Recently, Malawi joined the international community in commemorating the World Book and Copyright Day amidst concerns that the reading culture is still low in the country. Our entertainment editor Edith Gondwe caught up with Book Publishers Association of Malawi (Bpam) president Alfred Msadala and they discussed a number of issues affecting book publishing and literature appreciation.
: The issue of reading culture going down has been there for some time, as Bpam president, what have you been doing to promote reading culture thereby promoting books circulation?
: There are two fronts of looking at this. First, I am a reader as well as a writer in my personal capacity. I read widely and I enjoy it as a hobby as well as a career. The art of reading is demand-driven. There has to be a niche in oneself to do so. Some people prefer listening [and watching] to reading. Such have very limited horizon. But for those who have adopted to reading as part of their lives, they widen their coverage of knowledge easily.
This has to start with the atmosphere at home and not necessarily at school. There could be an element of lateness at school. This is the reason that we must start with children when they are born. Show them the importance of a book. How can families in the rural afford such? It may be one of the questions. But it is not a fact of having a fully-fledged shelf of books but as part of parenting, we must show interest in the children’s reading and writing habits.
Of late, say the past 20 years, we have been overwhelmed with other activities rather than reading. But with systems in school getting tighter and cleaner, we see ourselves coming back to reading as a solution in life.
The Book Publishers Association of Malawi is responsible for developing teaching and learning materials in secondary schools in the country. There is a new syllabus which is a departure from the old one. The syllabus demands outcomes-based approach of teaching. This requires a student to develop critical thinking skills and is centred on a book because without which, such development exercise is futile. Unless one reads, you cannot discuss the subject. Bpam welcomes this and it for us contribute to the development of education thereby developing informed citizens of the nation.
: The few Malawians that are ardent readers complain that it is hard to access books published by Malawian writers, and that if they do get them they are usually expensive. What’s your take on this?
: Malawian books are available in most bookshops. And the question of prices cannot be a great issue here. The level of economy in Malawi leaves a citizen with priorities. What are the needs that must be satisfied first? Is it physiological or sociological? Obviously physiological. Is a book a physiological or sociological need? We are living in an economy which has rendered all needs to be expensive and it is now a matter of choice.
The other thing is our culture. People do not visit bookshops. I was at the main entrance of Shoprite Blantyre one day. I saw people getting into and coming out of the shop, some just to admire at the goods without buying anything. Very, very few managed to branch into the bookshop which is within the entrance. How can we know that the books are expensive with such an attitude?
One other thing, reading in order to be judged must be on a widely basis. Both Malawian and international books have to be considered.
: Is the coming of online publishing outlets working to the advantage or disadvantage of book publishers in Malawi?
: Online publishing is just a partnering exercise. It is not a disadvantage. Reading can be done online as well as from a hardcopy. Downloading an e-book for storage has been proven to be more expensive than storing a hard copy of the same book. Unless if it is just a section that is needed. And then considering our situation, rural electrification is just being enhanced.
: Recently, we commemorated the World Book and Copyright Day. Tell us about the significance of the day and how the association celebrated it.
: The World and Copyright Book Day, April 23, is on the annual calendar of Bpam. The day was designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) in 1995 as a day on which publishers associations, libraries, cultural organisations, authors associations, booksellers and the public at large mobilise themselves to promote reading, publishing and the protection of intellectual property.
You shall notice that the day is also for other players other than publishers. This year, Unesco has advised that we should consider the visually impaired persons and as such, our preparations were delayed. As an event, we shall have the commemoration on May 19 2017 in Blantyre through a symposium which should in the end set an agenda for us.
I hope you shall leave the comfort of your office chair to attend.
: How best do you think Malawians must celebrate the art of writing books?
: There are several ways for which we can celebrate the art of writing in Malawi. Publishers and authors are urged to launch their books or whatever writing product they may come up with. They may also hold expositions time and again. The writing product must be marketed, thereby bringing it to the people.
Through a project titled “Taking the Book Back to the Society – Women Empowerment from Grassroots”, with funding from Hivos, Bpam shall host a National Book Fair in July, 2017, in Lilongwe where we anticipate the country’s book and book-related market to be show-cased. At the fair authors will be able to promote and sell books, sell rights, buy right, to network and promote corporate identity. Authors will also be able to meet new customers and prospects, catch up on the latest market trends and development as well as learn and improve knowledge and skills – attend workshops and seminars.
If you look at these issues, you shall discover that these are symbiotic as they also apply to the patrons. This again, I extend my invitation. n