Publishing African Literature: Towards a Transnational History


  • Corinne Sandwith University of Pretoria


African Literature, Publishing, Lovedale Mission Press, Thomas Mofolo, Chaka, Authorship, South African Literature


There is very little detailed scholarship on the continuities between colonial publishing practices and those which characterised the period of decolonisation. This study engages with the long history of African literary publishing in a transnational context by focusing on two publishing events in the early twentieth century: first, the work of the Lovedale mission press in the Eastern Cape and, second, the English translation of Thomas Mofolo’s Chaka published under the auspices of the London-based International Institute of African Languages and Cultures by Oxford University Press. Against the rather vague assertions of dominative colonial publishing practices, the article aims to present a more detailed account of the particular aesthetic and ideological priorities that informed the publishing of African literature in this period and, in line with recent critiques of the dependency model, to highlight the strategic and inventive practices of African authorship in an inherently asymmetrical colonial publishing field. A further imperative is to open up the publishing archive to new modes of reading and interpretation: to consider what might be gleaned about alternative understandings of the value of the book, reading and literary value. The paper argues for the longevity of colonial aesthetic and ideological norms across the history of African publishing and for the equally long history of African authors’ tactical interventions. It also brings a new complexity to established understandings of the publishing field by arguing that the African author as agent and literary craftsperson remains an unrecognisable category within dominant Western schemas.


Author Biography

Corinne Sandwith, University of Pretoria

Corinne Sandwith is Professor of English at the University of Pretoria, South Africa and is the author of World of Letters: Reading Communities and Cultural Debates in Early Apartheid South Africa (2014) and co-editor with M.J. Daymond of Africa South: Viewpoints, 1958-1961. Her research interests include African print and reading cultures and the history of reading and cultural debate in early apartheid South Africa. Recent work focuses on black intellectual history, the social lives of books and print materials, the production of African literature and the circulation and citation of texts in disparate reading contexts.