55 Years of Nigerian Literature: Three Crown Books

by - 09:36

For my first celebratory post, I am going back in time - to the 1960s - for one of the early publishers that aimed to make African literature accessible to a wider audience. Not Heinemann or Longman, but the 'largely forgotten' Three Crown Books (launched by Oxford University Press in 1962). 
Caroline Davis' 'Creating Postcolonial Literature'
Three Crown Books had East, West and South African branches, but as this month is dedicated to all things Nigerian lit, I will be focusing on the book covers of the Nigerian writers they published - namely Wole Soyinka, J P Clark, Obi B Egbuna and Ola Rotimi. 

Plays published include Soyinka's A Dance in the Forest and The Lion and the Jewel (1963), 5 Plays (1964), The Road (1965), Kongi's Harvest (1967) and Three Short Plays (1969); Clark's Three Plays (1964) and Ozidi (1966); Egbuna's The Anthill (1965) and Daughters of the Sun (1970) and Rotimi 's The Gods are Not to Blame (1971). 

On the covers,Taj Elsir Ahmed - a Sudanese artist from the "Khartoum School" - designed A Dance of the Forests and The Lion and the Jewel, while according to this post on justseeds.org, Jimoh Akolo (a founding member of the Zaria Art Society) designed the cover for Kongi's Harvest. 

For The Road and Five Plays, Caroline Davis writes that Soyinka attempted to get a new artist to design the covers (I wasn't able to find the designers for these two), but he was too late for Five Plays. With The Road, while roughs for the new jacket design were approved, they were submitted too late to be used and so the book was rushed over through production with 'an indistinct photograph of a dirt road on the front cover'. 

Three Short Plays jacket illustration - of a tree, with Wole Soyinka's name forming the basis of the trunk and four African figures below - was designed by Lazlo Acs. This cover proved

to be unpopular in both US and African markets, with the Nairobi branch of Three Crowns complaining that the cover was 'almost insulting' to 'Africa's leading playwright'. As for Clark's and Egbuna's covers, I was unable to find the cover designer for Ozidzi, but Three Plays was designed by Dennis Duerden

Similarly, I couldn't find the cover designer for Egbuna's The Anthill, but Daughters of the Sun was designed by Bill Botten. As Davis writes in her books, the original cover design depicted the daughters of the sun as two identical naked African women, side by side, against the sun, but this was rejected by the Nigerian branch, and in this finished cover, the two women are clothed in white tunics.

* All images (except Daughters of the Sun, 5 plays and Three Short Plays) via justseeds.org, whose Judging Books by their Covers series you should check out.

Later Three Crown Books published (mainly for the Nigerian market) include Rotimi's
Kurunmi (1985), Ovonramwen Nogbaisi (1974) and Our Husband Has Gone Made Again (1977) and Soyinka's Madmen and Specialists (1971).

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