Over at Chuku’s HQ, we love nothing more than to wind down after a long day with a good book. If you’ve been to one of our pop-ups, you know our collection of Nigerian books comes with us everywhere and we’re always looking for new ones to add to it. So for World Book Day, we decided to sit down with Bibi Bakare-Yusuf, co-founder and publishing director of one of Africa’s leading publishing houses, Cassava Republic Press to talk books and the titles by Nigerian authors we should be reading.
Can you tell us more about Cassava Republic Press - what led you to start the publication house and what are your plans for the future?
On a visit to Nigeria in 2003, I was struck by the quality and paucity of books in bookshops, especially those written by African writers who were already gaining traction in the West. Something needed to be done! So, in 2006, with no experience in publishing and entrepreneurship, we started Cassava Republic Press in Nigeria’s capital. A decade later, we set up shop in the UK – making us the first African independent publishing house to achieve such a feat. Last year we started distribution into the US market.
Our plan for the future is quite simple: to tell compelling African stories and publish more books from across the African world, which includes those in the Americas and the Caribbean. We look forward to publishing more titles that continue to open up new areas in African letters. For example, the publication of Yemisi Aribisala’s book, Longthroat Memoirs should hopefully breathe a new life into the narrative around Nigeran food and inspire more writing around African world food culture. In April, we are publishing a collection of life stories about queer Nigerian women, which will also reshape how we talk about sexuality and gender. Our dream is to be able to publish some of our books in major African languages such as Hausa and Swahili.
What power do you think there is in storytelling and what role do you think books and stories generally play in our lives?
We can’t go back in time and we can’t visit every country in the world, but when we open a book we can be in multiple places without leaving our own locale; storytelling conjures up new and mysterious worlds. Stories have the power to change narratives about a people, but as my friend Sisonke Mismang says in her TED talk, they only do so if we act.
What title are you next looking forward to sharing with people in the UK?
She Called Me Woman: Nigeria’s Queer Women Speak edited by Azeenarh Mohammed, Chitra Nagarajan and Rafeeat Aliyu which is due out in the UK on 24th April. I would like to share it because it helps to challenge the monolithic view that all queer people in Nigeria are living in perpetual danger and threat and show that queer women’s lives are no different from any other women.
Want to dive into a Nigerian author for World Book Day? These are Cassava Republic’s recommendations:
D. O. Fagunwa was doing magical realism before the genre had a name. This pioneering novel is considered the first to be written in the Yoruba language and for the Yoruba-speakers out there, its worth trying to read in the original Yoruba. For those of who us don’t speak Yoruba, we don’t have to miss out as it’s been translated by acclaimed Nigerian writer, Wole Soyinka.
This coming of age tale captures the realities of queer boyhood both in London and Port Harcourt, Nigeria. Playing around with form and language, the story dances on the page as its told through its narrator, the Yoruba deity Esu.
Nana Asma'u was nineteenth-century Muslim scholar, living in Northern Nigeria. Her poetry collection is worth finding and reading as it gives us an entry into a world and time that we often do not have access to. In the wake of Boko Haram's anti-education policy, it is worth reminding ourselves that the daughter of the man that founded the Sokoto Caliphate was not only a poet but a scholar.
Hortensia is black. Marion is white. And Yewande Omotoso's second novel tells the tale of these two next-door neighbours gradually learning to get along in post-apartheid South Africa. After many years of barbed insults, the two prickly octogenarians, find out that they would come to need each other more than they had realised and begin to share memories about their lives.
Described by The Guardian as “a compelling debut set in northern Nigeria”, with his insightful novel Elnathan John gives us a nuanced portrayal of the religious conflict through the eyes of a young Almajiri boy. A counter to the news reports we receive in the West, Elnathan John demonstrates with his storytelling that northern Nigerian is more than terrorist attacks.