Authors Published in Paris Have More Clout

Interview with Jean-Luc Raharimanana, by Taina Tervonen

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Since three of his works were published by the Paris-based publishing company Serpent à plume, Jean-Luc Raharimanana has become the reference for Malagasy literature.

Have you ever submitted your manuscripts to any African publishers?
I did in Madagascar before my work was published in France. I was referred to as a budding poet. At that time, in 1989, publishing companies were facing difficulties which meant that they didn’t even bother to read my manuscript. They didn’t want to take the risk of publishing an unknown author.
Was the risk financial or literary?
Although the risk was certainly more financial than literary, it is true that people believe you must already be an established writer in order to get published. France turns writers into recognised authors and I’m a living example of this. Once my work was published in France, Madagascan literary critics completely changed their tune. As soon as it was published in France, it became a reference for Malagasy literature. You would almost think we were still a colony. It is sad to witness this kind of mentality.
Although books published in France can’t always be found on market stands, they do make it onto the African literary scene through French cultural centres and Alliance Françaises. People know me not because of my works, which are studied only by students, but rather thanks to newspaper articles about me. My books are studied as part of Madagascan university course programmes, which isn’t the case for most authors here. Unfortunately, it seems that locally published works are neglected.
At the same time, we can’t really ask authors to try to get published locally. It is a very difficult task to accomplish and is no reflection on their talent. How would a Congolese author manage; what is state of Congolese publishing at the moment?
People say that if we were to get published here, we would be helping local publishing houses, but that isn’t really true. I don’t know about elsewhere, but in Madagascar, French aid programmes are present behind the scenes and act for local governments.
What would you suggest?
Culture needs to become part of a financial strategy and people need to believe that there is money to be made from local literature. We need to stop saying that there is no readership in Africa. I don’t believe that is true. Even though books are expensive, people still want to read them. They are thirsty for culture and literature so we need to provide space for literature. We can’t wait for governments to do this, because they won’t. France is pretty much responsible for the existing cultural policies in African countries. A local CCF director is more important than the Minister for Culture because he has more means available to him. He decides what should be published. He is also the one who supports French-language literature.
Have you ever thought about co-publishing with a Madagascan publisher?
I wanted that to be done for Nour 1947 and my French publisher agreed. It would have meant two editions – one in France and one in Madagascar, with distribution rights in each country. My French publisher’s edition wouldn’t have been sold in Madagascar so it wouldn’t have meant extra costs. However, the Madagascan editor didn’t have the financial means to follow through.
Are you able to live from your writing?
I don’t earn enough from the royalties, but I do try to live from literature. I make a living through related activities such as writing workshops, writer’s residences, theatre and lectures.

///Article N° : 5711


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