Writings of the general word's body

Sunday, June 06, 2010

More on StoryAfrica

This, some days ago from MN, who's aware of the posts on this blog

We are truly sorry. It may seem like a giant request, but I do hope you can make a little place somewhere in your heart to forgive. We've just cancelled the book and I am trying to see if the publishers can do a recall on copies sold and get it delisted from Amazon as soon as possible. I've been in contact this morning with authors like ----- and ----- (who were included in the anthology) and some others who reprimanded me, but advised me on the proper way to go about things as these.They went ahead to grant permission to us to use their stories. I've however decided to cancel it and redo things properly, the next time, by MYSELF.

Another thing: I was not gloating when I wrote to you about our book sales going through the roof. I just wanted you to know that the project actually had prospects.
*****

This, from another StoryAfrica person

My name is Evans Macharia, a 3rd year Literature student at Daystar University, and I am part of the StoryAfrica team which published your story in 'Africa's Best Stories.'

Mfonobong just sent me the correspondences you've been having together, and I have checked out your blog. You might not be interested to know these details, but I'll tell you anyway:

When we started this StoryAfrica project at Daystar University, a team of ten of us selected some African stories which we felt had global potential. Our idea was to put together an anthology of the best African stories and sell to the world. Your story, 'the beaten track' was one of the stories we selected. We had collected 18 works- 3 of them were from Daystarians. When it came to the issue of permissions and copyrights, there was a student called [name withheld] who convinced us that she had contacts with many of the writers, and that she could get permissions from all the authors involved- and even sign contracts with them on behalf of StoryAfrica.

That was in December 2009. We paid her Ksh.100,000 for her efforts, and in about seven weeks, around the last week of February, she produced 15 professionally signed contracts from authors whose works we intended to publish, including 'yourself', which stated that you all had given us permission to use your works. Now we know that the contracts were a scam. But we wouldn't have known back then since the contracts and signatures looked so professional. She did her scam well. She told us she had sent emails and faxes to you all and had made phone calls, e.t.c. to get across to you, the authors. Bottom line, she fooled us into believing you all had signed contracts and permission agreements. And so we proceeded to publish. As soon as this scandal came to light, she absconded.

We were all fooled, including Mfonobong.

But a few things I want you to know:

We were not scammers. More importantly, Mfonobong, (who by the way was one of the stellar students in this school) is not in any way the person you have portrayed him to be. I have read the way you have attempted to destroy his image on your blog, and believe me, it is not fair. If you ever get to meet him personally, you will know that he is not the sort of person you have portrayed him to be. When it was discovered that this was a fraud, he took the pains to contact all the writers to apologize. He has stopped production of the book, and has been working hard to get
Amazon.com to delist the book and to get Createspace to recall the books.

If you know him personally, you'll know for a fact that he does not deserve this. In the end, we were all victims of a scammer. I just hope you'll see through this and forgive-just like all the other writers he has contacted have done.

I also hope you'll remove the blogposts about him on your blog. They are destroying the character of a good person. And that is the truth. If you have any questions you can contact me if you are so pissed to ask him.
***

Chika Unigwe's post on Amazon's StoryAfrica page

I was alerted to this book by a writer-friend whose story appears in it too. We were not informed of this anthology (before it was published), and we certainly did not give our permission for our stories to be in it. I have since spoken to some of the other writers whose works appear (or are purpoted to appear in the anthology) and they, like us, were not approached for permission for their works to be so used. The publisher has shown disdain for our profession by simply stealing our stories and publishing them. Further, (s)he ridiculously claims to have Oprah's seal of approval. I urge you not to buy this book by a shameless literary scammer and I urge Amazon to pull it from their cyber shelves

Chika Unigwe
***

My observations

I want to make it clear that I have a lot more by way of correspondence from StoryAfrica than I've actually made public on this blog. My decision to go public with Mfonobong Nsehe's correspondence was informed by the knowledge that a major expose had been done on him and StoryAfrica on Book.co.za. It was already a matter of legitimate public literary interest. What was I to do therefore, keep quiet and allow him to flog the story as given on Book.co.za that all but one of the writers gave permission? Would I have served the cause of writers and writing by keeping quiet in the face of so much double-speak and lies? Would that pressure him to withdraw the book? MN's mails claimed that at least 2 of the writers whose works were used without their knowledge (one of whom is a friend of mine) have been more forgiving. I say that is a matter for them. I am allowed to react to the quite unbelievable violation as comes naturally to me. I take solace in knowing that Chika Unigwe has gone so far as to post an alert on Amazon. At least I am not alone in feeling this book should be taken out, and urgently too. Even now we are not sure that has happened. Mfonobong has claimed in one mail that "for some reason, Amazon.com is not responding."

I want to stress that I deal with many issues of copyright infringement privately. Just last week I discovered that this same story of mine, 'The Beaten Track' had been published in the maiden edition of an online journal championing female writers of colour, complete with my picture and outdated bio as copied straight off another site (to which I submitted the story years back). I wrote to the editor asking them to remove my story as they had no permission to use it. The editor wrote back giving some excuse and apologising but confirming the story had been removed as per my request. No need to escalate the matter therefore.

StoryAfrica is however the most flagrant violation I've been subject to thus far, and in the permanent medium of a 'fast selling' book for that matter. By someone who some days ago at least was quite prepared to wangle a way through the muddle in order to keep the book in circulation. There have been too many untruths concerning this publication. There's the claim that scholars at Harvard selected the stories, then that Oprah endorsed it (which would have been a bit boring on her part, so soon after Uwem Akpan) etcetera etcetera. Now I'm to understand 'signed' contracts were also involved, including one purportedly by me. Where is the truth and where do the lies end? As it happens, the real exposure on StoryAfrica happened on Book.co.za, I merely buttressed their point. In this, I believe I was justified.

About The Beaten Track
This was the second short story penned by me and it was originally published in Farafina Magazine I think in 2006. Then I submitted it to Africanwriters.com. The story made a bit of a ripple in November 2009 when it was the subject of a N500,000 question on 'Who Wants To Be a Millionaire' (Nigerian TV). I wrote 'The Beaten Track' in a psychological space I cannot access again, and for that reason it is unique in my work. I love the story, but it is far from my best. All the more surprising that some Harvard scholars, real or imaginary, should select it as one of Africa's best stories.

29 comments:

Afiya said...

Wordsbody,

I see that you have been sufficiently provoked to unleash more private communications from your Pandora box.

This thing you have done here generates a crisis of confidence and puts a question mark on the character and personality behind it. It is not the type of thing one expects to read on a reputable blog. While your outrage at the action of Mfonobong and his cohorts is understandable, and their misdeeds inexcusable, by publishing their letters you lose the moral platitude to complain about their antics - because you are playing dirty and rolling in the mud with them.

I fail to see the sense and reasoning of making such a public opprobrium of the matter. I repeat, for whatever reason, for whatever purpose it is meant to serve, it is highly unprofessional to publish private correspondence on a public space and to use it as a weapon of intimidation and ridicule. It leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

Perhaps you have been blogging for five long years, and according to you, in those long years you have resisted the temptation of publishing peoples’ private correspondence. Nevertheless, this act of indiscretion on your part shows that line of argument can only go so far. We can all see where it ended.

Wordsbody said...

Thank you. I do know that a campaign has been started on the Daystar Intranet Network asking everyone to come and defend Mfonobong on this blog for the 'wrong' done to him. I am interested in the wrong done to the writers, and how this book can be stopped.

Teri Adiambo said...

Molara Wood, I'll advise you. Since Udo has apologised to you and cancelled the book and recalled it all, just let it go. Take down all this terrible things you've written about him because a mail was just sent to all Daystarians. It's about to get really serious. I know we get angry easily and do darn things.

Anonymous said...

Now you guys are making threats? You Daystar people are just a bunch of shitty characters, and it's sad that you don't even have the commonsense to hide your shittiness from the rest of the world.

Free Pen said...

@Afiya, is there such a thing as private communications with proven scammers? Just wondering.

Wordsbody said...

Anonymous,
I'm worried about your use of the word 'shitty' as there's no telling how Daystarians might react!

It's not just threats. I've come under sustained attacks in the last 24 hours. It's unbelievable, more than I could recount. It's like dealing with gangsters. Only, these are university students. Lord help us.

Curio said...

Dear Daystar students,

I understand that you believe that you're supporting a friend.

I also understand the story that Mfonobong Nsehe was the victim of a scam himself, and that another student claimed to have organised the rights for the stories.

Nevertheless,

Mfonobong Nsehe DID comit fraud in claiming that Oprah endorsed the book. He has admitted this.

So leaping to his defense by attacking Molara is like trying to put out a fire by pouring gasoline onto it.

Lauri said...

I am shocked by the attack that is underway against Molara. As an African writer, I thank Molara for standing up to people who want to steal our stories for their own personal gain.

She has every right to publish all of the coorespondence on this blog and anywhere else. If the man in question is so concerned about his reputation, he might have thought otherwise when trying to make money from an act of theft. Even if it is the case (which I doubt) that he was scammed by one of his associates he had the obligation to ensure that things were done correctly. Furthermore, even after the wrong was discovered he did not stop the book, instead he wanted Molara to agree that her story be used. This indicates that he considered his actions of little consequence.

For writers the theft of our words is the ultimate crime against us. Molara is acting from a position of conscience and I wish all African writers will stand behind her.

Lauren Beukes said...

Molara,

I'm so sorry that you're being targeted by an ill thought-out campaign that at it's worst is low, misogynistic and ad-hominem (ref: Evans Macharia's slights, calling you "dumb" and "ugly") and even at its well-meaning best (from those rallying to support a friend) only wreaks further damage on Mfonobong and StoryAfrica's reputation.

This co-ordinated personal attack on you puts both Mfonobong and Daystar in a bad light.

Daystar students, please reconsider

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Hi Molara

Just a message of support here. Im sorry it is happening, and congratulations on being brave enough to expose this for what it is. In any other scenario, this sort of thing is thrashed out in a court of law and they ought to be grateful that you arent doing that. Yet.

It is very clear indeed what has happened, and there are a lot of lessons to be learned by those who are flailing about, trying to justify the unjustifiable.

1) However great a project seems, do not take a writer's work without their permission. It is called theft.

2) When a colleague, untried, unprofessional, says 'Its OK, I have everyone's permission'... check the truth of that yourself. Not checking it is called bad management.

3) If you've done something amiss, whether knowingly or not - be graceful in acknowledging it and apologising - and don't make matters worse by allowing/encouraging laughable public taunts by colleagues.

4) If you do not adhere to the above... put down your pen, fast. Forget any aspirations you had for fame and fortune of any kind in the writing world - it is a village, and memories are long.

mairefisher said...

Molara, It can't be easy having to deal with intimidating posts like the ones you have been subject to. (And they are badly composed too - as a writer and editor I am not sure which is more offensive!)Thank you for standing up for the rights of writers! It sounds to me like the 'publishers' of StoryAfrica would do well to follow Vanessa Gebbie's very sane advice.

PS One bonus though is that through reading of this on BookSA I have been arrived at your blog! I look forward to reading here often.

mairefisher said...

This is appalling. Especially when one considers how hard various people I know of have worked to put together excellent anthologies. Terrible too to have a process whereby established and aspiring writers are highlighted sullied in this way. Good to get the news about it out too - it seems from comments that some writers were not even aware that their work had been used. Brava Molara for speaking out strongly.

PS One bonus is that having read about this on BookSA I found my way to your blog! I look forward to reading here often.

The Pen And I said...

In response to the third year student who wrote you that letter Molara; sadly, most of history's villains were charming, likable characters; that is why they were able to influence the masses and rally their causes. And a point to make, why this 'I'm the victim story' is hard to believe; Nsehe himself admitted on the BookSA site to having knowingly participated in the false claims of having been selected by Oprah's book club. And did he also not know about the claims of having Harvard and co professors select the stories? (which we now discover was done by these students themselves)So what are the chances that he didn't know about the theft of intellectual property? I mean really, how do we distil his lies from his truth? Where do his devious deeds stop and his integrity start? Him and his co students? And why is he protecting this nameless villain who lied to them all about the copyrights? If I were a serious and ambitious lover of literature, out to do honourable things, and my name was now in the hot seat because of somebody in my team who 'scammed' me and lied to me and basically shamed me, I would have no qualms about bringing that person to justice; I would not dilly dally behind a nameless face. Nameless faces are for scapegoats who do not exist. If these literature students of Daystar University really are interested in a future in literature and in helping it thrive, then they need to learn the ethics of the trade, and respect it, fair and simple. They are amateurs messing with the work of established writers who we look up to; where is the ethic and the honour in that? They do themselves more disgrace by half apologies that come with flimsy defenses. It's either you are sorry or not. Love the trade enough to respect its artists please.

Wordsbody said...

Thank you, Marie, Vanessa, Chika, Chuma and others. Much appreciated.

Novuyo,
The 3rd year Daystar student who wrote me that letter, a certain Evans Macharia, is the same one who's now gone and set up a hate blog to supposedly bring me down.
They will bring themselves down.

Wordsbody said...

Lauri,

Rather than these guys truly recognise the gravity of the violation, they compound the problem by then mounting a hate campaign against me on the web. It's also hard to know which of the names involved are real or fake.

Another thing: yesterday, so much hate-mail flew in (the virulent abuse in them meant they had to be deleted) from supposedly Kenyan names, yet there was little or no traffic onto this blog from Kenya. I am taking note of the trends. The truth will out.

Jude Dibia said...

I have been away and have not bothered with the internet for a while now. I too have been made aware of this scam. I first thought the publishers solicited my work from my agent... but I learnt almost too late that it was not so.

This is theft and nothing justifies it.

I am ANGRY. ANGRY. ANGRY as well!
MW, you are doing the right thing.

Best,
JD

Anonymous said...

It is possible that these guys are using proxies. We used to use proxies at school. It is a web shield that hides where a person is really surfing from.

Emmanuel Sigauke said...

Now this Nsehe guy just contacted me to remove my Newsvine feed: http://mafuva.newsvine.com/_news/2010/06/07/4474764-new-developments-in-the-mfonobong-nsehe-literary-scam

I don't see that happening. Theft is theft; and what happened to integrity?

Eghosa Imasuen said...

http://www.daystar.ac.ke/modules/contactus/ This is the "contact us" page of the University these thieves claim they attend. People who care, inundate the website with complaints about the conduct of her students. Since these chaps appear to be working under the assumption that, "Who shame na'im dey lose fight," show them that at least their teachers know right from wrong. (I leave if for other Nigerians to interpret that little Nigerianism I just quoted for Molara's non-Nigerian readers.

Elle said...

Another message of support for you. Good on you, as we say in Australia. Copyright theft must stop.

uknaija said...

This is shocking, particularly the threat from a so-called Daystar student. I think you should report this to the university authorities...assuming of course that the university exists and these "people" are actually students there.

Thanks for publicizing this

Wordsbody said...

For those wondering if there's more to this than what's on Wordsbody, this link may fill the gap:

http://book.co.za/bookchat/topic/media-watch-molara-wood-under-shameful-attack-from-africas-best-stories-supporters

In it you will have a sense of the extent of the threats and harrassment sent by Daystar 'students' in my direction in the last 48 hours.

A blog site was specially created to hurl hateful, misogynistic abuse at this 42-year-old mother of 2.

I am glad some sanity has returned. Mfonobong Nsehe has prevailed on his 'supporters' to delete the hate blog. He also informs that the contentious book has been deleted (I hope it is so).

I have taken a lot of strength from the solid support of writers across the continent; and I must say I feel closer to the South African literary community now than ever before.

As a dear writer friend wrote me last night, what is important is the writing. So I must get back to it.

And we may now attempt to move on.

Thanks, all.

MW

Mariska said...

I am glad this saga is coming to an end It "happened" so people will realize that copyright infringement is a no no. No one would like their hard earned works pilfered or plagiarized. Molara thanks for sticking to the truth and exposing what happened. A Creator has the right to defend his/her work.

Free Pen said...

It appears the Molara hate blog is back up. It was clearly never deleted, just hidden. All the old posts are there, plus a new one.

Wordsbody said...

Free Pen,

I'm aware.

Betaf said...

This is ridiculous! Daystar university should be bombarded with complaints about these vipers disguised as students. See URL to thier complaints page

http://www.daystar.ac.ke/modules/contactus/

LucidLilith said...

I am the author of two of the stories in the book. My alias is Rosie R. I cannot tell you how violated I am that I just found out about this. I am in the process of talking to a lawyer to find out what my action will be. I am not a writer by trade but I do write short stories from time to time. I have already made a post about this issue on my blog and wanted to let you know how much I appreciate all you have done on behalf of other authors to call this man out.

Alldaythoughts said...

Viva Molara!!!!!!!

pam braide said...

unbelievable. Im so proud you stand up to them.