Since the launch of Ankara Press in December 2014, we have been overwhelmed by the positive response of readers to its vision of ‘a new kind of romance’, with African settings, storylines and characters. One of the key reasons for establishing the imprint was to counter the rather one-dimensional view of life as portrayed in many romance novels. As we know, modern romance does not always revolve around a dominant male hero, a submissive heroine and a happily ever after.
We wanted to harness some of this excitement to focus attention on a wider issue this Valentine’s Day. African literature is sometimes accused of presenting a rather depressing portrayal of life across the continent. Whilst we acknowledge that it would be disingenuous for African writers not to engage with the serious issues that frame daily life - issues such as corruption, insecurity, violence, poverty, unemployment and civil unrest, all of which have been highlighted by Nigeria’s current election campaign - we feel it is important, as publishers, to do what we can to provide African writing with the space to reflect the stimulating, vibrant, quirky, joyous complexities of life here.
We therefore have enormous pleasure in presenting the Valentine's Day Anthology, which you can download for free here.
Our motivations for commissioning this anthology were very clear: to provide a Valentine’s Day ‘treat’ for readers, particularly those based in Nigeria who may need respite from the election fever sweeping the nation by 14th February, and to invite literary writers to see if they can invert the romance genre and make it meaningful for themselves. We also wanted to show that romance can be empowering, entertaining, and elegantly written, by men as well as women.
Thus, this Valentine’s Day Anthology contains pieces by authors based in Liberia, Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire and Kenya, writing not about Ebola, poverty and terrorism, but about the joy of the everyday: the love, laughter and heartbreak that forms part of a universal experience. The stories also recognise that romance can occur at the most unexpected times (although, admittedly, rarely in as unexpected a situation as that explored by crime writer Hawa Jande Golakai) and between any two individuals. We are therefore particularly proud to include Binyavanga Wainaina’s beautiful portrayal of same-sex romance within this collection, underlining that desire and intimacy are a very real part of life in Africa, as they are elsewhere in the world.
Moreover, romance in Africa takes place in multiple languages and we wanted to reflect that in this collection. Each story has been translated into a language spoken by one of the authors and an audio version of each text recorded. This anthology therefore becomes a much truer representation of romance in Africa as we can hear and see what romancing in different languages might sound like and mean.
We owe a huge debt of gratitude to everyone who has worked so hard, and often to unfeasibly short deadlines, to enable us to produce this anthology. One of the most exciting aspects of the project is that it has been a truly collaborative effort, bringing together writers, publishers, translators, readers and photographers from across Africa, all of whom have shown an incredible amount of goodwill by donating their time and talents for free. We believe the generous response we received indicates how strongly the writing and publishing community feels about the issues we are trying to highlight. It also goes to prove that the near impossible can be achieved, despite seemingly insurmountable technical and editorial issues, with a healthy dose of determination, good humour and mutual support.
Thus, we present our selection of sensuous stories from across the continent. We do hope you enjoy them. And please feel free to share the love – and the Anthology - with your wives, husbands, civil partners, friends and lovers.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Emma Shercliff, Valentine’s Day Anthology Coordinator Bibi Bakare-Yusuf, Publisher, Ankara Press