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Bahati Books: an entrepreneurial approach to publishing

Posted on 05/05/2017

Bahati Books is a new digital publishing house that promotes contemporary African literature. It was the winner of the Culture & Creative Entrepreneurship Award as part of the 2015 Lion's Den Challenge at King's and is now supported by the King's20 accelerator programme. King’s Master’s student Ottilie Thornhill recently spoke to Kudakwashe Kamupira, who co-founded Bahati Books with King's alumna, Barbara Njau. Together, they discussed what inspired the pair to start their own digital publishing house and what being an entrepreneur means to them.

Bahati books

What is Bahati books?

Bahati books is an e-book publishing company that publishes African literature written by African authors who have unique and inspiring narratives that are fresh and authentic.

Where was the idea for Bahati books born?

Bahati books was born out of frustration, both myself and Barbara are first generation immigrants. I am from Zimbabwe, and Barbara is from Kenya. Moving to the UK at the ages of eleven and thirteen, we found ourselves struggling to figure out our identity. Both of us turned to reading to try and figure out who we were.

I found myself reading things like Enid Blyton and Danielle Steele, and while I enjoyed these books, I couldn’t relate to the characters – none of them reflected my own experience. While I was reading about British beaches in Enid Blyton novels, Zimbabwe where I had grown up, is a land locked country; I had to create the beaches and landscapes in my mind.

Later, at university I happened to stumble upon a book called Nervous Conditions, written by Tsitsi Dangarembga, a Zimbabwean author. I was wowed, it was a book I could relate to on every level; it reflected my life growing up. What I knew about being African. What I soon realised though was that the more I researched authors like Dangarembga, the more I hit a brick wall – I couldn’t reach this literature. Searching on Amazon for African authors, I was met with books on child poverty and blood diamonds; I just wanted to read interesting fiction stories. When I did find the books, it was always the same names, Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Chimamanda. I foundit fustrating that such a small number of authors were seen as representing such a massive continent.

Barbara was experiencing the same frustrations and together we realised others must be too and so we decided to create a platform where readers interested in fiction could find names that went beyond the mainstream and the classic. We wanted to represent the many talented writers that don’t have the opportunity to be published. As a recent Spread The Word study has shown, once into their publishing careers 53% of BAME authors remain without an agent against 37% of White authors. It is perhaps not surprising then that we got an influx of manuscripts.

Given your career and background, what are your thoughts on issues of diversity in the curriculum? Have you engaged at all with the King’s debate ‘How white is my curriculum?’

Yes I have, recently Barbara and I went to speak at a Comparative Literature class at King’s. One of the reasons they engaged with us was due to their need for more contemporary writing. Often at the moment it is still classical African literature that is being considered.

The reality is, often, lecturers don’t know where to find contemporary texts. What we want to get across is that yes, the classical literature is amazing, but that there is so much more out there.

There’s a great drive towards supporting entrepreneurship at the moment, is ‘entrepreneurship’ something you sought out?

When Barbara and I started out, we didn’t see ourselves as entrepreneurs, but the more we pursued our project the more we were getting labelled this way. This was new to me, growing up, ideas of entrepreneurship weren’t pushed; it was always ‘leave school, get a job, work, and retire’. I think one of the reasons it is being pushed now is that young people are facing real difficulties when it comes to finding employment. Entrepreneurship is more about creating jobs than finding them. I hope it is also changing perceptions around young people. Today, they are the ones spurring creativity, which is driving the current economy.

Given your entrepreneurial success, do you have any tips for those with ideas they are hoping to make happen?

Don't procrastinate too much, if you have an idea just go for it. The reality is, you figure things about as you go along, so you can’t wait for something to fall from the sky fully formed. Also it is important to maintain your drive, the process of creating something can be a lonely journey, so keeping that passion for what you are doing is vital. 

More information about Kudakwashe and Barbara, and their recommendations of great African literature can be found on the Bahati Books website
Further information about the King's20 accelerator programme can be found here

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