On August 1, New York-based boutique publishing house The Mantle published its first work of fiction from outside the continent of Africa, the novel Sweden by New Zealander Matthew Turner. “The book is historical fiction about the little known true story of American soldiers who, while stationed in Japan during the Vietnam War, went AWOL and were assisted by anti-war protestors in Japan to flee to Sweden,” said Shaun Randol, publisher of The Mantle. “It’s more commercial than the books we have published from Africa.”
Randol established The Mantle in 2009 as a platform for his fellow students at The New School, where he was earning a degree in international affairs, to write about culture and politics. The company moved into book publishing in 2014, starting with an anthology of 10 writers from Africa. Gambit: New African Writing featured the works of several notable writers from the continent, including that of Nigerian Ayobami Adebayo, whose novel Stay With Me was published by Knopf last year.
“We funded the anthology on [crowdfunding site] Indiegogo, raising $4,500,” said Randol, “and printed the first copies of the book on the Espresso Book Machine at McNally Jackson [bookstore in Manhattan].” Three more books from Africa followed — the drama collection We Are All Blue by Donald Molosi from Botswana, the novel The Sound of Things to Come by Nigerian author Emmanuel Iduma, and Forbidden Fruit by Stanley Gazemba, winner of the Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature. as did a philosophical polemic about religion and the essay collection When We Let People Die by Corrie Hulse, who serves at the managing director of The Mantle.
In total, The Mantle has published five books to date and is now distributed by SPD.
Though The Mantle largely remains a self-funded enterprise and Randol continues to work a day job in communications at Bloomberg News, he said he’s looking for ways to publish more regularly. “But for now I’m satisfied with being able to publish, however infrequently, books that I believe in,” he said, adding, “Working with writers as far away as Africa or New Zealand, is not easy, but it is rewarding and necessary, as we don’t know as much about those parts of the world as we may think.”