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Victor Dlamini

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Podcast with Publishing Titan Henry Chakava

Henry ChakavaHenry Chakava is, quite simply, an outstanding publisher and a great man. He is one who has never hesitated to innovate, and who uses his instincts and knowledge to develop the enterprise of book publishing in Africa seemingly round-the-clock. Among other things, he has invested heavily in the publishing of educational books, and through his children’s series has served East Africa’s community of children with literature in both English and their own languages. Join me on the Victor Dlamini Literary Podcast as I chat to a man whose life’s work is bringing books to readers across many parts of the African continent.

Henry ChakavaHenry is first and foremost a publisher: he looks at each book that comes to his desk from the multi-faceted perspective required of seasoned publishers – from a business point of view; from an editorial point of view; from the point of view of the book’s intrinsic value. But when he first joined Macmillan in the early seventies, it was on the editing side that he applied his talents, and his name remains closely associated with many of the most important writers on the continent: Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Chinua Achebe, Ali Mazrui, Okot P’Bitek, Meja Mwangi, Francis Imbuga and Marjorie Macgoye, to name a few. It is clear that his early studies in philosophy and literature prepared him for a role hat requires a sharp eye for detail and an even sharper sense of linguistic and social nuance.

Henry’s career may have started with an editorship, but he quickly rose through the ranks to become managing editor of the Nairobi branch of Heinemann, then the most important multinational publishing company operating on the African continent. Henry played a pivotal role in editing, publishing and promoting the leading African writers, through Heinemann’s African Writers Series (AWS). When the time was right, Henry seized an opportunity to acquire the company’s Kenya division, and through vision, persistence and skill, he grew it into East African Educational Publishers, which now has offices in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.

Henry ChakavaTo give an example of this vision: when Heinemann stopped publishing the AWS, Henry acquired the East Africa list and kept it going; he is a founding jury member of the NOMA Award; a founding member of the African Books Collective and the African Publishers Network; the chairman and co-ordinator of Kenya’s National Book Week; the founding chairman of Kenya’s National Book Development Council and of the East African Book Development Association; and the director of Kenya’s Copyright Board.

Henry can be credited with playing an important role in promoting publishing in African languages and building African readerships. He has received widespread commendation for his work, including an honorary doctorate degree (D.Litt.) from the Oxford Brookes University. I spoke with Henry at the recent Time of the Writer in Durban; please tune in to our highly absorbing chat:

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