Bibi Bakare-Yusuf – ASAUK’s Distinguished Africanist Prize
“I am a publisher because I am interested in the future. I am interested in contributing to and helping to shape what people in 100, 200 or even 500 years’ will be discussing and mulling over when they take a walk into the labyrinth of their past that is our present moment. I am interested in how we can create the archive of the future in the present.”Bibi Bakare-Yusuf
Bibi Bakare-Yusuf begun her career as an academic, obtaining a PhD in Interdisciplinary Women and Gender Studies at Warwick University, where she also worked as an academic. Her thesis explored the relationship between embodiment and memory in the African diaspora, examining structures of retention found in New World cultures. She has published widely on the subjects of gender, power and sexuality in African and African diaspora studies, and she has worked as a gender and research consultant in for organisations including the BBC, the Central Bank of Nigeria and the European Union. Bibi Bakare-Yusuf is the co-founder of Cassava Republic press, which has been described by the New York Times as ‘at the forefront of Nigeria’s literary renaissance’. Since its inception in 2006, Cassava Republic has become one of Africa’s leading publishing houses, and it has launched the careers of many writers who are now household names such as Teju Cole, Elnathan John and Sarah Ladipo Manyika. Cassava Republic is a social enterprise, driven by the impulse to re-develop a reading (and writing) culture in Nigeria, as it forms part of the larger project of re-imagining Nigeria. Bakare-Yusuf has distinguished herself as a public intellectual, and her important contribution to scholarship and the world of publishing has been recognised in her selection as a Yale World Fellow, a Desmond Tutu Fellow and a Frankfurt Book Fair Fellow. Bakare-Yusuf is also the Chair of The Initiative for Equal Rights, the largest LGBT organisation in West Africa and is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.
A common thread, which underpins Bakare-Yusuf’s academic output, consultancy work and her work in publishing, is the importance of amplifying marginalised or decentred voices in Africa and the African diaspora. Cassava Republic has been at the forefront of commissioning and publishing works by writers in Nigeria’s LGBTQ community and Nigerian communities whose writers have been overlooked. She has made an indelible mark in the world of publishing, and her work can be located at the intersection of theory and praxis. Publishing is the primary tool through which Bibi is able to enact the change that she wishes to see. A recent development in Cassava Republic Press has been the launch of an African language literature imprint, the inspiration for which draws on the scholarship of Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Mukoma wa Ngugui who have centred the promotion and development of African languages in the continent’s efforts to decolonise. This provides a perfect example of how Bibi’s engagement in the academic world directly relates to her contribution to the building of a publishing infrastructure which centres African voices and African thought.
The impact of Bakare-Yusuf’s work is apparent within the academy but also in the broader public sphere. Bakare-Yusuf is both a thought leader and innovator. She has won several awards for her trailblazing work in publishing, including one by the International Excellence Awards 2018 in conjunction with The Publishers Association in London for ‘Inclusivity in Publishing’ and the Brittle Papers ‘African Literary Person of the Year’. Her work has been profiled in a number of publications including the New York Times, the LA Review of Books, The Financial Times and the Independent and in 2020, she was named to The Africa Report’s Top 50 Disruptors.
Given the breadth, importance and urgency of Bibi Bakare-Yusuf’s work, to award her the ASAUK’s Distinguished Africanist Award would recognised Bakare-Yusuf’s intellectual and cultural impact, and would amplify her intellectual project of building ‘the archive of the future in the present’.