no affiliation between this website publication and the Codesria journal, despite the similarity in names. The Africa Review (by Codesria) is an academic, peer-reviewed journal which comes out twice a year. This website is not academic, is updated at least twice a month and welcomes contributions from academic as well as non-academic contributors.
Is there really a need for a publication such as ARoB?
There are many academic journals dedicated to African issues and African literature but there is no publication of similar title aimed at a more general readership. Newspapers in Africa will review books from the countries in which they are based but seldom is there a cross-border exchange of views, and reviews, unless the work in question makes its presence felt in the global, rather merely the national, publishing world, as has been the case with writers such as Ben Okri, Nadine Gordimer, José Craveirinha and Nawal el Sadaawi. ARoB will not pretend it can break down all borders, but it will attempt to highlight what’s topical in Africa in a way that can be scholarly, not academic, deep without being obtuse, and gripping without being sensational.
Which languages does it cover?
Initially the material published on the site will be in English. This is merely done for ease of production and in the hope that as many people as possible around the world have access to the site. The use of English will not limit the range of issues debated on the site and books in any language will be featured on the site. An effort will be made to debate books published in Arabic, English, French and Portuguese, these being the most widely used languages on the continent. However, books in the myriad other languages of the continent will also be frequently debated.
Books from Anglophone Africa will not steal the limelight – if only because one of the editors has a passion for all African things Lusophone.
Which countries does it cover?
As the name suggests the aim of the Review is to feature books from as many countries in Africa as possible. This task will be limited only by willingness of scholars with expertise in the various countries to contribute to the ARB. Initially the issues raised in the ARB will be limited, but as the site develops and more contributors are found the coverage will increase. As long as a book, or a debate, is relevant to any country on the continent of Africa, it can be featured on this site.
Which types of books does it cover?
This is not a review dedicated to literature or creative fiction. It is much broader than that. It will cover all types of books: children’s books, non-fiction and essays, poetry, fiction and even coffee-table books. The aim is not merely to review individual books, but rather to debate issues regarding the publishing industry in Africa, African scholarship and issues such as politics, culture, economics, education, health and the environment as they are manifest through the books from and of Africa.
So it just has reviews of books?
No, it has much more. Reviews, and essays will be a central part of the publication, but it will also offer information and a chance to debate with like-minded people. There is news, details of conferences, institutes, courses and academic institutions which deal with Africa. And then there are Africa’s 100 best books; not just a list but a sample from many so you can taste the best the continent has to offer, and then go and buy the book. Explore the site to find these riches.
Because you hope to sell books through the links provided, does this mean you’ll write wonderful things in an effort just to boost sales?
We do have a reputation to worry about, or rather a reputation to develop. If a book is not worth sacrificing a tree for, we will say so. There are more than enough books of outstanding quality coming out of Africa, and we will highlight the good and the bad, and be totally impartial about it.
Can I subscribe to the printed edition?
No. At least not yet. This website is all that exists at the moment but once this has established a core dedicated readership and has proved its viability it could be transformed into a newspaper type format so you can read it during lunch and flash it surreptitiously on the way to lectures. But before that happens the ARoB will reach a greater number of interested people in many more countries through the electronic rather than the printed version. The cheap and quick internet version will never disappear; one day it will merely be supplemented by a tangible version. In the meantime, subscribe to our newsletter.
What’s the newsletter about?
Subscribe to the ARoB newsletter and about once a month we will send you an email updating you on what’s new on the site; the latest in news, reviews, events and opinions in the world of African books. Once our commercial partners are on board we will be able to offer special deals and discounts to subscribers of our newsletter. To subscribe just use the link in the menu on the left.
Who is behind the ARoB?
There are two people behind the launch of this project; both South Africans – Raks Seakhoa and Richard Bartlett.
Raks Seakhoa heads the wRite Associates, a public relations agency in the fields of arts, culture and heritage, based in Johannesburg. He has previously been the regional co-ordinator and secretary General of the Congress of South African Writers (COSAW). A published poet, Raks currently acts as Convenor of the South African Writers’ Federation (SAWFED) and Chairperson of the Southern African Writers’ Council (SAWCO). Raks is also a Co-Convenor of the Arts, Culture & Heritage Commission of the South African Chapter of the African Renaissance. Raks has been involved in almost all aspects of arts, culture, and heritage since his release from a 5-year incarceration on Robben Island (1979-1984). Prior to his arrest, he was involved in student, youth, and political activism.
Richard Bartlett is a journalist and a student of Mozambican literature now living in southern England. He has edited a collection of Mozambican short stories and translated a number of works of fiction from this country including a short story by Lília Momplé which was a finalist in the 2001 Caine Prize for African Literature. He holds an MA in Southern African Literatures from the University of Durban-Westville in South Africa. Apart from his interest in Mozambique, Richard has worked as a journalist on a number of newspapers in South Africa and was the National Publications Co-ordinator for COSAW.
So you don’t have an editorial board and a peer review process?
No, the African Review of Books is an independent publication and its aim is to publicise African books and raise debates, it is not to foster academic excellence; that is the job of universities and academic journals. We want to encourage ordinary people to get involved in this publication. Exclusivity based on a formal education is not one of our aims. To encourage reading and talking about books, by everyone, from Africa is our intention.
If it is an African review why is it based in England?
Well it is and it isn’t. It is based in England because much of the publishing world (English-speaking that is) is based in and around London. The other reason is that it gets around the problem of having to justify why one African country is given preference over another by having the ARoB based there. Beside’s half of the two editors live there. But it’s more than convenience and it is not another symbol of eurocentric predominance in Africa’s cultural development. It is an attempt to use the infrastructure and expertise available in the English-North for the benefit of Africa.
The other aspect is that ARoB does have a base in South Africa and will make full use of this African link to ensure that the focus of the publication remains fixed on the continent and its writers, scholars and publishers.
Do you accept contributions?
Yes, we welcome new contributors, but before you go spending days constructing your masterpiece, drop us an email with your suggestions so at least we can discuss it with you see how it fits into our editorial plan.
If you want to send us a press release, please feel free to do so. We cannot promise to publish every single release we receive and we reserve the right to edit all submitted materials.
We also welcome books for review purposes, but again we cannot promise to review everything we receive.
All our contact details can be found on the link to the left.