BOOKS BLOG: PAGEVIEWS
BY SARAH LANGS
The African Poetry Book Series, made public earlier this week, will feature the work of African poets each year, publishing four titles beginning in 2014. The series was established in connection with University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s African Poetry Book Fund, and announced by Ghanian poet Kwame Dawes, who is based in Nebraska. Dawes is a Guggenheim fellow and won the 2012 Barnes & Noble Writers Award.
His fellow Ghanian, poet Kofi Awoonor, will be the first to be featured, with the publication of his book “New and Selected Poems” to be the series’ inaugural release.
We were able to catch up with Dawes to hear a bit more about the series and his vision, in his own words. (Image: Kwamedawes.com)
Page Views: What was your inspiration for the African Poetry Book Series?
Kwame Dawes: I have long felt there was a major challenge getting a hold of the work of the best African poets writing today since few publishers have given enough attention to the work of our poets. As a teacher of African literature and as a writer, I have felt that there is much that can be done to improve that situation. A few months ago, I was approached by Ilya Kaminsky to participate in a Poetry Foundation sponsored and Poetry International project on African Poetry. The plan was to establish a small poetry prize for African poets. I then began to think that we could do a great deal more. And that is when I arrived at the idea for a book series. I was supported immediately by poets Matthew Shenoda, Chris Abani, John Keene and Gabeba Baderoon who all immediately volunteered to work with me to make this happen. The rest is history, as they say. Anyone who knows me knows that I am as driven by my own creative impulses as a writer as I am by the desire to support and advance the work of writing communities around the world. This series came out of my seeing a gap and trying to find a way to fill that gap. I have started other series in the past that are still going strong, and I thought it would be good to establish just such a series for African writers. We don’t have to think in massive terms to start off. We just have to think professionally and creatively, and the rest will fall into place.
PV: Could you talk a bit more about your work with the African Poetry Book Fund, which you recently established through the University of Nebraska-Lincoln?
KD: The Book Fund has been established through a generous gift by Laura Sillerman. The Fund will subvent the cost of the publication of the Series and will also form the overarching support system for a series of projects, prizes, workshops and much else that we hope to do in support of the development of poetry in Africa, and especially in support of the publishing of poetry. Our partnerships are crucial for this to happen. We have established partnerships first with our primary publisher, the University of Nebraska Press, who will publish the Series and secondly with Amalion Publishing in Senegal who are one of our most critical partners in this effort especially because they will be ensuring that this project has strong footing on the continent. Prairie Schooner, a journal I edit, is providing technical support and staffing for the entire project, and I am grateful to the English Department of the University of Nebraska for the support it is giving us on this work. Our other partners include the Brunel University African Poetry Prize led by Bernardine Evaristo, and various festivals, agencies and other entities who will help us to do the work we need to do.
PV: What are the goals of the series? What do you hope it will accomplish, within literary circles and beyond? What do you wish to see from it?
KD: The primary goal of the series is to produce beautifully designed, professionally published, heavily promoted, highly respected volumes of poetry written by African writers each year. We want to have the writers recognized around the world, to see their books reviewed heavily and to remind people of the rich poetry that exists in Africa. We are also trying to give opportunities for African poets to have their work published on the international level. This is important and necessary work. In the long term, we hope to see work in translation and also work in other languages published by the series. But we have to start modestly and confidently. I believe we are well set to do so.