How to design book covers about Africa without falling into clichés — Quartz

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Yesterday I was writing about the disturbing visual clichés that seem to crop up on the cover of every book about Africa: an acacia tree, a sunset, an arid plain. A graphic that accompanied the story (via the Africa Is a Country blog), showed remarkable visual similarity across 36 diverse authors and contexts. When it comes to Africa, no matter the subject, editors are prone to assembling a folkloric view of the savannah.

Since the story was published, a few designers have written in to say, “Not ALL book covers.” And it’s true, there are some notable exceptions. I highlighted one in the original post: the recent novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Americana, designed by Abby Weintraub. I’ve always admired the cover of JM Coetzee’s 1982 Penguin edition Waiting for the Barbarians, which recasts the biblical story of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples as a commentary on the limits of penance in apartheid South Africa. On Twitter, Rod Hunt rightly drew our attention to his magnificent illustration for the cover of Looking for Transwondera Nigerian travelogue published by Granta.

Meanwhile, Steve Connolly, the managing director of Penguin Random House, South Africa, objected to the whole premise of the story.

For those who think that most book covers of African novels look the same, leave your screen and go to bookstores. They are not. —Steve Connolly (@SAbookman) May 13, 2014

Connolly suggested we look at the list of recent fiction from Umuzi, a South African imprint of Random House Struik. Here are the covers of The roaring thunder, the first novel by journalist Imran Garda; and Jason Staggie Risk, a Tarantino-inspired story of friends who engage in a series of drug-fueled heists intended to bring about pan-African unity. Fair enough – not an acacia in sight.

Umuzi Press

But let’s be clear: whether or not a few covers succeed in breaking the mould, the Western system of representing Africa is terribly broken, and not just in the realm of book design. Until we start fixing this, these successful covers are just exceptions that prove the rule.

In case you missed it: The reason why all books about Africa have the same cover – and it’s not pretty

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