Enthusiasm Breeds Among Africa’s Writers and Editors
Langham Literature Editor Isobel Stevenson reports on training for aspiring writers and editors so desperately needed in the African evangelical publishing industry.
by Isobel Stevenson, editor Langham Literature
I spent an exhausting but very worthwhile two weeks in Ghana and Nigeria. In Accra, Ghana, I worked with a group of 15 theologians who wanted to learn how to write books that ordinary Christians would want to read. All the participants were leaders from Christian colleges and universities. The workshop was run as a combination of teaching and writing sessions so that participants could put what they had learnt into practice. It began with a “sell me your book” elevator speech (two minutes to convince the listener the book would be worth reading) and ended with another “sell me your book” speech. The first and last versions were very different! Some of the participants found it liberating that they did not have to write in an academic style. The workshop was all the more interesting because six of the participants were French-speaking. Fortunately two of them were able to translate for the others, but I had to do quite a bit of translation too. There is very little French Christian literature available, so this was an important connection. I was also very much encouraged as I made contact with Ghanaian publishers, booksellers and editors.
Writer and Editor Training in Jos, Nigeria
Jos, Nigeria has been in the news for all the wrong reasons recently. But more than violence has been happening there. At the beginning of March, I conducted a writers’ and editors’ workshop in Jos for the publisher known as ACTS (African Christian Textbooks). In God’s providence, no violence materialized during that week. The only problem experienced was that sessions had to end early to enable the participants to return home before the 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew.
The situation in Jos is very tense – there have been massacres and Christian-Muslim violence every few weeks since Christmas. There is a dusk to dawn curfew, and the ride from the guest house to the ACTS bookstore went past burnt-out houses and cars. Many of the people in Jos fear a civil war is looming.
Despite the political turmoil, excitement was breeding in the workshop. Nigerians are enthusiastic writers, and only a limited number of those who wanted to come could be admitted to the seminar. The 15 to 20 participants we could accommodate consisted of writers who had already published short books, either with ACTS or independently, and editors or aspiring editors. In leading the combined workshop, I focused on what editors look for in a manuscript, because that is what writers need to supply.
Some of the editors attending the workshop became excited about the possibility of setting up an editorial services company to market their skills to a variety of publishers, rather than looking for employment with a single publisher. This type of arrangement would be of great benefit to Christian publishers who struggle to employ full-time editors.
The generosity of members of the Editors’ Association of Canada meant that I could leave behind several copies of the Chicago Manual of Style, which is often called the editor’s Bible. These will be available for loan to editors working for ACTS.
Some of these authors and editors may become involved with the African book imprint that Langham is sponsoring – Hippo Books. Now that there are four books available (and another two in press), I have begun receiving requests from authors to publish with Hippo, a gratifying change from having to search for authors.
We can join with one of the participants in praying that, “the seed sown in my heart will grow by God’s grace into a tree that will provide shade and accommodation for other to also nurture their dreams in writing and editing.” We can also pray that the sprouting seed will not be crushed in the violence that shakes the region.