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About African Writers Series

The Heinemann African Writers Series (AWS) was founded in 1962 with the publication of Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart (originally published in 1958) as AWS No. 1, and with Achebe himself as Founding Editor. Achebe, who in 2007 won the Man Booker International award in recognition of his achievement in fiction, remained Series Editor until 1972, by which time the series included 100 titles, and he continued to have an influence on the series well after this date. The initial aim was to produce a paperback series featuring writing by African authors (initially, this was limited to black African authors) that would be affordable for a general African readership. As African nations won independence, writers like Achebe began to forge distinctive national literatures throughout the continent. Independence also led to a demand from African schools and universities for contemporary African writing to replace the European bias of existing syllabuses. The AWS took on this role and published work by all the major authors of this period, together with classic earlier texts and new writing, giving the series a unique importance in African cultural history.

The publication of this historic collection in online form restores access to a substantial body of literature, much of which is out of print and only accessible in specialist research libraries, opening up new possibilities for scholarship and teaching in the fields of African and literary studies.

Scope of the Collection

The collection covers the whole historical range of modern African fiction, from early pioneering novels by black African authors such as René Maran's Batouala (1921; published in the AWS in 1973), Sol Plaatje's Mhudi (1930; AWS, 1978), Peter Abrahams's Mine Boy (1946; AWS 1963), and Achebe's own Things Fall Apart (AWS No. 1, 1962), to later masterpieces such as Tayeb Salih's Season of Migration to the North (1969), Bessie Head's A Question of Power (1974), and Dambudzo Marechera's The House of Hunger (1978), right up to the last two volumes published in the print series: Ama Ata Aidoo's Changes and Daniel Mengara's Mema (both October 2003).

In addition to prose fiction, the collection includes some of the most important works of African poetry, including Christopher Okigbo's Labyrinths (1976), Okot p'Bitek's Song of Lawino, which has been described as the most influential African poem of the 1960s, the works of Dennis Brutus, Taban lo Liyong and Jack Mapanje, and Mazisi Kunene's epic poem on the rise of the Zulu empire, Emperor Shaka the Great (1979).

A wide geographic range is also represented: most of the works in the Series come from English-speaking countries in Western, Southern and Eastern Africa, but there are also a number of volumes translated from French, Portuguese, Zulu, Swahili, Acoli, Sesotho, Afrikaans, Luganda and Arabic.

Southern and Central Africa: early South African novels such as Sol Plaatje's Mhudi (1930; AWS, 1978), the first anglophone novel by a black South African, and Peter Abrahams's novel of shebeen life Mine Boy (written from exile in Britain in 1946) are included alongside the complete works of Bessie Head (from When the Rain Clouds Gather, 1969, to the posthumous collection of autobiographical writings Tales of Tenderness and Power, 1990) and two selections of short stories by the 1991 Nobel Prize winner Nadine Gordimer. Many powerful critics of the racial conflict and political oppression of the apartheid era are included: Steve Biko, the Black Consciousness leader whose death in security police custody in 1977 made him a martyr of the anti-apartheid struggle; Dennis Brutus, whose poetry volumes such as Letters to Martha (written in prison on Robben Island, 1968) were banned in his own country until 1990; Brutus's former student Arthur Nortje, whose Dead Roots was published posthumously in 1973; and Mongane Wally Serote, now a prominent politician in the ANC whose novel To Every Birth Its Blood was written in exile in 1981.Nelson Mandela's speeches, articles and trial statements are included in No Easy Walk to Freedom published in 1973, a decade into his twenty-seven year imprisonment on Robben Island.

The literature of Zimbabwe has particularly full representation, beginning with accounts of colonial Rhodesia from the 2007 Nobel Prize for Literature recipient Doris Lessing in her first novel The Grass is Singing (1950; AWS 1973), the historical fictions of Stanlake Samkange (On Trial for my Country, 1967), and Lawrence Vambe's historical account of pre-colonial Shona culture, An Ill-Fated People (1972), and covering Dambudzo Marechera's explosive works The House of Hunger (1978) and Black Sunlight (1980), his contemporary Stanley Nyamfukudza (The Non-Believers Journey, 1980), and Shadows (1991) by Chenjerai Hove, widely seen as Zimbabwe's most important living writer. The liberation struggles of the 1960s and 70s form the background to both Charles Mungoshi's Waiting for the Rain (1975) and Shimmer Chinodya's Harvest of Thorns (1989).

Western Africa: in addition to new writing, the AWS included new editions of important African literary precursors, including the ancestor of West African prose in English, Olaudah Equiano. Equiano's Travels (AWS No. 10, published in 1967) was an abridged edition, edited by Paul Edwards, of The interesting narrative of the life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African (1789). This was the first edition of Equiano's work for 150 years, and its publication was a major factor in the establishment of an African literary canon.

Modern Western African writing is also well represented, with works from Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon, Sierra Leone, Gabon, the Gambia and the Côte d'Ivoire. The single most significant author associated with the series is of course Chinua Achebe, whose five novels, from Things Fall Apart to Anthills of the Savannah (1988), were a major influence and inspiration to other African writers in their exploration of traditional Igbo society and values, and of the historical encounter between colonizer and colonized. The collection allows readers to explore less well-known Nigerian novelists, beginning with Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City (1954; AWS 1963), an episodic realistic narrative that is seen by many as the first West African novel in English, and including Achebe's close contemporary John Munonye, and early accounts of the Nigeria-Biafra war such as Elechi Amadi's Sunset in Biafra (1973) and I.N.C. Aniebo's novel The Anonymity of Sacrifice (1974). Significant volumes of poetry from Nigeria include Christopher Okigbo's Labyrinths with Path of Thunder, published posthumously in 1976 after the author's death in the Nigeria-Biafra war, and Gabriel Okara's The Fisherman's Invocation (1978). Mongo Beti, the exiled Cameroonian writer, is also represented: the collection contains both his early anti-colonial novels of the 1950s and his more disillusioned works of the post-independence period, Perpetua and the Habit of Unhappiness (1974; translated 1978) and Remember Ruben (1978; translated 1980).

The leading African-British writer Buchi Emecheta explores the situation of African women in a range of contexts, from traditional Ibgo society to the Nigerian civil war to the experience of migration to Britain, in novels such as Second Class Citizen (1974), The Bride Price (1976), The Slave Girl (1977) and Destination Biafra (1982).

Several generations of Ghanaian authors are included, from Kobina Sekyi's comic play The Blinkards (written in 1915), an early critique of colonial assimilation, to Amu Djoleto's satires of post-independence corruption (The Strange Man, 1968, and Money Galore, 1975), the poetry of Kofi Anyidoho (A Harvest of Our Dreams, 1984) and Kofi Awoonor (Until the Morning After: Collected Poems, 1987), Kojo Laing's magical realist fiction (Major Gentl and the Achimota Wars, 1992) and exuberantly inventive poetry (Godhorse, 1989) and Ama Ata Aidoo's revival of oral storytelling traditions in The Girl Who Can (2002). There are also four volumes of poetry by the Gambian poet Lenrie Peters, and the Ivoirian author Véronique Tadjo is represented by her meditation on the legacy of the Rwandan genocide, Shadow of Imana (2000, translated 2002).

East Africa: three volumes are included by the Ugandan author Okot p'Bitek, including the poem Song of Lawino, which draws heavily on Acoli oral traditions and has been described as the most influential African poem of the 1960s. The highly eclectic author Taban Lo Liyong is represented by four volumes of poetry and short fiction including Fixions and Other Stories (1969) and Frantz Fanon's Uneven Ribs (1970). His contemporaries Robert Serumaga, Ali Al'Amin Mazrui and John Nagenda chart the growing disillusion and dissent of the post-independence years in their novels Return to the Shadows (1969), The Trial of Christopher Okigbo (1971) and The Seasons of Thomas Tebo (1986).

The collection also includes important examples of the AWS's volumes of Arabic literature in translation: from Sudan, Tayeb Salih's Season of Migration to the North (1969), recently selected by a panel of Arab writers and critics as the most important Arab novel of the twentieth century, together with his short story collection The Wedding of Zein (1969), and, from Egypt, Yusuf Idris's collection The Cheapest Nights (1978).

The Heinemann Book of African Women's Poetry (1995) offers a corrective to previous, male-dominated anthologies by including more than 150 poems by female poets from throughout the continent. As well as prominent English-language poets such as Ama Ata Aidoo, Catherine Acholonu and Jeni Couzyn, the collection includes translations from the French (Andrée Chedid, Joyce Mansour), Portuguese (Noémia de Sousa, Aldo do Espirito Santo) and Afrikaans (Ingrid Jonker). It also includes historical material such as Queen Hatshepsut's obelisk inscriptions (from the 15th century BC - by far the oldest material in any of the Chadwyck-Healey Literature Collections) and excerpts from a nineteenth-century Swahili text, 'Poem to her Daughter' by Mwana Kupona binti Msham.

The African Writers Series was notable in its attempt to construct an African canon for academic study, including not only standard literary forms, but also traditional African folk materials and non-fictional accounts of African culture and history. Significant examples of both of these categories are included in the online edition: Ulli Beier's collection The Origin of Life and Death: African Creation Myths (1966), Taban Lo Liyong's Eating Chiefs (1970) and Martha Mvungi's re-tellings of oral tales in Three Solid Stones (1975), plus memoirs such as Reuel Mugo Gatheru's Child of Two Worlds (1966), Hugh Lewin's Bandiet – Seven Years in a South African Prison (1974; AWS 1981), and George Simeon Mwase's Strike a Blow and Die (1967; AWS 1975).

Newly-commissioned author biographies are available for most authors, providing concise information on the authors' careers, works and context; these are accessible via the Author Pages. Further biographies will be added in future releases of the collection.

Editorial Policy

The editorial policy is to include only texts that were published under the Heinemann African Writers Series imprint. The only exception to this has been Kofi Awoonor's Until the Morning After: Collected Poems; this volume was advertised as AWS No. 260, but seems not to have been published by Heinemann, and no other volume was assigned this number. We therefore took the unique decision of including the 1987 Greenfield Review Press of this important volume. In all other cases, the first AWS edition has been used where possible, except in cases where later editions are preferred in order to include authorial corrections.

Our aim is to reproduce each volume in full, including accompanying text by the author, introductions, notes, glossaries and other editorial matter, and illustrations; some editorial matter may be excluded pending copyright clearance. Other front and back matter may have been omitted. Each complete volume, including anthologies and collections, can be browsed in its entirety via a Table of Contents.

All authors are indexed by gender, nationality and dates of birth/death, and all texts by details of first publication (date, place, publisher and language) and details of first publication in the AWS (date and AWS series number). These index fields are all searchable from the Search page, and are displayed in the bibliographic details for each volume. The names of translators and anthology editors, and alternate name forms of authors, are also searchable via the Author field.

Original pagination is preserved, and the page layout of poems is reproduced as accurately as possible. Scanned images are used as a supplement to the keyed text for illustrations, figures and unusual page layouts. Typographic characters that cannot be displayed using a web-safe extended Latin character set have been mapped to standard-character equivalents, and scanned images have been provided for cross-referencing.