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Nigerian Writer, Mohammed Umar Hits 50-Language Milestone

By Prisca Sam-Duru

This is a most interesting time for Nigeria born writer, Mohammed Umar who is celebrating in London, following the translation of his books into 50 languages.

Born in Azare, Bauchi State of Nigeria, Mohammed Umar graduated from the Faculty of Journalism, Moscow State University in 1991. Umar studied political science at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Nigeria, before he went to Moscow in 1985. After Moscow, he went on to study political economy and international relations at various institutions in London, United Kingdom.

It was during his stay in Moscow that he wrote his first novel Amina, which was published by Africa World Press, in New Jersey, United States of America in 2005. Amina, a novel about the conditions of women in Muslim societies has been translated and published in 33 languages.

Reacting to the feat, Umar who has written and published seven books, said
“When copies of the Kinyarwanda editions of my children’s books were delivered from Kigali recently, I counted the books and realised that it was the 50th language on the shelf. It was such a surreal moment, a real milestone and I was of course very thrilled and happy.

I feel so honoured and privileged to have been translated into so many languages in different parts of the world. It has been a huge experience.

Umar who in 1996, was appointed the Foreign Rights Manager at ZED Books in London, explained how the appointment helped in acquiring knowledge about publishing.

“This helped me a lot in understanding the publishing world and how it works and that was how I met and became friends with Kassahun Checole, the publisher of Africa World Press. Once Amina was published in English, it was a lot easier for me to present it to publishers in other languages. Amina has been well received all over the world.

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Umar, who is founder of Salaam Publishing House has his books published in languages such as; Acholi, Afrikaans, Arabic, Azeri, Bahasa, English, Farsi, Finnish, French, Fulfulde, Greek, Hausa, Hindi, Igbo, Yoruba, Zulu, Japanese, Kannada, Kanuri, etc.

While languages in which books are in production include; Albanian, Amharic, Bengoli, Burmese, Chichewa, Kashmiri, Montenegrin, Oromo, Sepedi, Setswana, Siswati, Thai, Thivenda, Tigrinya, Tumbuka, Uzbek, Xitsonga and Yao.

Mohammed Umar
Mohammed Umar

Describing the road to success as very tough one, Umar explained that, “Getting Amina out in other languages went hand in hand with writing children’s stories and bearing in mind the challenges I faced getting a publisher for my novel, I decided the best way forward was to set up my own publishing house, which I did in 2010. Through Salaam Publishing, I have published The Adventures of Jamil, a story for young adults. The Hunter Becomes the Hunted, a story for six-nine year olds. Samad in the Forestand Samad in the Desert– illustrated children stories for two-six years old. The Enemies Inside– an illustrated spiritual/philosophical story book for children. I have also published some bilingual editions of the children’s stories.”

The writer was a judge for the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2009 and has recently published a semi-autobiographical novel titled The Illegal Immigrant, a novel that has received very positive reviews.

“I faced the usual problems and challenges of being rejected by publishers but I keep trying. As Ghanaians say, ‘It is by going and coming that the bird builds its nest’. By getting one language at a time, here I am with 50 languages. I must say that I was lucky in some cases, but in the end you make your own luck.”

Explainning the reasons his books found its way into so many parts of the world, from Finland to Sri Lanka, from the United States to Japan and have been able to pass through the censors in Saudi Arabia and Iran, Mohammed Umar said, “I think it’s the message. The truth is I don’t know. I am simply enjoying every minute of it. The dream of every writer is to be read and I’m so happy I’m being read. I am living the dream, as they say!.


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