Indie Publisher Kassahun Checole on the Importance & Vitality of African American Publishing
Thursday, February 21, 2019
Posted by: Kassahun Checole, Africa World Press
|Publisher Kassahun Checole (second from left) at the 35th anniversary of Africa World Press and the Nelson R. Mandela book event at the University of Johannesburg, Johannesburg, South Africa. (July 2018)
Written by Kassahun Checole, Publisher, Africa World Press & The Red Sea Press
The histories of the now famously celebrated Black History Month and that of Black book publishing in the United States are closely entwined. The celebration of the former is a full recognition of the importance and the vitality of the latter.
Carter G. Woodson, the late, renowned, civil rights advocate, educator and publisher is recognized as the father of “Black History Month.” Woodson created the still vibrant Association for the Study of African American Life and History, and published, among numerous other titles, the perennial bestseller titled The Mis-Education of the Negro.
Today, Woodson’s pioneering spirit of educating and empowering the public through historical knowledge and vital information related to African American social-economic conditions thrives. In the tradition of Woodson and his forbearers, Black publishers continue to advocate for the freedoms and rights of the community. This tradition is carried over by many resilient Black Publishers such as Third World Press, Black Classic Press, Just Us Books, Mind Productions, and our own Africa World Press & The Red Sea Press.
Black publishers are mission-oriented. They publish books of significance to the community, not driven by what is profitable, but by what is critical and socially impactable. At the same time, they strive for a professional platform that enables their quality materials to reach not only the African American community, but also a larger national and global readership. This, of course, requires continued innovation and upgrading.
As I pen these notes, a delegation of African American publishers, writers, and supporters are participating in the Havana Book Fair. Their aim is not only to educate and learn from their colleagues in Cuba, but also to extend a wider knowledge base using people-to-people effort and outreach.
For the last 36 years, Africa World Press & The Red Sea Press have extended the reach of our publications beyond our humble beginnings in NJ to Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. We do this by creating distribution centers (Europe and Africa) and also by collaborating with like-minded publishers around the world. We are thus actively participating in book exhibitions (Frankfurt, London, Zimbabwe, etc.), co-publishing arrangements, rights purchases, but most critically, translations and local language publishing.
Like Woodson, we believe that our efforts in the publishing arena have to be directed at informing, educating, and critically assessing the conditions of the world we live in, so that our readership and the public at large has a basis for properly understanding and securing human rights and responsibilities in an often unjust and unequal world. We celebrate Black History Month in that spirit.
Three Questions for Africa World Press & the Red Sea Press Publisher Kassahun Checole
IBPA: Can you recommend some books people can read in honor of Black History Month and/or books that you think are a great representation of diversity in literature?
Kassahun Checole (KC): There are four books I would recommend:
Lerone Bennett Jr.’s Before the Mayflower and Ivan Van Sertima’s They Came Before Columbus are good and in-depth historical accounts. Carter G.Woodson’s The Mis-Education of the Negro and John Henrik Clarke’s African People in World History are also essential reads.
IBPA: What can independent publishers do to encourage more diversity in the publishing industry?
KC: Independent publishers need to take a holistic approach to their publishing program -- from editorial processes, manuscript selections, and publishing priorities. They need to practice diversity by hiring and mentoring African Americans to participate in the decision-making process of what and whom to publish.
IBPA: Can you list three key lessons you’ve learned that would help someone succeed as an independent publisher?
- Controlling the editorial and production chain, either directly or by constructing a feasible alliance, is critical.
- Planning and controlling your sales and marketing program by knowing your target market, by being a true advocate for the authors and books that you publish while also being open to a wider readership beyond the target, is important.
- And finally, especially during this time, the full use of social media, and its fast evolving and revolutionizing mechanisms, is essential for survival.
IBPA: Thank you, Kassahun, for sharing your insight with the IBPA community!
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