If you lived in Nigeria in the 80s, then you probably remember Pacesetter novels.
These were a series by Macmillan (I think) which featured contemporary writers from across Africa. Unlike the Heinemann African Writers Series, they did not aspire to any great literary pretensions and were unabashedly popular in their slant.
I remember my first was The Undesirable Element in which a young virtuous Hausa woman (Bintu or Binta...can't remember now) went to work in a big city (Kano , perhaps) and fell into the evil clutches of a lascivious Alhaji, which I think she eventually escaped. I also remember The Mark of the Cobra by Valentine Alily which featured a sort of Nigerian James Bond dashing around in submarines and all that kind of stuff and The Smugglers by Kalu Okpi which was a sort of thriller featuring the Nigerian Police. And then you had Helen Ovbiagele's Evbu My Love and You Never Know which I suppose could pass for a sort of Nigerian 80s chick-lit with its young professional working women battling to keep their romances alive.....Anfd there were others from across the continent...Christmas in the City from Ghana, For Mbatha and Rabeka from Eastern Africa and so on.
Even the cover designs were classics in contemporary African pop art, colourful and amateurish, a stone throw away from the barber shop and hairdressing salon boards which I have seen decorating some English homes here in London. (somewhere in Africa, a barber shop is missing it's sign board....)
The good thing about them was that they were churned out on a regular basis (I remember the thrill of walking through the booksellers section in the market and finding a Pacesetter that I hadn't read) and they were cheap...when I went away to boarding school, my grandfather gave me the princely sum of ten naira which bought me the two latest Pacesetters.
And yet looking back now that was the golden age of African publishing and popular reading.......everyone read them- from semi literate traders in the markets to snooty secretaries in posh Lagos offices to spotty secondary school students and semi sophisticated undergraduates- and they constantly introduced new writing from across the continent, exposing us to everyday life in other African countries. Plus for some writers it gave them the first opportunity to thinking seriously about writing......
Sadly, in the 90s as structural adjustment programmes swept across the continent and the value of local currencies crashed, these books disappeared and with them, an entire reading and writing culture.
The attempt to keep a popular culture of reading struggles on though in such areas as the Hausa street literature of Kano in Nigeria, the valiant efforts of Caine Prize winner Binyavanga Wainana's Kwani? in Kenya http://www.kwani.org/ , Farafina Books in Nigeria http://farafina.dbweb.ee and now the New Gong Press publishing from Lagos www.newgong.com
But the good news for the nostalgic is that Pacesetter novels are back. I stumbled across a website with a link to them https://sslrelay.com/www.pacesetternovels.com and you can sneak a peek at the catalogue and relive those feelings of the 80s as you admire the covers which may look slightly garish now.....
It's not clear who's behind them- presumably Macmillan's sold the backlist- but at 5 pounds, and sold over the internet, they probably will not spark off any major African reading renaissance...... but then I suppose the target market is nostalgic old gits like me who now live abroad and have regular access to the internet, and credit cards to boot......