KHARTOUM (SUDANOW)– Khartoum Press and Publishing Authority (KPPA) greeted the 59th Independence Anniversary of Sudan this month by commissioning a process of printing 100 books in the context of its project of publishing a thousand Sudanese cultural books. I couldn’t miss two things during my conversation with the General Manager of KPPA Ghassan Ali Osman, during this interview: his seriousness and industriousness. Resourceful was the word I should use. A man with such traits will no wonder accomplish the tedious of tasks. It was no surprise that he has done a top notch job with this task.
Following are excerpts from the conversation with Ustaz Osman:
SUDANOW: Can we have a general briefing on the project and its objectives?
OSMAN: The project was executed by Khartoum Press and Publishing Authority (KPPA) which is specialized in publishing cultural and political magazines in addition to publishing books since 2003.
Before the idea of implementing this project cropped up, there has been a series of monthly books carrying the name of New Khartoum Book, the first of which was published in 2003. In late 2009, we decided to carry out a big cultural project which at that time we called “A Hundred Titles on the Sudanese Culture”, although we were not intending to publish specifically a hundred books. Interest on culture was high in Khartoum State in 2009. The project was launched on instructions by then First Vice President Ali Osman Taha and supervised by Khartoum State Governor Dr. Abdul Rahman al-Khidir with the executive supervision undertaken by the State’s Ministry of Culture, Information and Tourism represented by Ustaz Mohamed Yusuf al-Digair.
The idea of the project also sprang because the cultural activity in Sudan was branded as a consumer more than producer as reflected by the famous proverb: “Cairo writes, Beirut prints and Khartoum reads.” Moreover, a Sudanese book almost did not exist as the Sudanese was facing difficulties in the book industry and for this reason our external participation was very weak and pavilions in book fairs abroad exhibit either very few Sudanese books or very old ones. Therefore, we thought of a project to achieve two goals- the first one is to fill in the shortage in the Sudanese library as reports indicated that a house like the University of Khartoum Publishing House, since its foundation in 1967 until the 1980s has published only 60 books, although it is owned and financed by the government.
There was, therefore, a real problem of taking the Sudanese cultural product abroad and our aim was to introduce new titles and new names because we were then concerned with the fact that information about Sudan was entirely absent in both the Arab and international countries due to non-existence of a single publication about the Sudan not only in the cultural aspects but in all fields. If one goes through reports by the Arab League on the publishing activity, one virtually finds no mention of the Sudan. Those reports name the countries and the books and publications they publish, they even name where the publishing activity is weak and that their cultural contributions are scarce but, still, they publish an annual 30 to 40 books each.
The second goal is that we want to produce books made in Sudan as books have now become an industry and if you have a look at a book you will find where it was published. The conditions of publishing in Egypt, for instance, are known to everyone and so are the type of the paper and the size of the cover. That is, each country has its own brand and method of presenting its cultural product. This culture does not exist in Sudan. How can we improve this situation? In order to find an answer, we had a meeting with the Governor of Khartoum State and discussed with him how to publish a hundred books, bearing in mind that KPPA possesses the required experience of publishing magazines like Al-Khartoum Al-Jadidah which is now nine years old and the children’s Simsimah which is 10 years old. This experience has built confidence that the KPPA is capable of implementing a hundred books project.
Q: How was it financed?
A: This was the next step. As the government has no budget for culture, agreement was made with the Ministry of Finance and Consumer Affairs of Khartoum State to approve banking finance for the project (that is, the government makes the banks finance the project and after that it deals with banks in any banking formula). Thus we have surmounted the first obstacle.
Q: How were the hundred titles obtained? Were they new or previously published? If they were new, what were the set conditions?
A: The difficult obstacle was how to find a hundred titles. We made conditions for acceptance of the books and put a notice on the media. Those conditions were: 1) The book must be new and not published before and offers a new addition in its field, 2) Or its printed copy has expired and is very important, 3) It is concerned with a Sudanese issue or affair in fields and 4) the author is Sudanese. We formed a scientific committee for sorting out selection of the titles. The committee received a great number of titles in 2010 and 2011 and we met with the committee and agreed on the philosophy of the project by appropriating 10% of the total books for children and 50% or 60% for other literary works, including poetry, novels and other fields while a percentage is also accorded to translations. The latter field is very important because everyone concerned with culture knows that every book written about Sudan is still found in its mother language – German, French or English. Unlike all other countries we do not have a national translating center and therefore all works on our history, literature and sciences, etc. were in foreign languages. But now and for the first time a number of books were translated in the context of this project.
Personally, I believe that the weak publishing activity has weakened the writing activity in Sudan as in absence of the former, the latter will not flourish. There were many Sudanese writers who published articles they have previously written but they have written nothing new. It was scarce that a writer would sit down to write a book because there were no publishing facilities like other countries. In France, for instance, there are famous publishing firms which ask a certain author to write a book on a certain subject in a certain number of words. A committee of the firm then intervenes by asking the author to delete this and add that. The point is that there are traditions for the book industry in all countries of the world. Our project was aimed at covering all those domains.
Q: How was your dealing with the authors? What services you have offered them?
A: The service was that we did not ask the author to pay any money because we know that an author would have his work published only if he paid a portion of the printing cost, sometimes reaching 30% and after the printing he would be given only 40 or 50 copies, quite unfair terms.
In the project, we finance all the process, starting from receiving the book from the author till it is printed. We give the author 50% of the printed copies without charge, then we make the promotion and distribution through organization of symposiums or advertisements on the media. This is the cultural service offered by KPPA and the government of Khartoum State through the KPPA. It is a non-profit project and just as the Government finances construction of bridges and roads, Khartoum State finances the book industry through the KPPA.
Q: Could you brief us on the practical executive steps of the project?
A: The financing operation began in 2011-2012 and it was phased as every project is executed in gradual stages. The first phase of the project covered 25%, that is, printing 25 books and the second phase also covered 25% while the final phase was for printing the remaining 50% of the books.
As I have previously mentioned, the financing was made by the Finance Ministry of Khartoum State while the KPPA, as the advisory body, carried out all technical operations of receiving the books and verifying them by a committee (which goes through the product and inserts the necessary adjustments) through compilation, vetting, designing and printing. All the books were printed in Sudan, something which activated the local printing firms as well as the distribution process, offering service to the intellectuals.
The project established partnerships with Sudanese institutions concerned with cultural activities by sending formal letters to a number of institutions such as Abdullah Al-Tayeb Institute and the Sudanese Writers Association and studies centers such as the Epistemic Enlightenment and the Social Studies centers. We asked them to supply us with titles of books which, in their opinion, deserve to be published. Eventually, in collaboration with Abdullah Al-Tayeb Institute, we printed three titles; one of which was a very important one about late Abdullah Al-Tayeb written by his pupils. We also printed many books in collaboration with the Afro-Asian Studies Institute the most important of which was a collection of the works written by Ustaz Al-Tayeb Mohamed Al-Tayeb. This collection was published as part of the Relics series which includes books of a high value. Late Ustaz Al-Tayeb devoted long periods of his life in probing the Sudanese folklore and we have published a number of his books were not published before.
The KPPA also printed the complete works of novelist Ibrahim Ishaq who had a very limited number of his novels printed, although he was engaged in novel-writing since the 1960s.
Among the important books we have printed was the Comparative Sudanese Proverbs book by Dr. Samir Mohamed Obaid Nugud, comprising six bulky volumes, more than 7,000 pages and more than 14,000 Sudanese proverbs. This book contained explanation, analysis and comparison of the Sudanese proverbs with those of the Arab Gulf, Syria, Iraq, Egypt and North Africa. It covers all parts of the Sudan and consolidates our identity and confirms the authenticity of our language and the lucidity of our conscience.
The Authority printed all works, more than 30, of late Hussein Hassoun, the pioneer of the child-book writing in Sudan, and also the complete child books of Dr. Abdullah Ali Ibrahim.
Those works are of a wide diversity with some of their authors are defined as leftists while others as rightists; that is because the project’s concern was intellectual rather than political and was for all people. If you go through those books you will find out that they are so novel that they deserve publishing and in order to ensure transparency in evaluation, we apply the well known scientific method of hiding the name of the author when we present the work to the committee for evaluation.
The project concentrated on the relics which are the rare books such as a Sudanese novel written in the 1950s by Khalil Abdullah al-Hajj which now among the hundred books.
As regards the translations, we have translated highly important documents about the Sudan, including a book titled “The Heroic Age in Sinnar” written by American historian Jay Spaulding. It is a rare document because it cast light on the centralized system which led to the collapse of the Sinnar Sultanate, with emphasis on the last years of the Sultanate. However, the only accredited document on the Sinnar Sultanate is the one that was written by late Sudanese historian Mekki Shibaikah in the 1960s.
We have also translated other books.
Q: Are you inclined to publishing works only by famous writers? What about the new names and new ideas? What about the youths and the female contributions?
A: Not al all. This is not true. We have printed books for all segments like Ustazah Zainub Bilail for whom we have published her “Cactus Plant” novel. We have also printed a collection of short stories by Fatima Atabani and others. As for the poetry, we have printed a collection of poems by Poet Mohamed Naguib Mohamed Ali and, in partnership with the Short Story Club; we have printed 30 short stories for a group of youths who had their works published for the first time. And also for the first time, we have published a book for young man Omar al-Ghabshawe, a collection of poems by Sara Mohamed al-Khalil and two stories by Ustaz Mustafa al-Mamoun.
Q: Where can a Sudanese reader find those books?
A: After we have printed the one hundred books, we will set up, God willing, two permanent outlets during this month (January) – the first outlet in the Shuhada Park in Khartoum and the second one in the Cultural Center of Omdurman in addition to Merowe and Azzah bookshops. We have also distributed these books to other bookshops like the Sudanese House for Books.
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