On Saturday June 17 in Abidjan, a new publishing house celebrated its official launch: La Case des lucioles. With a limited catalog of three collections of urban poetry, each written by an Ivorian slammer, it is the latest bud in a sector in full bloom. Nimba, L’Empyrée, GNK, Vallesse… At the Abidjan International Book Fair (SILA), in May, many new-born publishing houses came to try to find a place for themselves among teenagers on school trips. and accolades from recognized writers.
The phenomenon is recent in a country where the history of printed matter is barely sixty years old. The Houphouëtist postcolonial period saw the birth of the first publishing houses: first the Center for African Publishing and Diffusion (CEDA), from 1961, then the New African Editions (NEA) Côte d’Ivoire, which later became New Ivorian editions (NEI), before the merger of the two groups within NEI-CEDA editions. In the 1990s and 2000s, the book market, especially for school books, was liberalized and a dozen new companies were created.
“ But it was after the troubles of 2010-2011 that publishing houses began to sprout throughout Côte d’Ivoire, reports Anges Félix N’Dakpri, commissioner general of SILA. Today, between 25 and 30 are members of the Association of Ivorian Publishers (Assedi). Counting those who do not belong to Assedi, there are up to 75.
“There is good and bad”
A sign of vitality for the Ivorian literary community? Not only, answers Anges Félix N’Dakpri. “There is good and less good, he sighs. Publishing has certainly become more democratic, but the quality has not always followed. » Behind the commercial smiles, the editors, writers and critics who come to network at SILA are not fooled either. A scene thus went almost unnoticed in the shambles of the fair and its succession of ceremonies: the Bernard-Dadié prize for young writer was not awarded this year, for lack of applications of a sufficient level. “We had the choice between respecting literature and prevailing over mediocritysummarizes a member of the jury, Koffi Koffi. We have taken our responsibilities. »
Apart from a handful of literary awards, such as the Dadié prize, and continental trophies, such as the Orange book prize, Côte d’Ivoire has few validation bodies. However, they are necessary for literary production to level up, judges a SILA exhibitor who prefers to remain anonymous and maintain good relations with his colleagues. “We are locked in our little elitist world. We decide that Ahmadou Kourouma is the best writer, that Koffi Kwahulé is a great playwright, that Serge Agnessan and Placide Konan are great poets… But it stops there. »
In the absence of safeguards, the market dictates its law. “ In Côte d’Ivoire, the number of books sold is confused with their literary qualitypings our interlocutor. That’s how we end up with Anzata Ouattara (author since 2009 of the best-selling series the strokes of life, suitable for TV on channel A+) which, in 2021, is awarded third at the National Prize for Excellence in Literature and the Arts! »
Poor editorial work
If he is sure of the commercial potential of his manuscript but the big houses refuse it, the aspiring writer can always turn to the smaller ones… or even build one from scratch. “ We first create a publishing house out of frustration, recognizes Serge Agnessan, winner of the 2019 Dadié prize for young writers. The administrative process is rather simple and you can get started in the business without prior training. But we must not forget that if the book is an industry, it is a cultural industry! We sell symbolic goods and their value is much higher than the figure attached to the ISBN code. »
Host of a literary program on the RTI 2 channel, Serge Agnessan understood by exchanging with other writers the poverty of the editorial work carried out by most local houses. “In general, we just get down to proofreading, correcting typos and such, and we publish almost as is.regrets the poet. There is no real editorial direction. »
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He was looking for inspiration across the Atlantic. His first book was published in Canada and, with his Quebec publisher, he was “like a spy”, he laughs. Thanks to his observations and training in literary marketing followed online, he was able to launch La Case des lucioles and ensure its editorial direction. With the two young authors he publishes, Placide Konan and Kapegik, he has chosen to revise the manuscripts at length, with frequent back and forth from the poet to the publisher. A strategy which, for the moment, has paid off: each published in a hundred copies at SILA, the three collections were out of stock in less than a week.