The first time I picked up a PACESETTER Novel, I was hooked and thus began a torrid affair with the whole series of books until like Pokemon I read almost all of them…Pacesstters were a series of 130 novels by African authors (mostly Nigerian, but there were also Ghanian, Kenyan and South African writers) published mainly between 1979 and 1988 by Macmillan. They had rather garish but captivatingly colourful cover art.
I can’t remember which title I read first between Director! by Agbo Areo or The Equatorial Assignment by David G. Maillu or Mark Of The Cobra by Valentine Alily but they read like fast-paced blockbuster movies. What made them memorable and loveable was how they were set in areas that I could relate to and the characters were everyday people, well except when they were like dashing Captain Jack Ebony aka Jack Abani or the illusive Ca’fra Osiri Ba’ra aka Cobra in Mark Of The Cobra
I found the novels doubly fascinating because I was a precocious reader, before landing on Pacesetters I had already read works by Sydney Sheldon and John Grisham; while I loved their thrillers and tales of espionage, I wouldn’t say they were relatable. What the heck was a Pelican and why did it wear briefs, who named their gun Wilhelmina and then trying to imagine the Louvre and its trademark pyramid. The places described in these books to young me might as well as have been on Middle Earth, Narnia or even Arrakis.
Reading Pacesetters was like the scales falling from eyes. That a book could be set in the African continent and have all the hallmarks of the international best sellers pre-teen me had been wolfing down after finishing up books by Enid Blyton, Franklin W. Dixon and R.L. Stine. I realised how in my head unless fully described, by default, I imagined all book characters as Caucasian, usually blonde with blue eyes, (I didn’t even know what blonde coloured hair was supposed to look – don’t even ask me how I imagined it)
While Pacessetters were never like main stream or made into school curriculum such as literature by renowned authors such as Charles Mungoshi, Chinua Achebe, and Ngugi Wa Thiongo, they opened a whole new world to reading for enjoyment without having to be deep and heavy think pieces on colonisation, imperialism and the socio-political landscape of the continent.
I did not fully appreciate it at the time I was reading Pacessetters but as I grew older I have come to value how much representation matters, to be able to dream and to imagine characters who are just like me doing extra-ordinary things.
Week 2 Stories of Africa WinterABC