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African Authors Reclaim their Work from French Publishers

When Cameroonian author Daniel Alain Nsegbe first saw his debut novel for sale in his home city of Douala, the price was so high he says “you would have to ask someone to stop eating for two days in order to buy the book”. It was around £20; the average monthly salary in Douala is £150. The book, Ceux qui sortent dans la nuit (Those Who Go Out at Night) was published by Grasset, a French imprint. This is not uncommon: Francophone African authors, whether classic or contemporary, are often published by French, not African presses. As French publishers continue to control distribution and pricing, classic authors go missing from bookshelves while contemporary authors struggle to get their books in the hands of local readers. But a small movement is now under way, some are choosing to keep their African rights, ensuring that an African press (or even several) can publish their books locally at an affordable price. Others are opening their own publishing houses, such as Léonora Miano with Quilombo Publishing in Togo. And some are campaigning, like Ivorian author Armand Patrick Gbaka-Brédé, who founded the Front for the Liberation of African Classics in 2019, a collective calling for French publishers to give up the African rights to classic literature.