Vision and mission of an intercontinental publisher

Vision and mission of an intercontinental publisher

Mattias Tengstrand

Upplitt Magasins Mattias Tengstrand
pratar med Matunda Nyanchama
om hans vision och mission
som interkontinental förläggare.

Matunda Nyanchama, a PhD, IT and commu-
nications professional, is a director, publisher
and writer who leads the Nsemia Inc. publish-
ing team. As a publisher he got Gothenburg
Book Fair Fellowship 2022 offered by the
Swedish Arts Council. Prior to this fellowship he
has profiled his publishing house introducing
literature from Sweden to readers in Africa,
particularly for Swahili and English speaking
readers. His publishing house is based in Kenya
and Canada.

What inspired you to become a publisher
since you are a noted IT academic?

It was a gradual process. In the course of 2008,
a young person I knew approached me expres-
sing her frustration with getting a publisher for
what turned out to be a very well-written novel.
As I wanted her to get help, I shared her ma-
nuscript with a few people, including one who
worked at a publishing house in Canada. And
while the Canadian publishers could take up
the book, the answer I got was that it did not
have a clear Canadian audience. As such they
could not publish it.

The next thing I did was to inquire about the
associated costs (editing, layout design, initial
printing) of publishing the book. I realized that
these costs were within my reach. Once the
book was released, more and more inquiries
came in and I realized that there was a gre-
at need to provide an avenue, especially for
young people doing creative writing!
The more manuscripts we received the more I
got convinced that the many stories which were
and still are out there need to be told. We are
doing our best to help those with such stories
to get them told.

What are the challenges of being a publisher
in both an African country like Kenya and a
North American country like Canada?

There is always the risk of losing the identity of one’s
business. That said, our focus has been to support
Afrocentric writers to tell their stories regardless of
where they reside in the world. Then there is
the challenge of dual cultu-
res. The culture and lives of the people in both
Canada and Kenya are as different as one can
find on Earth. That said, our business is rooted
in Canada. Our anchor in Kenya is in part
because it is our original home and we tend to
receive more works to publish from Kenya than
any other country.
Other things pertain to the differential pricing
of the same product, where a book sold in Ca-
nada at a price affordable by Canadians could
be out of reach for most people in Kenya.

What is the state of the publishing sector in
both Kenya and Canada?

The sector is largely dictated by the demand
for books, and especially with respect to the
reading culture. In Canada, aside from acade-
mic publishing there is a thriving reading cultu-
re out of mainstream schooling. There are
also many supportive entities that help nur-
ture writers through grants, seminars,
competitive prizes, residences and the like.
Canadian media religiously do book reviews
that help support awareness about books.
Kenya, on the other hand, has very few such
supportive structures and most publishers,
to make a return on their investments, focus
more on school books and (mainly) textbooks.
With few people reading for leisure and the
price of books relative to other human wants,
books are a far-distant concern for many.
You received a Gothenburg Book Fair Fel-
lowship 2022 from the Swedish Arts Council.

As part of this programme, you participa-
ted in the book fair last year. What did you
learn from this programme?

Being on the fellowship was an eye-opener for
me in many ways and I must sincerely thank
the Swedish Arts Council for the support.
In my cohort we had people from all over the
world. To sit and listen to their perspectives
of publishing, their experiences and how they
saw the future of the publishing industry was
very refreshing!
We had seminars on global
trends and on mainstream publishing, heard
about translation and how this contributes to
enabling access to material that could other-
wise have been out of reach, which provides a
vibrant pillar of the publishing sector. Discus-
sions on the global book trade were insightful
and helped affirm that despite being under
siege, book publishing will be around for many
years to come.
The Gothenburg Book Fair itself was grand!
The mere scale of participation was amazing!
Not only were there very many exhibitors but
the fair also had tons of visitors, many events
beyond showcasing books and the like. I had a
chance to interact with authors whose books
were on display but also understood what
motivates them.

What is your ongoing mission and future
plan in connection with the Swedish literary

We are interested in ongoing collaboration,
especially in areas of translation where we can
avail Swedish literary works into Kiswahili. This
will avail these works to Kiswahili audiences
across Africa and the rest of the world.
We are also interested in indigenous Swedish
literary works. We would like to get experience
in capturing, documenting and transmitting
such works as they have a parallel with works
focused on indigenous knowledge and cultures
in Kenya.
Other areas of interest include children’s lite-
rature where we find that Swedish literature
is fairly well-established compared with our
situation in Kenya. Indeed, we are also taking
lessons, in this score, from Canada.
How can literary exchange be strengthened
between Sweden and Kenya/Canada?
This requires higher levels of engagement that
should involve governments and institutions
in these countries. A good start is academic
exchanges, fellowships that support writers in
residence, personnel exchanges and joint sta-
ging of events (e.g. joint book fairs and literary
festivals), funded by the parties.
A good start is for the governments of these
countries to align their foreign policy interests
to include literary initiatives to engender a
better understanding of each other. Mutual
funding of initiatives and their actualization
can promote cooperation to higher levels and
generate better relations among the countries.
At the individual level,
institutions and literary
creatives should strive
to cooperate to facili-
tate sharing of works,
experiences and hence
enhance cooperation.
Publishers, on their
part, need to take inte-
rest beyond their national or regional places of
domicile to spread the net wide and find works
that resonate across the boundaries. This, then,
could form the basis upon which government
policies rest.
What are the new challenges for a publish-
ing company as well as the literary market
after the pandemic?
In some ways, the COVID-19 pandemic was a
godsend for the publishing world as more pe-
ople turned to books to while away their time
during lockdown. It is my hope that the trend
will become sticky such that more people will
continue the reading habits acquired during
the pandemic.
On the other hand, competition through
modern, technology-based means of commu-
nication is real. Examples include social media
platforms that draw billions of
people but that are not great for in-
depth, thoughtful works of literature.
Further, the influ- ence of technology on how
people take in information is not helpful for
the cause of literature.
A good example is the attention span of most
people where people hardly pay meaningful
attention to works that require focus and deep
On the other hand, people are writing a lot and
believing that their written works merit publica-
tion. For publishers, sifting through such works
can be a daunting task. Indeed, some publish-
ers make the point of not accepting any work
unless it is solicited or submitted via a literary
agent. Piracy is yet another avenue of revenue
loss for publishers. With the use of technology,
it is much easier and faster to pirate and distri-
bute pirated works. And because this happens
across jurisdictions, it can be extremely hard
to locate and arrest sources of piracy. On the
whole, piracy depresses publishers’ revenues
and in turn impacts authors’ earnings.

Would you like to inspire your next genera-
tion, for example, your children/grandchild-
ren, to be publishers? If so, why? If not, why

I came to publishing late in my career and it
happened as if by accident. I have come to
realize the value of publishing in capturing, re-
cording and transmitting knowledge to present
and future generations. This is a very noble
cause for, ‘a book, once published, never dies’.
The experience is even more fulfilling when one
finds unique works that otherwise would have
been lost and unpublished the same, and ha-
ving readers appreciate the value of the work!
Today we read works from centuries ago, cour-
tesy of writers and publishers that went the
extra mile to write and publish, respectively,
such works.
As such I would encourage my children and
their children, among many others, to offer
such a service to humanity.

How can the international publishing
market be free from the monopoly of the
English language?

The English language is (literary) the global
language of doing business. It is not by accident
that most literary works appear in the langua-
ge. This is not to say that other languages do
not have a place in the literary world! Far from
However, there is a need to write in languages
beyond English for, as we know, a language
is more than just a means of communication.
Within them, languages carry the history and
culture of the people from whom the language
arose. Writing anything in such languages helps
with the preservation of the language and the
related history and culture of its speakers.
We encourage individuals to write in languages
that they are most comfortable with. We have
also published translated works (e.g. from
English to Kiswahili or from other ethnic lang-
uages into other ethnic languages in Kenya) as
means of (a) capturing the work in languages
readers are most comfortable with, and also (b)
availing works in others languages and hope-
fully reaching a wider audience that otherwise
would not have been reached.

About Nsemia Inc. Publishers:

Mattias Tengstrand