Ivor W. Hartmann is a Zimbabwean writer, editor, publisher, and visual artist. Awarded The Golden Baobab Prize (2009), finalist for the Yvonne Vera Award (2011), selected for The 20 in Twenty: The Best Short Stories of South Africa’s Democracy (2014), awarded third in the Jalada Prize for Literature (2015), and Nommo Awards nomination (2017). His works have appeared in many publications. He runs the StoryTime micro-press, publisher of the African Roar and AfroSF series of anthologies. He is a founding member of the African Speculative Fiction Society, and on the advisory board of Writers International Network Zimbabwe.

22 June 2010

Kola Tubosun and Ivor W. Hartmann in conversation about African Roar and writing at Sentinel Nigeria


"KT: Tell me about your own writing history. How did you get into writing?

IWH: When I was fourteen, and heavily under the influence of Stephen King at the time, I wrote a short story for a class creative writing assignment. At the time I had been relegated against my will to a boarding school – as about as far from home as I could get and still be in the same country. So I took this opportunity to vent my anger and frustration in a creative and cathartic way, and ended up with a blood soaked story about werewolves that totally scared the crap out of my demure English Lit teacher. It was then I realised I was onto something as I had never attained that level of attention before in anything I had ever done at school. Thus started my love of writing and I continued to write for the next five years until I finished school. It was then I decided that a serious writer needed to experience life in all its messy glory before he could really begin to write about it (whatever the genre). So that's what I did for the next twenty one years. Then in 2007 I woke up one day and realised that I had indeed done what I set out to do all those years ago, and it was time to get back to what has always been my first and true love, writing.

KT: How much of life’s mess did you actually experience for the twenty-one years, and do you still recommend same for anyone hoping to seriously go into writing?

IWH: A lot more than I wished for that's for sure, ha ha, someday I'll write an autobiography when I know it will sell.

Hmm, that's how it was for me and it worked, but I could not go so far as to recommend it to anyone. Everyone is different.

KT: How did the StoryTime website idea begin?

IWH: As a new 'serious' writer, I was banging out loads of work but when it came time to get it published and I started looking around I was taken aback at the dearth of outlets for African writers. As of course, I wanted to rather get it published by an African outlet than anywhere else. So rather than just fruitlessly moaning about it I decided to take the plunge and start an African Lit magazine. Having now been reduced to the clichéd starving writer, I looked for ways I could do that as cheaply as possible and yet still be effective. Thus the StoryTime ezine was born in June 2007.

KT: How has it been since the site started, and how did you get the now many authors that have been published on it.

IWH: Like most endeavours of this nature it was slow going at first, but I was relentless in searching for and asking writers to join and publish their work in StoryTime. So slowly word got around and by the middle of the second year I was no longer praying to have something (anything) to publish, and was receiving a fair amount un-requested submissions. Though I do still harass the odd writer I really want to publish because I very much like their work. StoryTime was and still is a work in progress, with me learning as I go along how to best get it out and about and thus give maximum exposure to the writers I publish, which is the main aim of StoryTime. In the beginning and up to Jan this year I was only really proofing and doing basic editing of the work that was sent to me, but decided from Jan 2010 to fully edit every submission with the author (as I had now I believed, gained enough experience in editing to do this properly). So the fruits of that decision are now becoming evident with each new issue published and has raised the standard significantly.

KT: I remembered how you came to pick my story to be published on the website. I just don't remember if I'd sent it to you first, or you contacted me to send it to you. Did you have to do that for the many authors that you published initially? Were there those who turned you down? Were there false starts? What other things were memorable about that beginning of StoryTime.

IWH: You sent it to me to me in May 2009, after coming across StoryTime online, but yes, I still did a fair bit of chasing even then.

Sure, many have turned me down – and still do – but as optimistic as I am, I certainly don't expect everyone to be into publishing in StoryTime. So I don't take it badly at all, wouldn't be much of a writer if I did, there's always going to be writers who for whatever their reasons don't want to, and I respect that.

There have been false starts, for sometime I had this idea StoryTime should be a worldwide writers' ezine though with a focus on African writers. But I eventually realised that this was silly (there were plenty of those, though not many with that focus), and so I chose to only showcase African writers, and re-did the ezine's look, logo, the core goals, and submission guidelines to reflect this and have never looked back.

There have been many memorable moments, both good and bad, much like having a child. One in particular was when Emmanuel Sigauke responded positively to an email I sent him in October 2008 about possibly publishing in StoryTime (I had read an excerpt of a short story of his 'Mukoma's Marriage' at his blog Wealth of Ideas and really liked it). He was consequently (besides myself) the first already published writer to be in a StoryTime issue. And we have since then enjoyed a great friendship, and he has taught me so many things for which I will always be eternally grateful.

KT: How many authors have been published on StoryTime so far?

IWH: To date we have published fifty three authors, though there are many more scheduled, StoryTime is in fact booked solid, publishing wise, until next year January, and there are more new authors submitting every day.

KT: The big news is African Roar, an anthology of best short stories from 2007-2009 in StoryTime. Tell us what we don't already know about it.

IWH: What a lot people have missed in our descriptions of the project is that after we (Emmanuel Sigauke and I) chose the final stories for African Roar. We then spent a good eight months carefully and stringently editing each story with the authors to bring it to it full promise (with one exception being the established author Chuma Nwokolo whose story was masterfully written, edited and ready to go). Also, that all the stories are now only available in the book, (apart from one exception published elsewhere online, but not in its current form in the book). I have great hopes for the future of African Roar. As you know this book is just the first in what will be an annual anthology, so hoping big (and why not I ask) that it may become in its own way a benchmark of current African Literature much like the famed Heinemann's African Writers Series was from 1963 to 2003. Though of course, limited to a short story anthology drawn solely from StoryTime.

KT: Beside the process of voting on the StoryTime website for stories to be included, was there anything else you were looking for when choosing the eleven stories in African Roar? Was there a theme at the outset that the stories had to conform to? Was there any particular directions you (the editors) agreed on before coming up with the final selection?

IWH: The voting process (which will happen every year) is more to engage the readers and get a larger picture of what they have liked, and not liked, a rough guide so to speak from a readers point of view.

For me choosing the stories was a very subconscious thing, like music, I knew what I liked instantly regardless of its genre and condition of writing at the time. So I looked for works that really stood out and spoke to me (as an avid long time reader). From this I compiled a list and Emmanuel did the same (using his own process). We put our lists together taking what coincided, and then defended and argued our other choices with each other until we agreed on a final list. So no, there was no theme and there never will be, African Roar is about selecting the very best of StoryTime and then taking those stories to an even higher level with the authors, in the editing process.

KT: But with benefit of knowledge of the wide range and genres now already published on the site, are there particular genres you’re still looking out for?

IWH: Nothing specific, I would like to eventually see every single genre that exists covered and perhaps create a few new ones too.

As one of the StoryTime authors, is there any genre you think StoryTime might have tempted you to try?

KT: I’m for sci-fi, not because I’ve read much of it as a kid, or watched much of it in the movies, but precisely because I haven’t, and because people like Nnedi Okorafor and yourself are venturing into such fields (as well as fantasy genre that has Okri and Rushdie) with so much vigour, I’m beginning to develop some interest in it.

IWH: That's good to hear Kola.

KT: Who were the authors that influenced you when you were growing up? Have you ever been influenced by writers writing in indigenous African languages, and what is the future of fiction-in-translation in future publications that you might want to edit.

IWH: Like most children growing up in Zimbabwe in the 70's as there was not a lot of local African publishing going on (under the racist Smith Regime), and even less that was put into libraries and schools, so I dined on a stock of imported authors, mostly British. I ploughed (I was an avid reader from the age of six) my way through Roald Dahl, Edith Nesbit, etc. However, in 1980 all that changed with independence, and suddenly there was an influx of African writers into the libraries. So I leapt eagerly into the likes of Dambudzo Marechera, Charles Mungoshi, Chenjerai Hove, Ben Okri, Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, etc. to name a few. As here were, finally, African writers that wrote about the real Africa I was living in and very much a part of, and could relate too in a very personal way. This is not to say I didn't read other authors, I was and still am a real book slut – I read anything I could get my hands on. So too pinpoint any one or even group of, authors that influenced me is a truly impossible task.

I am all for writers writing in their first language, but do feel that to achieve the world wide exposure, these works need to be translated for the world at large into the mainly read languages i.e. English, Spanish, Chinese, etc. At StoryTime I am all for publishing the original work accompanied by a translation, though so far none of the authors have taken me up on this endeavour.

KT: As a linguist, I’m also for literature in translation. Original stories written in African languages translated and published. Or maybe you can even publish special edition African Roar issues with stories written only in African languages. Imagine a collection of eleven stories in eleven different African languages. A special edition publication, I said, and even I realise how ambitious and risky that could be for publishing which is first of all a business. But I like to think that it is possible, and could be exciting.

IWH: That would be a truly amazing project to do. In terms of cost maybe the original language used could be accompanied with an English (or other depending on the country it's being sold in) translation accompanying each story? Or, the other way around with African Roar being translated into the countries local language but also with the original language. Either way whilst it would make a far bigger book, it could well be worth it, and something I will look into for the next one.

KT: Considering now that there are very many more stories in the StoryTime ezine now, will the next African Roar have more than eleven stories? Will the selection process be the same? And will there be much more African Roars in the next year, or will it just be another one.

IWH: Yes, there will be more stories in the next one, as there are more that will be eligible this time around, and in my opinion there are and will be, some extremely good works in the set time period (Aug 2009-Aug 2010), from which to choose. Yes, we will do a readers vote and repeat the aforementioned process, As far as I can see there will only be one African Roar published every year, I am not looking for it to become a quarterly (or otherwise) print magazine, which publishing it more than once a year would probably mean.

KT: I know that editing and publishing short stories is enough task in itself. But do you have any interest in poetry, as a person. Do you write/read them? Any thoughts?

IWH: I do love poetry, though I prefer spoken to reading, and do very occasionally actually write one myself. Poetry to me is the highest art-form of writing, like absolute rose essence that takes 10 tons of petals to make a single ounce, so it should be with poetry. When I do write a poem it's normally because there's an idea or thought or collection thereof, which has been banging around my head for years. Slowly developing until one day out it comes, and then the real work starts, agonising over every word for months on end. So needless to say I have an incredible respect for poets who achieve great works, as it is truly the most demanding form of writing.

KT: What is the response so far to the publication of African Roar?

IWH: So far, three weeks in now, the reception has been fantastic with a far greater reach and interest than I had hoped possible. Especially as we have been dealing with a zero budget for promotion and marketing, which has certainly been interesting, along with the fact that it is at present only being sold online. Like StoryTime itself African Roar has been entirely dependant on word of mouth, word on the net, etc. through the authors' enthusiastic participation. As, whilst writing may be solitary, publishing is most definitely a team effort, and though this holds true for all publishing it takes on even more significance when applied to African Roar. It truly has been a team effort from the beginning and continues to be. And we, the authors, are starting to see the benefits of our hard labours as our African Roar is slowly but surely being heard world-wide.

As one of the authors in African Roar, how do you feel about it? Do you think is has put you forward as a writer?

KT: Yes it has. Like I wrote in one of my old, and another recent, blog-posts about the evolution of writing and my connection with the online medium, it has been a love-hate relationship. I grew up sneaking up to my father’s old typewriter at night to learn how to type from when I was eight. He would inevitably wake up from the noise and send me to sleep. But he always encouraged my interest because he knew that I always wanted to write, even if what I was writing then didn’t make much sense. He eventually handed me over to a professional typist who taught me how to type. Coming from such a background, I had a special relationship with the paper as a bearer of my thoughts. The sight of a pristine white page filled me always with such delight that always made me write. Or draw. Or simply scrawl things on it, just to fulfil what seemed like the ultimate mandate of its pureness: to be defiled. Then I met the computer and everything changed. I fell in love with it in a different way. The ease with which a blank document page of Microsoft Word inspired writing became impossible to surpass by the hard sheet of paper.

So I started a blog and started leaving my ideas there. Then I wrote poems, many of them inspired by the blank post page on the blog. My story in African Roar was inspired in some sort of way as well, and if not for your immediate acceptance of its prospects, it might just have ended up as just another Facebook note. Being published in this maiden anthology has thus given me more confidence in the power of the book to charm, just as much as the internet does, but with more permanence. And of course, it has added to my resume, for no matter how many words a blog contains, it can never be called a book, and the author – though still a writer – will not be called an author, at least by today’s indices.

IWH: Yes, I had a dalliance with publishing stuff on Facebook, until I realised how precious all my stories really were (in terms of one day paying me). So now I hoard them for a collection, and occasionally publish in magazines to keep my resume turning over while I finish the collection and work on the novels.

KT: I'm for localisation. Is there a chance of seeing a Nigerian/West African edition of African Roar anytime soon, published by a local publisher to make it easily physically available?

IWH: Yes, I would like that very much too, and I am (as the creator and anthologist, sole holder of the African Roar rights and copyrights) in the process of approaching local publishing companies. As it stands the deal with The Lion Press only included UK printing and distribution online at Amazon.com/co.uk and B&N. So while we are working towards this it will take time, but through the connections we are making now, we will certainly see the next anthology being far more widely physically distributed as soon as it is published, rather than after the fact.

KT: Since you got into serious writing, have you ever been under pressure to let the politics of Zimbabwe reflect in or condition your creative process in any way?

IWH: Yes the current condition of Zimbabwe has influenced my writing. I am living in economic exile away from my home and this has many effects on me personally, which of course influences my writing. But to answer you question, no, I have not felt directly pressured to write about it, and even if I was I would probably buck it, like Marechera said, "If you're a writer for a specific nation or a specific race, then f*** you". A writer must be, and feel, free to write whatever they want to.

Though I could ask the same of you, do you feel that current Nigerian politics has influenced your writing? And if so to what extent?

KT: No, but that is as far as my deliberate rebellion will allow, and I have tried as much as possible to fuse much of my own outlook in the speech of the characters I create. I cannot control the unconscious however. If I’m a writer at all, I’m one because of my upbringing and influences all tainted with patches of Nigerian history and my own upbringing in the many cultures that I’ve interacted with. The rest are my own questing polemics. In essence, I don’t write so as to be patriotic except to defy and to question, but mostly to locate the common humanity in my characters as well as in those who read and connect with them. I like the simple, small, family things, not the grand “national” political ones, and I’ve dedicated myself to exploring the small ones. I’ve discovered that they’re often even more fun than big politics. And as a writer, you get the liberty of imagination. Politics is more restricting. In that, Marechera was right. But overall, we are still a sum of our individual experiences, and are conditioned by our environments whether we like it or not.

IWH: Sure, I agree with you there, I'm also not into the grand political novel (or even short story). What interests me is the ordinary lives of ordinary people, because as soon as you look deeper no one is ordinary. We all have extraordinary things that happen to us at some point in our lives and how we deal with them is fascinating. The average Zimbabwean living in Zimbabwe now, is an everyday hero, you have to be in order to just survive.

KT: I know that you like Science Fiction. What is that about?

IWH: Well, its more the broader umbrella genre Speculative Fiction that I have a great interest in, which does include Sci-Fi, but also Fantasy, Horror, Supernatural Fiction, Superhero Fiction, Utopian and Dystopian Fiction, Apocalyptic and Post-apocalyptic Fiction, Alternate History, and Magical Realism. This is because I feel that in Spec-Fic there are no limits to the imagination and what you can do as writer, anything goes, and that is a tremendous freedom. I do write Contemporary Fiction too, it's really just a case of whatever will serve the story best. Though in terms of African writers, I am a big proponent of us moving into Spec-Fic and other genres, for the simple reason that we seem for the most part to be stuck in Contemporary Fiction. It seems as if every African writer wants to be the next Soyinka or Marechera, and I'm saying hang on a minute we can't all be that so what about the rest, the whole breadth of fiction? I want to see bookshops stocking us African writers under all these other genres too, and we can do it, we have massive amounts of talent here.

KT: Who are your influences in the Sci-fi fiction category, and for people meeting you for the first time, which of your stories in that genre would you encourage them to read first?

IWH: There are so many excellent Sci-Fi writers, but my top all time influence is undoubtedly Frank Herbert, and the six Dune books he wrote. What he showed me was that sci-fi could go to another level entirely, one that was as deep as the writer could make it. I re-read those six once a year, and every year I discover new insights and subtleties, things that make me go Wow! Frank you are the Man!

Hmm, well I haven't published that much yet (but have quite a bit unpublished including shorts and novels in progress), but I think to date my favourite is Earth Rise (actually a novel but I have only published the first chapter so far). After that it’s The Last Wave and Mr. Goop. So those being my favourites are what I would recommend reading to anyone interested in getting into Sci-Fi solely from reading my works, but there is so much out there I would recommend rather plunging into all of it.

KT: As a sometime sci-fi/fantasy writer. A few decades ago, getting a book
of this nature published would have cost an arm and leg, and several weeks of postage costs. Can you paint me a picture of African writing in the next fifty years from your own creative crystal ball. A little sci-fi fantasizing is welcome, if you feel like it.

IWH: Hard to say with any surety exactly how things will develop. But given the rising popularity of eBooks and the devices to read them on I suspect that this will undoubtedly become the main way of reading books, quite a lot sooner than fifty years from now. There are however some problems with this especially in Africa and third world countries, given that the average internet access in Africa at present stands at 8.7%. And as Nadine Gordimer pointed out recently printed books don't need batteries or internet access. So there is still a great need for the publishing and distribution of printed books, and indeed an ever widening gap technologically between the first and third worlds. So while it's great to be able to publish books electronically, if you want to ensure all-round distribution printed books are a still a necessity. This will certainly change in the coming years, and smart cellphones will drive it I believe, as there is certainly a far wider cellphone coverage and penetration into Africa than there is internet access alone. So with cellphone providers including more services in their packages, this could pave the way to greater eBook reading. Fifty years from now, I think print books will be nostalgic curiosities, and much like gas guzzling cars, only bought by for those who can afford the expensive luxury of having them.

KT: When you’re not writing, what would you likely be found doing?

IWH: Editing other authors more than likely, it takes up a fair amount of my time, and of course creating graphics and other stuff which keep me alive and able to still write. I'm a bit of a workaholic, but do occasionally find the time to attend book launches, hang out with other writers and friends, and of course I do religiously end every single day by reading for at least an hour before I sleep, but usually it ends up being quite a bit more.

KT: Finally, what’s your final word on the current progress of writing on the continent?

IWH: I am so impressed I can't even express how much and more so with every new submission I receive. We have a vast amount talent in Africa, so much so that when it truly starts to hit the world scene in a big way, we will be unstoppable.

KT: Thank you for this chance to talk with you.

IWH: Thank you Kola, it's been a pleasure talking with you." - Kola Tubosun and Ivor W. Hartmann in conversation about about African Roar and writing.

From Kola Tubosun at Sentinel Nigeria.

21 June 2010

An interview with Anthony Williams for the Caribbean Book Blog about African Roar and other topics

16/06/10 An Interview with Ivor Hartmann, co-publisher of African Roar

"This week I had the pleasure of doing an email interview with Ivor Hartmann, co-publisher and co-editor of the short-story anthology African Roar and the creator of the literary ezine StoryTime. Born in Harare, Zimbabwe Hartmann is a contributing editor for Sentinel Nigeria and has published fiction and non-fiction works in several magazines, including StoryTime, African Writing, Wordsetc, Something Wicked, Sentinel Literary Quarterly, Paulo Coelho’s Blog, and African Writer.com.

The topics we discussed ranged from his writing and publishing experiences, what the future holds for African writers, and the challenges publishers face as they work with authors to build a strong foundation for the continuing growth and flowering of African literature on the continent and worldwide.

Hartmann’s feedback is valuable in that it offers the perspective, not of an outsider, but a born-and-bred African whose love of literature and his knowledge of Africa’s literary turf (particularly southern Africa) make his views a real eye-opener.

The publication of African Roar is clearly a source of pride to Hartmann and his fellow editor Emmanuel Sigauke. His optimism about the book reflects his belief in the ability of the region’s emerging writers to take control of their destinies and chart the way forward for African literature.

CBB: How does it feel having published African Roar?

Hartmann: I don’t really know yet, I am so wrapped up in what still needs to be done to get African Roar out and about. I haven’t had the time yet to sit back and say to myself well there you go, the first African Roar is out. And then collapse with the sure knowledge I have done everything possible I can.

CBB: Has the internet been helpful to you in your search for new talent?

Hartmann: Undoubtedly, especially in the early days of StoryTime when I ransacked every online listing of African writers I could, and did extensive Google searches through the night to find blogs, email addresses and more. Basically, anything that would show me which African writers were online, what they were writing and how I might contact them. But there is still a great limit to what you can find online, seeing as how on average only 8.7% of Africans have internet access. This is a great shortfall, which can only be covered through word of mouth. One of the writers at StoryTime can only get in touch when he travels to a big city, and he contacts me through an online café once every couple of months or so. He heard about StoryTime through another writer friend who encouraged him to send me his first short story.

CBB: Are you satisfied that the stories in StoryTime and African Roar capture the complexities and diversities of 21st century African experiences?

Hartmann: I don’t think anything can truly capture the incredible complexity and diversity of the African experience now in the 21st century, or ever. Though the same applies to any continent, but more so with Africa as, after all, it is the second largest continent in the world, home to over one billion people with over two thousand languages. However, StoryTime and African Roar, though a drop in the ocean comparatively, does seek to try and faithfully represent the continent in whatever small way we can through the work of African writers. In this only, am I satisfied with what StoryTime and African Roar seek to achieve.

CBB: What are some of the memorable experiences you’ve had working with the writers who contribute to StoryTime?

Hartmann: There have been so many in the last three years, both good and bad. What comes to mind at present (and is a bit of both), is how I ended up publishing possibly the last living work of a fantastic Zimbabwean writer just before he died. Stanley Ruzvidzo Mupfudza was a well known writer in Zimbabwe. He was friends with a great set of Zim writers like Memory Chirere, Charles Mungoshi, Emmanuel Sigauke, and many more. Now although he was quite widely published, he moved away from creative fiction writing for a long time but came back to it in 2000. So when he sent me a story in 2009 I was, needless to say, quite blown away that a writer of his prestige would do so (and not from my pestering either). He in his own way by doing this was saying I like what you’re doing Hartmann, and giving StoryTime and me a nod of approval. So I in due course published his story and it was a pleasure to do so. When I found out on the 5th of May 2010 that he had died in Harare on the 3rd, I was deeply affected. As here was an extremely gifted writer, just one year older than me, and who was returning to creative writing after a long absence, also like me. I had from the very beginning of our communications back in 2009 felt a strong kinship with Ruzvidzo, even though we never did get to meet in person. So even though I am happy I published his story, I am still a bit haunted by the loss of a writer who had so much potential and seemed to be back on track towards fulfilling it.

CBB: Which audiences are you targeting? And is there is a risk that the book and StoryTime will be out of the reach of many potential readers in Africa considering that the internet and electronic readers are two of your main modes of delivery?

Hartmann: StoryTime has always been about attaining exposure for African writers to the world at large, and the cheapest and most efficient way to do that is online. In this way StoryTime provides a reliable and consistent showcasing of emerging talent (with our one issue with one story, once a week, policy), which gives a week-long exposure to the writer and their story. This is a format I will maintain, no matter how popular StoryTime may get. That is except for the occasional specials. So StoryTime will remain an ezine for as far as I can see into the future, that’s its purpose.

That said, African Roar is, however, a different story. With African Roar I am endeavouring to get it as widely locally published and distributed within Africa as I can. As Nadine Gordimer pointed out recently, printed books don’t need batteries or the internet, and this is particularly important in Africa where both can be a problem. So while I feel that first world countries can make do with African Roar being available to buy at Amazon, etc. (for now), this is not the case with Africa. Local print publishing is the way forward I believe. Now the main reason I am doing this for African Roar is because, although it is drawn from the very best of StoryTime, we (Emmanuel Sigauke and I) then spent eight months further editing each story with the authors to help them fulfil the highest possible potential of their story. And it is these finely honed stories I believe should be read by everyone in Africa. Also African Roar is an anthology of mostly emerging African writers that is not in any way dependant on international acceptance or approval (as seems to be so often the required case for the work of African writers to re-enter Africa in a big way), and is written, selected, edited, and published strictly by African writers only.

CBB: What do you consider the biggest challenges confronting aspiring writers and publishers in Africa today?

Hartmann: For an African writer the first obstacle is getting your work published (in any medium), as there are so few outlets, and certainly far more potential writers than outlets at present. Now the internet and blogs have changed this in a big way, but you need online access to do this. And even then you have the most consistent problem for any writer, and that is writers need editors. No matter how good a writer you are, if you don’t have an independent professional opinion on your work it will never be what it could be. It’s the can’t see the trees for the forest syndrome. Every writer has it, because in general only ten percent of the story is actually written down, the rest is inside your head. This means while something may be plainly/painfully obvious to the writer, the end reader won’t have a clue. So what you have is this dearth of outlets and editors, both of which you need as a writer.

Now as a publisher ironically you face the same problems as the writer but in different ways. There are so few outlets to distribute that one then needs to be very creative in getting the book distributed and actually bought. Also as a publisher there is a lack of good editors, so the ones who are good tend to be way over-worked and that, of course, affects their editing. Also editing is certainly not the most well paid job and involves a lot of hard work with long hours. Then, of course, as a business publishing has incredibly low profit margins, and generally banks on one out of x-number of books they publish really doing well and so covering all the others. It’s a very risky business worldwide.

What these challenges do, though, is to provide serious obstacles to both writers and publishers. And in so doing form a filtering system that means only the most determined actually have a shot at succeeding (and thereby it’s not necessarily the most talented that do succeed). Neither is for the half-hearted, though this is true of any profession that requires a similar level of determination. This means that either you are willing to sacrifice great chunks of your life working towards a possibly unachievable goal, or you are not.

CBB: The eminent professor of literature at American University and president of the African Skies Library Foundation, Charles R. Larson has been quoted as saying “African writers inhabit a world devoid of privilege or advantage, lacking many of the things that their Western counterparts take for granted such as informed and understanding critics, [and] rarely encounter enlightened political leaders willing to acknowledge the importance of the arts.” Do you share that view?

Hartmann: Not really, it’s a fairly generalised assessment. For one, what it leaves out is the passion of the writer, the writer who will stop at nothing to write and be read. Like the StoryTime writer I mentioned earlier who lives in a rural village, but because he is passionate about his writing does not let things like first world privileges and advantages stand in his way.

It also does not take into account that Africa has a very long and rich history of storytelling and indeed the arts as a whole, the longest history out of all the continents in fact. Though, this may not be immediately apparent to a foreigner, as it is so imbedded into local culture as to seem an integral part of daily life. So unlike western arts no-one pays to see it, or hear it, or support it; it’s just there, a part of society performed by everyone. This could also be the reason why the western concept of the arts seems to be under-funded and somewhat ignored. As it would in a way be like your uncle saying to you as a child, you have to pay me to tell you a bedtime story. Thus when it comes to books, artworks, etc. there is a natural resistance towards the artist, as only an artist. An attitude that says, but you are just a loafer telling us or showing us what we have already heard or seen from our grandfathers (or whomever) for free, go get a real job.

I’m not saying any of this is good or bad, but it’s a fact that has to be accounted for, and why generalisations like the one above don’t really get at the truth of the matter of the arts in Africa. Though of course, you also have to add the ever-rolling process of the westernisation of Africa into the equation, which means things are changing. More and more Africans are buying books, artworks, etc. for the pure pleasure of them, and thus starting to see support of the arts as a good thing. Africa is not static and therefore dynamic and ever changing, and this defies attempts to point fingers or bemoan the state of the arts in Africa from any perspective.

CBB: Some African publishers have complained that often when they discover and nurture fellow African writers, they end up losing them to mainstream Western publishers simply because they can’t find financial support to expand their business, nor can they afford to pay the royalties that the bigger publishing houses do, or offer the level of readership that is available in Western countries. Is that your perception and, if so, what are the implications for the future of African publishing?

Hartmann: Sure, this does apply to some African writers, but so few as to be insignificant in comparison to the number of African writers who don’t get nabbed by the big publishers. If an African writer does make it into the big time, I say more power to them, well done. But don’t forget your roots, make sure at the least, the local rights for your country goes at a reasonable price to those publishers who nurtured you. As the author you have the power to put that clause into whatever contracts you sign. Authors must realise that the power does indeed lie with them not the publisher. As sure, maybe you balk in the beginning at demanding anything from your big publisher who has been ever so kind enough to realise your talent and take you under their most esteemed wing. But there does come a time when they need you more than you need them, and then you can make sure your original publishers are taken care of.

For African publishers this dilemma is commonly called putting all your eggs into one basket, and then moaning when your sole basket gets bought from under you at a fraction of the authors real earning potential. However, and this is what I’ve been thinking about recently, how about keeping the author and selling the foreign rights country by country to the big publishers for decent sums and royalties. In this way you can sort out the author in proportion to their sales and rights fees, thus keeping them happy. And also launch the author in a big way through the big publishers without losing them or losing out entirely. I suspect this is what (though I could be wrong) Bakare of Kachifo Ltd. did with Adichie.

CBB: Most publishers in the Caribbean survive by publishing textbooks for schools and adult non-fiction books. A lot of the fiction originating from the islands is self published and read by a relatively small number of people. How does that compare to the African countries, particularly West and East Africa?

Hartmann: I can only really talk for Southern Africa (being born and raised in Zimbabwe and now recently living in South Africa as an economic exile), though I have had some contact through fellow writers with West and East Africa. The way I see it, what it comes down to is this, it’s tough being a fiction writer anywhere in the world, and you do whatever it takes to keep on being able to write fiction. If that means publishing textbooks and non-fiction, then that’s what you do until you don’t have to anymore. In my case, I do visual arts stuff and write non-fiction articles, and have recently ventured into publishing to survive while I build my writing career. That’s what it takes for me to make fiction writing a career. But as I have said, I don’t think this is an isolated African or Caribbean issue for fiction writers. All writers have to do something similar wherever they are in the world. That is unless they are incredibly lucky and their first book is an astounding success, which is just so very rare.

They used to call self-publishing vanity publishing, and in my opinion it still has this stigma attached, and for good reason. If you write and self-publish a book, the chances that it has been properly edited, proofed, published, marketed, promoted and widely distributed are slim. Yes, there have been successes with self publishing, and more so each year because of the marketing and promotional power of the net, I don’t deny this. But it does require that you become a one-person writer/publisher with all that truly entails, which is a huge load that not many people can successfully bear. So, unless you can be that successful one-person band, or alternatively if you’re happy with the odd few sales to friends and such (but I’d call that more of a hobby than a career), then I’d say get serious. Start hunting for a good publisher and don’t give up until you have been accepted and published by one, and not just once, often (a minimum of one book every two years after the first one is out), as one fiction book rarely makes a profitable life-long living for a fiction writer.

CBB: Although they face tremendous obstacles, some publishers on the African continent who have been investing in fiction are reportedly experiencing some level of growth, such as Sub Saharan Press in Ghana and Kwani and Storymoja Publishers in Kenya. Should that give African fiction writers hope?

Hartmann: Definitely, as I’ve said in the forward to African Roar, there is a revolution going on in African literature and there are many reasons for it. There are, as I see it, three big ones, the net, westernisation and technological advancement (as in better print presses, therefore more affordable and reliable publishing, etc. and also easier access to first world presses like Lightning Source and shipping from them). These three things are whipping up a thirst for both African writers to be published and African readers to read those writers. And the thing is, there is a massive talent pool in Africa (being the second largest continent), one that has barely been touched and once it starts to be (as I think is beginning to happen), I do believe that African writers on the whole will be unstoppable, both locally and internationally.

CBB: What are your thoughts on the relationship between writing from the African Diaspora and works from the African continent in terms of relevance and authenticity?

Hartmann: All writing is relevant and authentic no matter where it comes from or its genre. The problem always arises when you try and categorise it. It seems to be just an exercise in semantics to me, to even start down that road where you are trying to separate the two in some definable separation that is either relevant and/or authentic. At what point do you draw the line? How long you have lived in Africa? Whether you were born here? For StoryTime, because I have had to, I draw the line thus: ”African Writers: (writers born in Africa, or having domiciled in Africa for over 10 years, and/or holding citizenship in an African country)” but I’m not happy about doing it, so for me these are just rough guidelines. For example: if a child of an African is born somewhere else, has not lived here for over ten years, visits irregularly, but has been brought up and exposed to African culture, and does not hold citizenship in an African country. Does this make them any less African? Should their writing be spurned as inauthentic and not relevant? I don’t think so. If there wasn’t such a first world domination of the literature scene, there wouldn’t be a need for a solely African literature-orientated publisher.

CBB: Do you think the providers of international literary prizes should seek out more books published in Africa and marginalized areas like the Caribbean?

Hartmann: Sure they should. If they lay claim to being an international prize, it should be their utmost duty to seek out the entire published works for that year worldwide regardless of where they come from. Not, as seems to be the case in general, just peruse the most heavily marketed, which would naturally come from first world countries at this point in time. But that aside, what I would really like to see is more locally created and sponsored writing prizes, awards, competitions, etc. As it stands Africa’s most esteemed literary prize, is not even based in Africa and not, for the most part, judged by Africans. This means we are looking to outsiders to judge us, with their own criteria, what they happen to think from their perspective is Africa’s best writing. Look, I think having such a prize is better than not having it. But, I’m saying, is it not about time we started to judge ourselves with the same rigour, backed up by the same kind of cash and opportunities such a prize brings? I think it is way past time for that.

CBB: What are your hopes for the future of African literature?

Hartmann: As you might have gathered in the previous answers, I’m very optimistic about the future of African Literature. What I would like to see are the same opportunities a first world writer has from the moment they decide to become a writer, no matter the age that occurs, being available for African writers, and it can, and will, happen. The net and technology, though still limited at present for Africa, has and will, in many ways, level the playing fields. Ten years ago, StoryTime and African Roar just wouldn’t have happened, not by me anyway. It just would have been too difficult and costly to even contemplate. But look at them now, they are thriving and producing fine writing that is being noticed and read worldwide. And if you look at both, I have hardly spent anything except vast amounts of my time on them. StoryTime, although a registered serial publication, is on the free Blogger platform. Sure, it doesn’t have a dedicated domain name, but so what? Is a dedicated domain name really that important? To me what is important is what it publishes and that anyone online can read it, for free.

The same in a way goes for African Roar; the biggest real expenses so far have been buying the ISBN, registering the title and paying for the Lightning Source online distribution network. The stories initially came from StoryTime, the editing and proofing was done for free by Emmanuel Sigauke and I, the cover I designed and laid out printer ready also for free, The Lion Press through Lightning Source (a Print On Demand printer, so no massive and costly print runs or warehousing required) puts the title up online at Amazon, etc. And there you go. One book on the international market, though admittedly only really for first world countries in a major way. Then my fellow African Roar authors and I embark on a blitz of online marketing and promotion (which this interview is part of), again at no cost to them or myself except time and net charges, which also includes sending out free PDF copies of the book for reviews. Now we want to also get it print published and distributed locally in Africa (being well aware of the limitations of the net in Africa), so then with a firm and growing online base (website, facebook page, and that the book is available to buy online), I start asking around for local publishing. Now obviously, because we have done all this work beforehand, and the book itself is a really great book, the chances of a local publisher acquiring the rights are far greater. Because they (who generally are also online because they have to be), have seen the impact the book is having. So although I approach them un-requested, first via email, they ask to see the book and I send them the PDF copy, which is more than enough to give them an idea of the book and whether they think they can sell it. And there you go, local publishing of African Roar is now underway and should hit the shelves from July to December in quite a few African countries. All this from a relatively unknown group of African writers who happen to have written and edited some fine stories and put them together into an anthology called African Roar.

So I guess what I’m saying is that I’m no longer just hoping the future of African literature will be bright, my fellow African writers and I are making sure it will be." - Anthony Williams interviewing Ivor W. Hartmann for the Caribbean Book Blog

From Anthony Williams at the Caribbean Book Blog.

06 June 2010

New story at StoryTime: Diner Ten

Radic squeezed through a gap in an air-vent. His passage and that of the millions before him had scoured and burnished it smooth and bright around its edges. Inside the lobby it was dark and greasy from the cooking that took place below it. Radic quietly took his place in the line of diner's. From this point on there was to be no talking at all, battle-rules applied until one exited again – hopefully alive and well-fed. Though this diner, Diner Ten, was well known for both its safety and good food... Full Story

This is a website for Zimbabwean Author Ivor W. Hartmann. All posts on this site are Copyright © Ivor W. Hartmann 2007-2011. All rights reserved.