Black History Month 2022: Heinemann African Writers Series

By Special Collections|21st October 2022|Collections & Research|0 comments

In 2022, we celebrate the 35th Anniversary of the founding of the Black History Month movement in the UK. As part of the many activities and events that SOAS has brought to its students, staff and general audience during October 2022, SOAS Library is hosting a display of important, original materials from the Heinemann African Writers Series, which is held by our Special Collections department. The display has been curated by SOAS staff, Angelica Baschiera and Amma Poku.

Africa writes back : the African writers series & the launch of African literature (Oxford : James Currey, 2008)

Materials held by SOAS Library comprise a large collection of original manuscripts that were published under the influential Heinemann African Writers Series (1962-2003), led by Chinua Achebe and James Currey. Thanks to this series many African writers became household names and gained international acclaim, including Buchi Emecheta, Ngugi Wa Th’iongo, Wole Soyinka, Flora Nwapa, Mariama Ba, Nadine Gordimer, among many others.

2022 also marks the 60th anniversary of the beginning of the Heinemann African Writers Series. The display celebrates the achievements of this Series, whilst also highlighting the difficulties writers from Africa faced when trying to publish their books with international publishers. According to James Currey, the Heinemann African Writers Series was pioneering in its time, as the texts of the writers sought to overcome the racist narratives of Africa that were common in the 1960s. 

To se a full list of the titles in the collection, search for ‘Heinemann African Writers Series’ on our online Archive Catalogue. The display can be seen on the ground floor (Level E) of SOAS Library until December 2022.

More about the collection:

The Heinemann African Writers Series published some of the key texts of modern African written literature. Publications included original English-language prose-fiction and poetry from new novelists, playwrights and poets across diverse national written literatures of Africa; translations of Francophone, Lusophone, and later Afrophone literatures; as well as political memoirs and tracts from leading African national liberation figures and politicians. The books in the series were designed by the publisher for classroom use in Africa and printed in low-cost paperback editions to make them affordable for African institutions and students. It met a growing demand in Africa for a specifically African written literature which would move beyond the Eurocentric biases in the teaching of Literature in the post-Independence period. The success of the Heinemann African Writers Series outside of Africa also provided a world-wide Anglophone audience for the African written literary tradition. The series provided an early international voice to leading African writers, including Chinua Achebe (also the series’ first editor), Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, and Nadine Gordimer.

The collection comprises manuscripts, typescripts with authorial corrections, and proof copies of 71 of the works published in the Heinemann African Writers Series between 1964 and 1986. The collection comprises largely original manuscripts and typescripts but does include some photocopies. The manuscripts, hand annotated typescripts and proofs provide fascinating evidence about the development of some of the key works in the series.

The collection includes works of poetry, drama, and non-fiction by over 60 authors, including Chinua Achebe (Beware Soul Brother); Elechi Amadi (The ConcubineSunset in BiafraEstrangement);  Syl Cheyney-Coker (The Graveyard Also Has Teeth); Thomas Obinkaram Echewa (The Crippled DancerThe Land’s Lord); Nadine Gordimer (Some Monday for Sure); Nelson Mandela (No Easy Walk to Freedom), Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o (Weep Not, ChildA Grain of Wheat; Secret Lives; Petals of BloodThe Trial of Dedan Kimath; Devil on the Cross; and Detained: A Writer’s Prison Diary); Martin Owusu (The Sudden Return); Mwangi Ruheni (The Future LeadersThe Minister’s Daughter); and Stanlake Samkange (The Mourned One).

The largest part of the collection was presented to SOAS Library by the publisher in the 1970s and 1980s, after which the Library sought approval from authors for their manuscripts to be made available to the public; some works were donated or deposited directly by the authors themselves, and a small number of works were purchased. The institutional company records of Heinemann Educational Books Ltd, 1946-80, including correspondence between the publisher and the writers and reports by manuscript reviewers are held separately at The Archive of British Publishing and Printing, Special Collections, University of Reading.

The manuscripts in the collection will likely be of interest to students and researchers across the world in a broad range of subjects, including African literature, postcolonial studies, and translation studies.

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