Pacesetter Novels: Remembering An African Literary Classic

An African Literary staple from the 1970s-1990s, the Pacesetter series of Novels made an indelible mark on African Literature, providing a lens through which the Citizens of newly Independent African States could express their aspirations, as well as examine the joys and contradictions of Post-Colonial urban life.

Comprising a collection of over 100 works of popular fiction written by African authors,  Pacesetters did not aspire to any great literary pretensions instead addressing the private dramas and traumas of ordinary urban Africans in their quest to climb the Post-Colonial Social Ladder.

As a result, the Novels spanned a wide array of visceral topics like betrayal, lust, corruption and ambition. In this way, Pacesetter Novels were a mirror of the new reality faced by Africans, what they hoped to achieve, and how it could be reconciled with the traditional past.

In addition, the cover designs of the Novels are now recognised as classics in contemporary African Pop Art.

In hindsight, Pacesetter Novels represented a unique golden era in African publishing. The books had a large audience across the entire African Continent, helping to introduce new Authors and exposing us to everyday life in other African countries.

Plus for some African writers, Pacesetters gave them their first opportunity in writing.

Sadly, in the 90s as African Governments imposed austerity measures in the form of Structural Adjustment Programmes, local currencies crashed and the books became less profitable to publish and distribute.

In time, less new titles were Published and an entire reading and writing culture soon vanished.

Ultimately, Pacesetters were an exercise in the exploration of Post-Colonial African identity. They portrayed independent Africans in various situations across the Continent as ambitious and highly aspirational.

Even the series title itself ‘Pacesetter’, spoke to the aspirational nature of the novels.

Meanwhile, the journey of Post-Colonial African literature continues as we continue to evolve and forge a ‘New Afrikan’ identity with the ideas of the modern era like Afropunk and Afrofuturism which have ushered in a new wave of African literature based on different motifs.

Perhaps this will result in a new wave of popular reading across the African Continent. 

For old times sake, here is my personal Top 5 List of Pacesetter Novels:

The Instrument – Victor Thorpe

Evbu My Love – Helen Ovbiagele

Felicia – Rosina Umelo

Christmas In The City – Afari Assan

Cross-Fire – Kalu Okpi

Enjoy the gallery of Classic Pacesetter Novel Covers and reminisce on the good old days!