I was approached by Harpercollins publishers to bind a special edition of books to be presented to one of their authors as a gift. The author was none other than Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie who's work I knew quite well. She had contributed to several early issues of Granta magazine for whom I worked for many years. Adichie, a Nigerian novelist, has been described as "the most prominent" of a "procession of critically acclaimed young anglophone authors who is succeeding in attracting a new generation of readers to African literature". Her novels 'Purple Hibiscus', Half of a Yellow Sun, 'The Thing Around Your Neck' and 'Americanah are all published by 4th Estate, a publisher esteemed for producing critically-acclaimed and beautifully-designed titles. Her essay (also published by 4th Estate) based on her Ted speech 'We Should All Be Feminists' SHOULD be on everyones bookshelf.
The brief was to bind the books in bright colours typically seen in African fabric design. I thought this would be a fun change, as I am often drawn to muted tones. After the meeting I read up more about Adichie and learned that she often wore clothes by Nigerian designers. This prompted the idea that the endpapers could be patterned in bold Ankara influenced designs. The idea was warmly welcomed but I soon realised the challenge I had set myself. Initially it was hard to break out of my comfort of being drawn to quiet, gentle patterns. All the early drawings I did were too fine and I realised I had to go larger and bolder. I'd also decided it should be a different design for each book, this meant six linos to cut which cost me time. I researched hundreds of African fabrics and after many drawings I was finally happy with six patterns I designed which could be repeated.
Once the linos had been cut, I visited the London Centre For Book Arts, which is the excellent artist run, open access studio for printing and book arts. I printed all the papers on letterpress at the centre, aided by the friendly team who supported me to get the prints just how I wanted them.
Once the endpapers were completed I was ready to bind. I had some wonderful bright African inspired colours chosen in book cloth. The head bands were hand-made using the papers I had printed. The initial books were original 4th Estate editions which were stripped, rounded and re-backed. The new endpapers were attached, new cases made and slip boxes to match with leather tipped finger holds. The overall effect was a joyful splash of colour and print.
A huge thanks to 4th Estate for considering me for the commission, it's a wonderful thought and privilege that these books will be gracing Adichie's bookshelf. I'd also like to thank Simon and Ira at LCBA for their patience and guidance while printing. I look forward to the next project!