Sunday, April 22, 2012

Serious Buai Books

There is no shortage of creative writers in Papua New Guinea. There is, however, a shortage of publishers for all our writers to have their works published. The books that we read and buy for our schools are all published by overseas based publishers and writers. Budding writers are in search of publishers, which are either non-existent or if they exist their interests are confined to institutions, organizations, and narrow business interests.

With this kind of scenario some of us decided to become self-publishers—a decision that is both a curse and a blessing, depending on what we are able to do with limited funds drawn from our own pockets.

A curse because we come from a land of so much resources that the government is happily earning from it, but turns a blind eye on supporting the literary arts and culture develop to full maturity. It is a curse because the road from writing to publishing is not part of the developmental package of this country. Writing and publishing are seen as individual pursuits falling outside of government scope or notions of development.

It is a blessing because we inherited the gifts of expression and creativity from our ancestors. It is a blessing because through the free and creative spirit we are able to give meaning to our lives. The verbal medium which served our ancestors well throughout our history are our pride. We draw from the well springs of our ancestors’ wisdom from time to time to define ourselves.

It is a blessing because self-publishing allows a writer the control what materials get published and how it is marketed. Self-publishing also depends on how much money a writer can raise to meet all the publishing, printing, and marketing costs. The challenge is to sell the books once they are published. From the sales of a book a writer can decide on reprints or to publish another book.  

The main huddle has to do with getting the books into the hands of buyers and readers. Many of the bookshops in the city and country do not have many books written by Papua New Guineans. Stationery shops of various kinds and specialization have sections on books, but they shy away from selling books written by local writers.

The bookshops and stationery shops in the city like the Christian Bookshop and Catholic Bookshop in Garden City Boroko, Seeto Kui, Star Stationery, Theodist, Brian Bells, and hotels such as Holiday Inn and Gateway have limited titles written by one or two Papua New Guinean writers. I acknowledge Theodist for making sure I have one of my books on sale in its shop. These bookshops, stationary shops, and others in the country can do more to help our writers market their books.

I have been fortunate in my partnership with the UPNG Press and Bookshop over the last few years to have a number of books published through a co-publishing arrangement. Through that partnership an important link was established with Masalai Press in USA. Dr. John Evans of UPNG Press and Bookshop and Thomas Slone of Masalai Press are two individuals with whom I have come to respect for their efforts in publishing new titles written by Papua New Guineans. So far, a number of us have our books published through a joint venture arrangement as described above.

This year a new publishing initiative was hatched. The BUAI series: an original publishing initiative of UPNG Press and Bookshop, and Masalai Press of USA. BUAI stands for Brochures, Useful Articles, and Information. The first book in this series is Nora Vagi Brash’s book of poems. Other books are now in press and should be on the shelves in the next few months.

I have been fortunate enough to get my fourth book of poems written in Tokpisin and English published in this exciting new series. A number of anthologies produced by my students in the course I teach on writing, editing, and publishing will finally get published under the BUAI series.

UPNG Press and Bookshop is a single most important business run by UNIventure, the business arm of the University of Papua New Guinea. Dr. John Evans who manages UPNG Press and Bookshop knows what it means to develop a book industry in PNG. He is helping many Papua New Guinean writers, especially those associated with UPNG, to see the publication of their books.  A number of important books have been published or reprinted so far under Dr. Evan’s leadership.

In our conversation, Dr. Evans expressed an alarming concern about the way in which the Education Department had gone about using the millions of Kina in the purchase of books for schools around the country. Books published by UPNG Press and Bookshop or the stock of relevant books for use in schools had not been purchased by the Education Department. Something sinister seems to be happening.

I fear it could be true. Late last year I signed a contract with the Education Department for the purchase of two of my new books, published independently or copublished with UPNG Press and Bookshop, for use in schools around the country. To date I have not heard anything about that countract, leaving me to conclude that some officers in the Curriculum Division of the Department responsible for the purchase of books had duped me or have used my contract to collect the cheque for their own use.  

It is troubling to live with the knowledge that an opportunity to encourage local writers and publishers is again mishandled to the annoyance of many of us involved in writing and publishing books.

UPNG Press and Bookshop is doing an excellent job in getting new books published and making available reprints of PNG classics. It needs all the support it can get to realize its production value as a publisher and book distributor.

I hope the BUAI series will become a brand name to mark the publishing of new PNG writers who will help shape the future of this country.  

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