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Final blow to Heinemann African Writers Series. Heinemann International Division abolished

The Heinemann International Division, which published the African Writers Series (AWS) for 40 years, was closed down earlier this month with the loss of 30 jobs including that of the most recent AWS series editor, Robert Sulley. The future of AWS was already known to be in jeopardy with the company's announcement earlier in the year that no new publications were forthcoming. The latest news appears to sound the final death knell for the world-renowned series, whose first editor was Chinua Achebe. Titles have included books by all three African Nobel Prize winners: Naguib Mahfouz of Egypt, Wole Soyinka of Nigeria and Nadine Gordimer of South Africa.

Writing on the occasion of the series' 30th anniversary, publisher James Currey, who nurtured AWS brilliantly at Heinemann for many years, explained why when he set up his own company in the 1980s he did not set up a rival AWS. 'I could see that the great African era of the African Writers Series was over... the market for the series was now predominantly outside Africa...Even the best writers had been under-recognised and under-sold in Britain.'

Ten years on, the company accountants have done their sums and reached their conclusions. AWS is not profitable enough for the giant multinational publishing conglomerate Reed Elsevier, owners of the Heinemann name. The question now is, who if anyone will fill the void? The era of AWS is over, but not that of African writers. The field is wide open for African publishers.

posted 17/8/03

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