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A surge of book publications inThe Gambia: An ailing literary ecosystem

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With Batou Saidy, Dicey & Kalipha Jabbi

In recent times, some young Gambians have taken to publishing books as a new form of self-marketing or a means to gain instant fame. Hardly a week goes by without seeing a poster for a book launch, amid so much PR and marketing frenzy. It is true that publishing quality and relevant books to enrich The Gambia’s literary landscape will indeed be a game changer. Allowing average quality publications to see the light of day promotes mediocrity, and the most worrying part of it all is the laissez-faire attitude of the Ministry of Basic & Secondary Education (MoBSE) towards such publications, which are bereft of content and relevance, by approving and incorporating them into our school curriculums.

The avalanche of wannabes, particularly in poetry and fiction, and essentially in literature as a whole, is quite worrisome. Indeed, Gambian literature is at a crossroads, torn between the overt obsession of wannabe poets and writers to attain cheap fame by all means and their personal desires to make fast money through book launches and sales that don’t necessarily attract meaning and literary significance.

It is a critical moment that requires attention not only from writers, but also from avid readers and admirers of good quality writing. This concern is central to this piece.

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It is also necessary to highlight the flames in Gambian literature that have high tendencies to burn their esteemed integrity and reputation to ashes. In the last few years, we have seen an inundation of book launches, most of which are not even books, but rather an assortment of malnourished poems with dehydrated contents devoid of any organisation, pattern, style, let alone meaning. Pathetic!

Certainly, not painting all with a single brush, there are elite poets in The Gambia, some of whom even believe that poetry is more of a religion than art. But if the trajectory of contemporary Gambian literature is anything to go by, then one would argue that this is not the poetic religion they actually believe in. Contemporary literature in The Gambia has turned into a religion thick with mediocrity and is overpopulated by wannabes. These are the people trying to hastily attain cheap popularity without developing themselves accordingly. I mean, they are the very ones who think that a book launch is a direct flight to literary stardom, whereas learning the basics of writing or developing a good vocabulary is as futile as the so-called claim that Gambian youths are happy.

When most celebrated writers consider writing, they begin by reading widely and deeply. They prioritise developing their vocabulary and knowledge content before putting pen to paper. They read advanced literature and ample high-quality reading materials to broaden their scope and update their literary understanding to advanced levels, or at least to a desired target. This is sacrosanct because you cannot give what you really don’t have.

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Meanwhile, informed and widely read poets and authors are always mindful of the rules that define the trade. How can one disregard the laid-down rules of any trade and still expect to create meaning or purpose out of it?

Recently, we have seen many budding “poets” in the country, pathetically shuttling from spoken word poetry to being authors of a few-paged books, with various unfortunate pen names. Some of the published poems are inadvertently undermined by the poet’s self-designated pen name. This is how they are dragging contemporary Gambian poetry into the mud, along with the general state of book authorship. The Gambian literary space is in complete disarray and requires serious attention.

One effective approach to addressing these issues is to start with honesty from various stakeholders in the literary world. Book reviewers, editors, writers associations, and influential writers in the nation should be transparent in their assessments and feedback. This includes editors being forthright with young authors, guiding them through the editing process and providing honest feedback on the quality of their manuscripts.

It’s disheartening to discover avoidable errors in a book, particularly when they have been overlooked by a supposed reviewer in the foreword. This is another case of allowing untested and unexamined syrups to enter the literary world, with potential negative consequences. The editing, reviewing, and publishing of a book require significant knowledge and experience, and should not be entrusted to just anyone. Therefore, political lackeys and other so-called experts are not the most suitable choices for evaluating or reviewing a fictional book with the intention of making a literary impact.

Furthermore, aspiring young authors should not be misled by receiving a few likes on a social media post into thinking they are exceptional writers. This contributes to the rise of self-important entrepreneurial authors who believe they are beyond criticism.

Lastly, it is crucial to advise young writers to begin by being avid readers. They should invest considerable time in reading works by successful authors and studying their writing techniques, gaining an understanding of storytelling intricacies, and learning how to craft a compelling conclusion. By doing so, they will develop the necessary skills to create engaging and respected stories of their own.

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