Kenechi Uzor, the Nigerian-born founder and CEO of Iskanchi Press and its sister publication, Iskanchi Magazine, has a global outlook and ambitions. Uzor established the indie publisher and online journal to increase the representation of African voices in contemporary publishing, and in coming years, he plans to expand his Canadian market and establish an Iskanchi branch in the U.K. And Uzor’s aspirations are getting noticed by the book business; in 2023, he was among the 20 finalists in the Independent Book Publishers Association’s Innovative Voices Program.

Based in Salt Lake City, Iskanchi Press publishes five to 10 English-language originals and works in translation by African authors annually, distributed by Independent Publishers Group. Its name comes from the Hausa word iskanci, translated as "mischief, irreverence, and non-conformity," according to press materials. In addition to Uzor, Iskanchi’s staffers include editor Roseline Mgbodichinma, assistant editor Titilayo Adaba, and graphic designer Femi Gbadeyan, all working from Nigeria; web designer Mahir Ahmed, in Turkey; and publishing assistant Emily Evans, in California. From November 2023 through this January, Uzor raised the press’s profile with a call for submissions for the inaugural Iskanchi Book Prize, with the winner to receive $1,500 and publication.

Uzor came to the U.S. from Lagos, where he’d been the general manager of Farina Trust, the nonprofit arm of Kachifo Limited, and an enterprise editor working with prospective authors on projects for Kachifo and Farafina Books. “I had to leave all of that to move to America in 2016,” he said, to join his partner—now his wife—in Utah. While completing an M.F.A. in creative writing at the University of Utah, Uzor observed that the assigned stories and books in his program were all by Western, non-African writers. “If an African writer wants to be experimental, where and on what kind of platforms would they publish?” he wondered.

To “promote the African perspective” and “capture the authentic stories with all of the nuances that make us African,” he launched Iskanchi Magazine in fall 2020, and now releases two issues annually, paying writers $50 for accepted submissions and hosting an annual competition with cash prizes. He previously served as a deputy editor for Isele Magazine, another African-focused blog and bimonthly e-zine; in 2022, Iskanchi published the Best of Isele Anthology.

Uzor founded Iskanchi Press concurrently with the online magazine, but he needed more information to feel confident about the startup. “I understood the African or Nigerian market, but I wanted to get a sense of the American market,” he said. His questions led him to the Denver Publishing Institute, which awarded him a DPI Community Scholarship, a full-tuition scholarship meant to support BIPOC applicants. DPI “gave me a bird’s eye view” of the trade, Uzor said, “and it led me to organizations like PubWest,” which in turn connected him to his distributor, IPG. He’s now a PubWest board member, and he is enrolled in the University of Utah’s master in business creation program, a small-business incubator.

Assembling a Pan-African List

Iskanchi Press intends “to champion African perspectives,” Uzor said, yet there are 54 countries on the continent—it’s a vast field. He has a strong network in Nigeria and many Nigerian authors on his list already. (In 2022, for instance, PW gave a starred review to Sylva Nze Ifedigbo’s novel Believers and Hustlers.) But he seeks work from countries less commonly represented: “I want to get writers from Chad, from Mauritania,” he explained.

Past publications include Angolan author João Melo’s short story collection, Angola Is Wherever I Plant My Field, translated by Luísa Venturini, and Mauritanian novelist Moussa Ould Ebno’s speculative Barzakh: The Land In-Between, translated from the French by Marybeth Timmermann. An edition of Ebno’s The New Eve, previously published in French, Arabic, and English, is forthcoming.

Uzor hopes to continue to cover a wider range of African voices and perspectives, amplifying, for instance, women’s experiences—Iskanchi will publish a new edition of Nigerian novelist Ifeoma Chinwuba’s 2007 novel Waiting for Maria, about women inmates in Nigeria’s justice system—and cultivating a broad nonfiction list. “What is the business world like in Africa?” he asked. “Or what is climate change’s impact in Africa, as written by Africans? How are Africans thinking about gender, when Ghana just made a law to ban LGBTQ identity in the country—what do Africans think about that?”

Clearly, Uzor doesn’t mind casting a wide net—in part because he knows he’s honed in on an underserved space in the U.S. market. “I don't have too many competitors or anything like that, so I’m keeping it open,” he said. “That also makes it easy for us to acquire as much content as possible. Once other people start seeing what we’re doing,” there will be plenty of room for regional approaches, he said.

Utah may seem an unlikely location for such a pan-African publisher, and Uzor admits he hears that comment a lot. “I'm Nigerian, right?” he said, laughing. “We don’t have this idea of ‘flyover states.’ As far as we’re concerned, we’re going to America.” He feels pleased about where he landed: “Utah's been a blessing. My two kids were born in Utah—they’re Utahans now—and [Iskanchi] launched our first five titles in conjunction with the King's English Bookstore,” the Salt Lake City shop owned by Calvin Crosby.

Uzor also prints Iskanchi titles locally, at Hudson Printing. “At Hudson, I can go to the office and check out the proofs” in person, he said. When he has questions about paper or wants to see samples, he can stop by. “It might be more expensive for us, but I also believe in giving back to the community—I’m interested in partnering with local businesses.”

In return, Uzor said, “We have a lot of support—people are interested in what we’re doing, and they’re rooting for us.”

This article has been updated.