Kassahun Checole (pictured right) was born in Eritrea but educated in the US. His dream was to return to his home country and help with nation-building, but ended up as a professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey and an adjunct professor at El Colegio de Mexico in Mexico City. After his sojourn in Mexico, he returned to the US convinced that his real contribution to Africa's development would be in the area of publishing. Between this dream and reality lies the premier publishing house, The Africa World Press (AWP) in Trenton, New Jersey, of which he is founder and president. It has since published over 1,000 titles in scholarly African works, poetry, drama, prose and languages. Ivor Agyeman-Duah, one of the writers published by AWP, went to interview Checole for New African.
Q: Congratulations on your 20th-year of publishing. What has it been like?
A: It's been a wonderful adventure by and large. We have sustained a publishing house for the last 20 years and it keeps growing, so we are very happy about it.
Q: You are originally from Eritrea. How come you've been able to establish a flourishing publishing business in the US?
A: Well, it has been more of a mission than a business in the true sense. When I came to this country to study, my intention was to go back home to Africa to work. Due to political and social reasons, I stayed and worked, then decided at some point in my life that publishing was the most important contribution I could make to Africa, in Africa or outside. I saw what publishing had done in Mexico where Mexicans, through publishing, tell their own story. That was a missing factor in Africa, and I felt I could make a contribution and that commitment has kept me going.
Q: What prompted this vision?
A: The vision began in the early 80s when I was teaching in Mexico City in a place called El Colegio de Mexico. That was where I realised that we as Africans had not done enough as scholars, writers, intellectuals, thinkers, and as a people who have a story to tell about our lives and our conditions, to project a positive image of ourselves in the world.
Not everything about Africa is negative; not everything in Africa is about colonialism or slavery; there is a lot of positive thinking in Africa, so publishing can play a role in expressing our positive side to the rest of the world. I felt from my experiences in Latin America that I could do this through publishing and that's how it started.
Q: What did you teach in Mexico?
A: I taught political economy. It was an enjoyable experience because in Mexico, I could see a reflection of Africa. As a developing economy, the Mexicans, through their revolution of the 1930s have been able to control their source of income, which is oil, and have been able to produce and use it for the good of the country. They built an incredible education system, one of the biggest universities in the Western hemisphere is Mexico's UNAM, which has over 450,000 students.
Cuba, like Mexico and other Latin American countries, have an African community that most people do not know about. Many of our very well known writers, thinkers and diplomats have worked in Mexico. For example, I discovered in UNAM that one of Ghana's former prime ministers, Kofi Abrefa Busia, had taught there. This was a surprise because I saw a statue of him in the hall of one of the departments of the university, and I said: "What is this black man doing here?", and they informed me that he had been a faculty member at UNAM. So there is a relationship between Africa and Mexico that we can learn from because Africa has a lot to learn from Mexico.
Q: You have two presses: the African World Press and the Red Sea Press. What is the difference between the two?
A: Both presses are in the US and Africa. When I started the African World Press, the goal was to publish books on Africa in all aspects. …