Continuing to Judge Books by Their Covers

by - 13:25




Caroline Davis' 'Creating Postcolonial Literature'


It wasn’t too long ago, African book covers were called out for their “acacia tree sunset treatment”, leading to a debate on the look of books by writers of African origin. It started with a series of images Simon Stevens shared on Twitter, which led to a post on Africa is a Country on the dangers of a single book cover. As useful as it was to bring to light the number of orange sunsets and acacia trees, around that time I went beyond that to share images that didn't stick to the cliched African book cover.

The truth is African Book Covers come in all shapes and sizes – depending on the region. While, I’ve spent the last 7 years documenting them: first on this blog, and a few months later on my tumblr, ABC,  I have to say my love for the design of book covers started much earlier – from around the age of ten when I first started copying the images I saw on the cover of the books and comics I was reading. As I got older, I got even more obsessed with design, and today I can stare at book cover designs for hours. I am a frequent visitor of certain book cover design websites, and I constantly marvel at the wonder and art of putting them together. This is why it's been a treat (especially in recent years) to look at the design of covers of books by African writers or writers of African origin (and to a lesser extent, books not written by Africans, but centred on the African continent.

Last year I took a look at the covers of the books being launched at Africa Writes - the Royal African Society's annual literature festival - as I am always curious about the look and design of books by writers of African origin. This year is no different - I'm still super curious. So, ahead of Africa Writes 2019 which takes place Friday 5 July to Sunday 7 July, I am giving some cover love, but with a bit of a twist this year.

Book covers are a thing of beauty. Okay. Not all of them! They can honestly go wrong in many cases, and some times African book covers are lazy AF. Still, when a book cover is done right, it has the ability to convey a lot about the identity and content of the book. I am not a designer, but I love the various elements that go into designing a cover - the text, the images/illustrations/graphics, the layout, the colour, the spine, the font of the titles, the texture. Take Cassava Republic Press, and it's distinct cover design. So distinct that you know a CRP book without even without looking at the logo. This to me speaks of the power of effective cover design - to be able to know the brand (in this case the publisher) from looking at their cover design. 



The distinctness of CRPs covers in a way reminds me of Heinemann's African Writers Series covers. Yes, I know their designs have mixed reviews (I'm one of those ones that like them), but the covers are classic, and you know an AWS (be they fiction, nonfiction, poetry or drama) once you see it. A great article on the design of the AWS by Josh MacPhee notes that the African Writers Series’ aesthetic remains eye-catching, an artifact of an important moment in literary history." Of the book covers, MacPhee writes of “highly developed illustrations, interesting use of montage and patterns, and expansion of what was possible with printing budgets limited to two or three colours”.

AWS Covers. Source: Lapham's Quarterly



There are other notable African book series, which may not have had the longevity of Heinemann's AWS, but they nonetheless had distinct covers. Take, for instance, the covers of Oxford University Press' short-lived Three Crown Books, which published worked by writers including Wole Soyinka, J P Clark and Ola Rotimi. 


Of course there are more, including from Fontana Books (which focused more on photos of people on the covers - some more questionable than others) and Longmans. Check out Justseeds for more on the cover designs of Fontana series. 


I could go on and on and on about the range of covers out there, including ones from the Mbari Club founded in Ibadan in the 1970s and South Africa's Staffriders Series, and if you're curious check out some others that have been featured here on the blog

Mbari (Left) and Staffrider (Right) book covers via Justseeds


Whatever thoughts of African book covers (both old and new) may be, it becomes clearer that there have been a range of designs of covers over the decades, and this continues to be the case. There really isn't one type of (African) book cover, and this is apparent even with the books being launched at Africa Writes 2019.  Being a photographer (Pitts) and art critic (Iduma), covers like Johny Pitts Afropean and Emmanuel Iduma's A Stranger's Pose, use strong and striking imagery of people, but not in the same way as Fontana Book Covers (Amin to that). 


Manchester Happened by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi designed by Hayley Warnham and The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell designed by Kai & Sunny are more focused on bold graphics to convey the content of the books. The maps of Kampala and Manchester on the corner of the Manchester Happened cover indicates the setting of the stories in these two cities. While the small dots on the cover of The Old Drift are the mosquitoes. As Kai & Sunny write on the design

We wanted the cover to be bold, graphic and colourful. We’ve focused on reeds intertwining as the foreground and giving the image its pattern and movement. The reeds are swaying (drifting) along the river (swamps) with the small dots representing the mosquitoes and the insect-like drones. We feel the cover has a calmness and uplifting feeling to it but also has tension due to the colour making it feel intense and hot.


The cover of German Calendar No December by Sylvia Ofili with illustrations by award-winning illustrator Birgit Weyhe has a charming mix of images conveying the German and Nigerian aspects of the graphic novel. In it, Olivia Evezi's childhood in Warri, Nigeria was one of listening to highlife records and enjoying colourful postcards from Germany (where her mum is from) before eventually moving to Germany. 





Finally, Not My Time to Die by Yolande Mukagasana and Everything You Have Told Me is True by Mary Harper give a strong feeling of what that the books are about. It's been 25 years since Rwanda's 1994 genocide, and 12 years since Mukagansa published what was said to be the first survivor testimony. Not My Time to Die is the Engish translation of Mukagansa's memoir. While, Everything You Have Told Me is "an intimate look at everyday life [in Somalia] under, within and alongside a notorious terrorist group [Al Shabaab].” 



For me, a great book cover design makes me think and also provides an insight into the story that I am about to read. This isn's always the case though. Moreover, as can be seen from this post - book cover design is continually changing and is also influenced by design trends. There probably are still acacia trees and sunsets out there, but I can also honestly say those are not on my radar. 


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19 Comments

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  2. I was diagnosed of HERPES Virus in 2011 and I have tried all I can to get cured but all to no avail, until i saw a post in a health forum about a herbalist man who prepare herbal medication to cure all kind of diseases including HERPES virus, at first i doubted if it was real but decided to give it a try , when i contact this herbalist via his email and he prepared a HERPES herbal cure and sent it to me via UPS delivery company service, when i received this herbal cure, he gave me step by directions on how to apply it, when i applied it as instructed, i was totally cured of this deadly disease within 14days of usage, I am now free from the deadly disease called herpes, all thanks to Dr ODOMA you can rich this great herbal doctor via his email: (drodomasolutionhome20@gmail.com) call or whatsapp him on his mobile number +2348100649947He also have the herb to cure:(1) ALS,(2) DIABETES,(3) HIV AIDS,(4) URINARY TRACT INFECTION,(5) CANCER,(6) HERPES(7)HPVhttps://www.facebook.com/Drodomaherbalmedicine/

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  4. It's a pleasure for me to write this testimony about this wonderful thing that happened to me last week on how i got my HIV aids cured, i have been reading so-many post of some people who were cured of HIV, but i never believed them, I was hurt and depressed so I was too curious and wanted to try dr.odoma then i contacted him on his email on drodomasolutionhome20@gmail.com when i contact him, he assured me 100% that he will heal me, i pleaded with him to help me out, it's a great success that he healed just as he promised, he told me that in three days time that i should go and check on my HIV status, I was floored that when i went to the hospital to check of my status that i was HIV negative, i never thought possible that dr.odoma can do miracles, i never really believed in magic but I played along with a little hope and faith and after everything but dr odoma changed my life and made me a true believer you can contact him drodomasolutionhome20@gmail.com or whatsapp Number: +2348100649947 he said that he is also specialize on the following diseases: HERPES, HIV, ALS, HPV, DIABETES, HEPATITIS B, CANCER,SICKLE CELL, VIRGINAL DRYNESS, And Bring Back Your Ex back.  

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  10. I'm 61 years old.  I contracted hpv in 2011' I has be taking lot treatment for it and embarrassed some months ago the wart stated coming out seriously, I used lot recommendation because there was lot warts around my anus and was so . but today I'm totally happy I got the virus eliminated by using natural treatment from Dr Onokun herbal center after his treatment I got cured. all the warts went away' seriously believed Dr. Onokun he have the cure for human papillomavirus because he has eliminated hpv been in my body since 2011, Dr. Onokun make it possible for me. Here is Dr. Onokun email: Dronokunherbalcure@gmail.com or page at:  https://www.facebook.com/naturaltreatmentcenter1 or WhatsApp him via +1 208 425 7799 he is welled capable of curing terrible diseases.  

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  13. Thank you so much Dr Owo for helping me get my ex lover (husband) back. My husband left me some years ago to follow another woman and they both planned to get married. I am so surprised he just came back to me one cool afternoon in 2018 on Saturday June, begging and crying for me to take him back and to forgive him for breaking up our marriage and forsaking me. Dr Owo is a true and real spell caster. He brought back my husband back”
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  14. Herpes has been one of the most significant virus in the US now, and its spreading really fast, and the government are only producing medical drugs that can suppress it but rather keep on eliminating the African herbal doctors who were able to discover a way to completely cure the virus...I'm delighted to be finally cured of herpes 2 after i applied doctor Oyagu herbal medicine for two weeks ,,, I can tell you, I went back a month later to confirm my status and i was still negative.. If i could get cured, why do you think You can't?, you believe in the lying government and medical scientists and keep spending money on buying their stupid pills.. I'm glad I am finally cured from it forever...apply oyaguherbalhome@gmail.com herbal formula. Visit Herbalist Oyagu Natural Herbal Medicine Website :   https://oyaguspellcaster.wixsite.com/oyaguherbalhome or contact him via WhatsApp +2348101755322 good luck as you reach him

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  15. I was diagnosed of herpes 3 years, and ever since then i have been taking treatment to prevent outbreaks, burning and blisters, but there was no improvement until i came across testimonies of Dr. VOODOO on how he has been curing different people from different diseases all over the world, then i contacted him. After our conversation he sent me the medicine which i took according to his instructions for up to 2 weeks. After completing the medication i went back to my doctor for another test and the virus was all gone and i was completely cured, since then i have not had any signs of outbreak. I'm so filled with joy. With herbal medication Herpes Virus is 100% curable. I refer Dr VOODOO to everyone out there with the virus Email: voodoospelltemple66@gmail.com Add Dr voodoo on whatsApp +2348140120719

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  16. HPV It's the most common sexually transmitted infection/diseases, i was so devastated when i first get tested positive and I was able to get rid of it wit the use of herbal medicine and today am tested negative, herpes free and ever since then i now play safe with whomever i came in contact with. i want you all out there to know that having herpes is not the end of your life cause it can be cured by the use of herbal medicine and i got this medicine from Dr Ofua Ofure you can check him out on https://dr-ofua-ofure-herbal-healing-home.business.site
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  17. DR SAYO HERBAL HEALER CURED ME FROM HERPES VIRUS VIEW HIS WEBSITE http://sayoherbalhome.com/         I have been suffering from Herpes for the past 3 years and 8 months, and ever since then i have been taking series of treatment but there was no improvement until i came across testimonies of Dr Sayo on how he has been curing different people from different diseases all over the world, then i contacted him as well. After our conversation he sent me the medicine which i took according to his instructions. When i was done taking the herbal medicine i went for a medical checkup and to my greatest surprise i was cured from Herpes. My heart is so filled with joy. If you are suffering from Herpes or any other disease you can contact Dr Sayo today on this Email address: sayoherbalhealer@gmail.com or WhatsApp him on this Tell.Number +2349012175679 or contact him on FB page: https://web.facebook.com/SayoHerbalHealer

    ReplyDelete