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showcase of indigenous publishing
Review of Books
August 30, 2004
International Book Fair has announced the list of Zimbabwe's
75 best books of the 20th century. The list is divided into
the country's three languages – English, Shona and Ndebele – with
the judges highlighting the top five books in each of the three
The list is
also a showcase for indigenous publishing in Africa with a majority
of the books having been published by Zimbabwean companies, including
Baobab Books, Zimbabwe Publishing House, College Press and Mambo
Press. It is not unusual for indigenous publishing houses to publish
indigenous languages, but in Zimbabwe's case even a majority of
the English-language books were first published in Zimbabwe. Many
were subsequently published by multinational publishers, which also
appear on the list, such as Penguin and Heinemann. Even in the English
section, Heinemann originally published three of the 25 books –
and all three before 1980 – which is evidence that Heinemann's decision
to end its African Writers' Series in 2003 was not as dire an event
as many commentators implied.
one of Zimbabwe's top writers, has seven books in the list, four
in the English category and three in Ndebele. Heading the list for
the Shona category is Ndabaningi Sithole, whose fame has more to
do with his political aspirations under the regime of Ian Smith
than Umvukela WaMaNdebele (AmaNdebele KaMzilikazi), a title
published in 1956 by Longman.
book in the list is from 1956 and while the list is intended to
be representative of the country's literature of the 20th century,
the lack of books in the first half of the century is an indictment
of the restriction of educational and publishing opportunities in
One gap in the
list which is slightly disconcerting is the lack of information
in the Ndebele category. While both English and Shona sections have
the category of book provided, there are many gaps in classification
of the Ndebele category. (Note: This list is reproduced from the
website of the Zimbabwe International Book Fair).
Now that the
list has been announced, the next challenge of the ZIBF is to turn
this celebration of Zimbabwean literature into a marketing tool,
such that these books are republished, and not just in Zimbabwe.
Few of these books are available outside Zimbabwe, even though four
of the English category titles are also in the list of Africa's
100 best books and one of the titles, Nervous Conditions,
is being published by Ayebia later in 2004.
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