In Pursuit of Publishing

After finishing high school, I became determined than ever to know how books were produced. At the time, there was no school or college that offered publishing studies in Zimbabwe. The only way to learn was through on the job training.

My fate changed one Sunday afternoon. I happened to be watching a weekly documentary-style magazine show on Zimbabwe Television when one of the proprietors of Weaver Press, a small vibrant publishing firm based in Harare, appeared talking about writing and publishing in Zimbabwe.

Needless to say, my awakening was so monumental and on the scale of Paul’s epiphanic vision on the way to Damascus. It was as if that particular show had been specifically made for me. I decided to write a letter to Weaver Press asking for a job, and after a few days, got a prompt response in the negative: they had nothing to offer, it was a small company operating from home.

I wasn’t deterred. I wrote back again and again, and they kindly wrote back every time. It became almost a two-year correspondence with Irene Staunton, the highly regarded publisher, and co-founnder of Weaver Press. I was soon to learn that she had been quietly shaping post-independence Zimbabwean literature, most of which had been school texts I had studied.

In the 70s Staunton had worked with the legendary John Calder in London. She returned to Zimbabwe after Independence and worked as an editor at the Curriculum Development Unit under the Ministry of Education. In 1987, she co-established Baobab Books, which soon became known for its interesting publications of fiction, non-fiction and children’s books. It was the work of writers she published that always occupied center stage, winning international accolades, or getting translated.

When she eventually she hired me as a publishing assistant and took me under her wing, this was the beginning of my life. I plunged into publishing without know-how or contacts but dogged determination. All I had was a desire to learn and an endless love for books, for reading them and participating in their creation.

Weaver Press has been the most active publishing concern in Zimbabwe in a struggling economy. When I joined them, my office was the verandah of their house and when the elements of nature such as rain or sun were against me, I always found a corner in their house and naturally became part of their furniture.

In many ways it was an ideal place to learn about publishing. In a small publishing house, the divisions as to who does what are not very rigid, things have to get done and if you are the only pair of hands available, then you sometimes get to do them.

I was not an office dog running around with spilling cups of coffee. It was hands on experience. I helped with the storeroom but I also sat behind the desk answering calls talking to writers and printers and booksellers, proofing a book or reading the never-ending pile of submitted manuscripts.

It has been more than a decade since I left Weaver Press. My love and passion for publishing has not diminished. If anything, I have been lucky to travel and expand my understanding of the changing role of the publisher.

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