Tuesday, 6 October 2015

55 Years of Nigerian Literature: Chinua Achebe and the Art of Edel Rodriguez

For my second celebratory post I go to the book covers of Chinua Achebe, but not just any of his covers. I focus on the series designed by Cuban-American illustrator and artist, Edel Rodriguez, with art direction from Helen Yentus, for the re-issue of Achebe's books for Random House (Anchor Books/Vintage between 2008 and 2010). There is something wonderful about a series of books being redesigned together, and I remember the first time I saw some of the book covers in person - it was in 2013 at Busboys and Poets in DC - and I was in love with everything about them.

Busboys and Poets where I first saw Edel Rodriguez's cover designs of Chinua Achebe's books in real life.

Well, here are the 11 book covers Rodriguez designed. From Things Fall Apart to The Education of a British-Protected Child. 

Cover designs by Edel Rodriguez for the re-issue of Chinua Achebe's books

Rodriguez's page gives an insight into the many rough sketches and ideas for the book covers he has, as well as the hand lettering, before he settled on the final one. The whole process is amazing and it's really wonderful to be able to see it - from his sketches to the final pieces, as well as the ones that didn't make it (which are still absolutely gorgeous). Things Fall Apart  was the first piece Edel Rodriguez was commissioned to do - here he shares the final art, the hand lettering and the rough sketches. I love the artistic depiction of things literally falling apart.

Final art

All images of Things Fall Apart via Drawger

From there he did 10 more. Here's the final art work for No Longer at Ease, as well as the 12 different sketches Rodriguez worked on for the book cover.

Final art
All images of No Longer at Ease via Drawger
... and the images for Chike and the River, which he also illustrated.

All images for Chike and the River via Drawger

So so gorgeous, and the rest of Edel Rodriguez's sketches and the final artwork for Achebe's covers can all be found on Drawger

Saturday, 3 October 2015

55 Years of Nigerian Literature: Three Crown Books

For my first celebratory post, I am going back in time - to the 1960s - for one of the early publishers that aimed to make African literature accessible to a wider audience. Not Heinemann or Longman, but the 'largely forgotten' Three Crown Books (launched by Oxford University Press in 1962). 
Caroline Davis' 'Creating Postcolonial Literature'
Three Crown Books had East, West and South African branches, but as this month is dedicated to all things Nigerian lit, I will be focusing on the book covers of the Nigerian writers they published - namely Wole Soyinka, J P Clark, Obi B Egbuna and Ola Rotimi. 

Plays published include Soyinka's A Dance in the Forest and The Lion and the Jewel (1963), 5 Plays (1964), The Road (1965), Kongi's Harvest (1967) and Three Short Plays (1969); Clark's Three Plays (1964) and Ozidi (1966); Egbuna's The Anthill (1965) and Daughters of the Sun (1970) and Rotimi 's The Gods are Not to Blame (1971). 

On the covers,Taj Elsir Ahmed - a Sudanese artist from the "Khartoum School" - designed A Dance of the Forests and The Lion and the Jewel, while according to this post on justseeds.org, Jimoh Akolo (a founding member of the Zaria Art Society) designed the cover for Kongi's Harvest. 

For The Road and Five Plays, Caroline Davis writes that Soyinka attempted to get a new artist to design the covers (I wasn't able to find the designers for these two), but he was too late for Five Plays. With The Road, while roughs for the new jacket design were approved, they were submitted too late to be used and so the book was rushed over through production with 'an indistinct photograph of a dirt road on the front cover'. 

Three Short Plays jacket illustration - of a tree, with Wole Soyinka's name forming the basis of the trunk and four African figures below - was designed by Lazlo Acs. This cover proved

to be unpopular in both US and African markets, with the Nairobi branch of Three Crowns complaining that the cover was 'almost insulting' to 'Africa's leading playwright'. As for Clark's and Egbuna's covers, I was unable to find the cover designer for Ozidzi, but Three Plays was designed by Dennis Duerden

Similarly, I couldn't find the cover designer for Egbuna's The Anthill, but Daughters of the Sun was designed by Bill Botten. As Davis writes in her books, the original cover design depicted the daughters of the sun as two identical naked African women, side by side, against the sun, but this was rejected by the Nigerian branch, and in this finished cover, the two women are clothed in white tunics.

* All images (except Daughters of the Sun, 5 plays and Three Short Plays) via justseeds.org, whose Judging Books by their Covers series you should check out.

Later Three Crown Books published (mainly for the Nigerian market) include Rotimi's
Kurunmi (1985), Ovonramwen Nogbaisi (1974) and Our Husband Has Gone Made Again (1977) and Soyinka's Madmen and Specialists (1971).

Thursday, 1 October 2015

55 Years of Nigerian Literature: Book Cover and Illustration Galore

Google Doodle celebrating Nigeria's 2014 Independence Day

My how time flies! I can't believe it's been a year already, but it's that time of year where I celebrate Nigeria's Independence by dedicating the whole month of October to all things Nigerian literature. 

A lot has happened in the world of Nigerian literature since last October - Ankara Press - Cassava Republic's romance imprint - was launched, as was Omenana - a spec-fic literary magazine edited by Mazi Nwonwu and Chinelo Onwualu. We have also had new releases from A. Igoni Barrett, Chinelo Okparanta, Nnedi Okorafor and E C Osondu to name a few. Parresia also announced their 2015 Parresia Books Imprint, which includes works from Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, Ifesinachi Okoli-Okpagu, Maik Nwosu and Amara Nicole Okolo. Let's not forget that Teju Cole and Helon Habila were 2 of the 3 fiction winners of the 2015 Windham Campell Prizes (the 3rd was South African, Ivan Vladislavić), Chigozie Obioma's debut, The Fishermen, was shortlisted for the 2015 Man Booker Prize, Lesley Nneka Arimah was the winner of the Africa region for the 2015 Commonwealth Short Story Prize with her story Light, and Uzodinma Iweala's 2005 novel, Beasts of No Nation, has been adapted for the screen as a Netflix original. Obviously there's a lot more that's happened in the last year - from Ben Okri winning the Bad Sex in Fiction Award to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's  essay on depression being published without her consent on The Guardian and the 2015 Nigerian Prize for Literature - which focused on Children's Literature this year - emerging with no winner - but all in all, it's been another great year for Nigerian Literature. So let's recognise it.

This will be my fourth literary celebration, which tries to look at our literature across our Independent history, and this year I have decided to celebrate Nigerian book covers and illustrations. I haven't kept it a secret on this blog, I judge books by their covers and I am obsessed with design - I might love the illustration of a book, as much as I do the content. As such, it makes perfect sense to me that for this year - from book covers and comics to children's literature and everything else in between - I will look at the last 55 years of art in Nigerian literature.

Illustration for Granta Magazine by Pietari Posti - created for Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's short story Ceiling
As always it's my little way of saying Happy Independence to my fatherland - the country where I was birthed and raised. So I hope you enjoy reading them, as much as I do putting them together. Previous celebrations can be found here, here and here

Friday, 28 August 2015

Must Have, Must Read: Paul Louise-Julie's 'The Pack'

I have just discovered The Pack - an African Mythology Graphic Novel created, written and drawn by American-born, French-Caribbean artist and designer Paul Louise-Julie. According to Okayafrica, the series has five seasons, broken down by region (North, East, West, South, Central), with each season comprised of about five sagas focusing on a particular kingdom or realm. Issue 1 (A Wolf in Egypt) was published in March and Issue 2 (Brothers Out of Bond) in July. 

Wait, What?!! This has been out since March!!! Why am I only just finding out about this? I blame my self-imposed hibernation,because this has me written ALL over it - mythology, ancient civilisations, werewolves, gorgeous illustrations!!! Seriously, can't contain my excitement. 

Both issues have already been downloaded on my Kindle ready for the weekend, but here's a synopsis - so you understand why I am so excited: 

Former Assassin Khenti is now a fugitive from the Lotus Kingdom and running for his life. His only hope is to reunite with his brother Nekhet and escape to Nubia. However, he soon finds there are much more dangerous things than soldiers lurking in the Egyptian Marshes ... 

The Pack is a Graphic Novel about a motley group of Nubian and Egyptian Werewolves. It follows their tales and misadventures as they travel through the fantasy land of Africa...

Why the focus on mythology? In an article written in March for Bleeding Cool, Louise-Julie writes that:

'Maybe it's because they are the cornerstone of civilisation? I mean, the greatest civilisations in human history incidentally had the most memorable mythologies that still inspire today. From Gilgamesh to the Greeks or China to the Mayans. all of these fascinating cultures had equally fascinating and complex mythologies. They provided a foundation upon which their art, language, architecture, clothing and philosophy were based. In a way, out mythologies define us. They're an artistic representation we hold dear.'
On the inspiration behind the series, Louise-Julie goes on to write that while he had visited over 23 countries by his 19th birthday (that's pretty awesome) and he was captivated by the mythology in these cultures - 'each country was brimming with its share of modern or ancient fantasy' - there was still 'one problem':
'You see, as an American-born, French-Caribbean kid growing up in Europe; I couldn't fully connect with these stories. I mean - I loved them - but I could only identify so far. I knew I couldn't cosplay as Peter Parker, Legolas or even Harry Potter without feeling awkward. I was an interested tourist, nothing more. So I scoured the bookshelves of my collection (like Gandalf when he looks through scrolls in The Fellowship of the Ring). But the ironic truth was that I didn't feel represented in any of the worlds, books, comics or movies I loved so much. Being an artist, I tried drawing "Black versions" of my favourite fantasies but to no avail. In the end, they looked like non-creative knockoffs like a blaxploitation movie without the soundtrack. What was I to do?'
What Louise-Julie did next was pretty awesome. Going back to the continent, he 'discovered the remnants of Ancient Empires that even locals had forgotten', met a Wolof man - Moktar - who took him 'to a secluded part of the city [where] and old man seated on a rug' who told him 'the history of the entire region spanning back centuries.Tales of knights, and Realms, kings and heroes, demons and spirits'. And then for the next 5 years 'studied everything from ethnolinguistic blood groups, to Ancient African history, art and ruins'.

Read the rest of The Packs origin story and how Louise-Julie 'designed over 30 different civilisations' on Bleeding Cool. Also, in April, Okayafrica spoke with Paul Louise-Jean who revealed more about the series, and it sounds oh so amazing. After the Egypt Saga, there's 'the Nubian Saga ... Sokoto Saga followed by the Tuareg and Marakash Saga. That ends 'Season 1: The North'. Season 1 will be set on the Western part of the continent. In between saga, numerous chapters will also be released, including 'History of the Akanti', 'History of the Dwarves', 'Tale of Queen Candace of Nubia', 'The Dragon Slayer' and more. Seriously amazing!!! 

The Pack is available for download on iBooks and Kindle. You can also follow the series on Twitter @ThePackComic, and here are some of the amazing illustration from the first two issues via Paul Louise-Julie's Behance page:

GORGEOUS!!!! Well, I'm off to tuck into the first 2 issues. Wishing everyone a lovely bank holiday weekend. Hopefully it's dry. 

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Call for Submissions for a New Anthology: Voices 'Ife' Issue

"We were taught in elementary school that a noun is a name of a person, place or thing. Ancient, medieval and contemporary literature has encouraged lots of conversations around persons and things, but hardly places.  Yet places have marked the backbone of every narrative, every art, every work of literature, and in a lot of ways it has been left there- at the back. Voices is picking up places and making it the core of our tale."

There's a new anthology coming for writers (and of course lovers) of literature: 
'Voices is an anthology of contemporary art and literature emerging from Africa ... interested in exploring every single place that makes up our world. Voices wants to showcase the various places that makes the world a global village.'  
As the Editorial team go on to write: 
'Voices is as it is called a conglomeration of voices from a place, be it a region, town, county or country. The voices are unique, stemming from various notions and interpretations of different people on this particular place. The anthology places its interest on places rather than ideas or abstract nouns. For us, places reveal people, places have a life of their own that we want to show the world.'
If this is something you might be interested in being a part of, Voices is currently accepting submissions 'of all kind' for its first issue - The Ife Issue. On the rationale behind 'this place - Ife':
'Ile-Ife is an ancient Yoruba town in Southwestern Nigeria, Osun State. Also known as Ife, the town is renowned for its place in Yoruba folk myth as the traditional home of Yoruba civilization and doubles as a holy city of humankind. It boasts of art and culture and rich history that stands it out as one of the most desirable archaeological sites in Southwestern Nigeria. These exquisite characteristics of the small city peppered with mysteries ignites the interest to debut this anthology with this place - Ife.'
Voices is 'opposed to stereotypical writing' and 'want something dynamic, uncommon and unusual that tells the true story of a place without sugar-coating, yet with clarity on as many sides to the story as are reasonably expected.'

There's still a few weeks to go to be part of this new initiative - the deadline for The Ife Issue is September 15th. Fiction, non-fiction, book reviews, poetry, art and photography, conversations centred on the theme of 'Ife' can be submitted. For more information on Voices and  the submission process for The Ife Issue, head over to their website. Good luck!!!!!

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

For Your Reading Pleasure: Some More Speculative Fiction Releases in 2015

This year already, the world of African Speculative Fiction has seen the release of Nnedi Okorafor's The Book of Phoenix, Sarah Lotz's Day Four, Terra Incognito, Jalada's Afrofutures, and Eugene Odogwu's In the Shadows of Iyanibi  courtesy of BrittlePaper to name a few. Well, here are some more works - including a novella from Nnedi Okorafor and Cristy Zinn's 'speculative fiction for children and other humans'. Enjoy!!!

The Raft by Fred Strydom (Published by Umuzi, April 2015)
One man's odyssey across a world without memory
"The day every person on earth lost his and her memory was not a day at all. In people's minds there was no actual event ... and thus it could be followed by no period of shock or mourning. There could be no catharsis. Everyone was simply reset to zero."

On Day Zero, humankind collectively lost its memory. The collapse of civilisation was as instantaneous as it was inevitable. For a man named Kayle Jenner, confined by a regime to a commune on a remote beach, all that remains is the vague and haunting vision of a son ...

That, and a wooden raft. It is a raft that will set Kayle on a journey across a broken world to find his son.

Braving a landscape of elusive encounters, a maze of other people's dreams, and muddled memories, Kayle will discover more than just his lost past. He will discover the truth behind Day Zero – a truth that makes both fools and gods of men.

The Dreamer's Tears by Cristy Zinn (Fox & Raven, April 2015)
Ivy Bauble is about to become Apprentice to the Master of Transformation. Never mind that she's far too obsessed with Knightmares for her own good, or that she's not sure if she can trust Master Borinvere and his brooding ward, Declan.

But when the magical Tower fails to transform and protect the peaceful village of Newton, Ivy has her hands full with more than just the annoying Declan and her sketchbook full of Knightmare drawings. Those dark, dangerous beasts are all set to fly into Newton and destroy everything Ivy holds dear.

And of course, Ivy is the only one who can stop all of this.

Swept up into an adventure with hot air balloons, magical wells, tickering cars and dreadful, fire-breathing horses, Ivy Bauble's life is about to change forever. And all because of Ivy's unending curiousity.

Dub Steps by Andrew Miller (Published by Jacana Media, May 2015)
Winner of the Dinaane Debut Fiction Award (formerly the European Union Fiction Award), Dub Steps has a strange long aftertaste. It is science fiction with ordinary characters trying to understand what it is to be alive. People have gone, suddenly, inexplicably, and the remaining handful have to find each other and start again. In that new beginning they wrestle with identity, race, sex, art, religion, and time, in a remarkably realistic, step-by-step way. 

Nature comes back, Johannesburg becomes wonderfully overgrown, designer pigs watch from the periphery walls, and the small group of survivors have to find ways of living with their own flaws and the flaws of each other. The aftertaste comes from the surprisingly real meditations in the middle of the end: after all simulated reality has gone, what human reality is left? There are no clichés in this book, but there is plenty of humour, originality and a gripping, unusual interrogation of the ordinary but really extraordinary fact of being alive. 

Tracer by Rob Boffard (Published by Orbit, July 2015)
In space, Every. Second. Counts.
Our planet is in ruins. Three hundred miles above its scarred surface orbits Outer Earth: a space station with a million souls on board. They are all that remain of the human race.

Darnell is the head of the station's biotech lab. He's also a man with dark secrets. And he has ambitions for Outer Earth that no one will see coming. 

Prakesh is a scientist, and he has no idea what his boss Darnell is capable of. He'll have to move fast if he doesn't want to end up dead.

And then there's Riley. She's a tracer - a courier. For her, speed is everything. But with her latest cargo, she's taken on more than she bargained for. A chilling conspiracy connects them all.

The countdown has begun for Outer Earth - and for mankind.

Under Ground by S.L. Grey (Published by Panmacmillan, July 2015)
Under Ground is a page-turning locked-room mystery from the combined talents of Sarah Lotz and Louis Greenberg, written as S.L. Grey. It is perfect for fans of Under the Dome by Stephen King and films such as The Hole and The Descent (with a pinch of And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie).


The Sanctum is a luxurious, self-sustaining survival condominium situated underground. It's a plush bolt-hole for the rich and paranoid - a place where they can wait out the apocalypse in style. When a devastating super-flu virus hits, several families race to reach The Sanctum. All have their own motivations for entering. All are hiding secrets.

But when the door locks and someone dies, they realise the greatest threat to their survival may not be above ground - it may already be inside ... 

Binti by Nnedi Okorofar (Published by Tor.com, September 2015)
Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at
Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.

Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti's stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.

If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself - but first she has to make it there, alive.

Read an excerpt from Tor.com.  And here's another one from Nnedi Okorafor, and illustrated by Mehrdokt Amini, for the kids.

Chicken in the Kitchen by Nnedi Okorafor and Mehrdokt Amini (Published by Lantana Publishing, October 2015)
What would you do if you woke up one night to find the shadow of a giant chicken passing your bedroom door? Go and investigate of course! When Anyaugo follows a giant chicken into her kitchen one warm night in Nigeria, she embarks on a hilarious adventure where nothing is quite as it seems. Is the nature spirit that lives in the wooden walls of her house a help or a hindrance? Is the mischievous giant chicken a friend or a for? Most importantly, will Anyaugo be able to save the food her aunties have cooked for the New Yam Festival the next day? 

World Fantasy Award-Winning author Nnedi Okorafor provides us with a hugely entertaining look at the fascinating masquerade culture of West Africa, told from the perspective of a plucky young Nigerian girl who finds courage to protect the traditions she loves.

And head straight to Lantana Publishing to check out the amazing illustrations by Mehrdokt Amini, accompanying Okorafor's magical words.

Monday, 24 August 2015

'Pompidou Posse': Sarah Lotz's first novel will soon be available in the UK

Screenwriter and novelist, Sarah Lotz's 'hilarious, heartbreaking first novel', Pompidou Posse, published first in South Africa in 2008 by Penguin Books SA will now be available 'to a world-wide audience, newly edited and with an all new cover' thanks to Hodder & Stoughton
Scheduled to be published next month, here is a synopsis: 

Paris is eternal. Art is love. Friendship is forever. Except when it isn't.

You're seventeen. One night, more or less by accident, you set fire to a garden shed. Naturally, you pack up and run off to Paris, certain you can make enough money off your art to get by. You're young, you're talented, you're full of life, and you have your best friend in all the world by your side.

What could possibly go wrong? 

Indeed, what could? Pompidou Posse, is set in the late 80s and has been described as 'loosely autobiographical'. As Mandy J Watson writes in her review of the SA edition: 
First edition cover. Published in 2008 by
Penguin Books SA
'What makes the book even more fascinating is that it is only a somewhat fictonalised tale as much of the story is a (from what I've heard often lighter) retelling of the experiences Lotz and a friend shared as homeless people in Paris in the 80s, after they fled England.'
The book sounds amazing and I can't wait to read it. And here's a link to an excerpt of the first edition BooksLiveSA published a couple years ago. Also, here's Sarah Lotz sharing her feelings about her first novel with Rob Boffard:
'I was terrified. My first novel, POMPIDOU POSSE, was published in South Africa the first time around (Hodder is kindly re-releasing it this year). Far from being a global bestseller, it sold about twelve copies and gave me a taste of what it's like to fail as a writer - in this game, when you often need a thick skin, this wasn't necessarily a bad thing!'