BOOKS | Minnesota publisher works to deflect "mis-education"

Anyone can talk community empowerment; Papyrus Publishing walks the walk. The Twin Cities-based small press, Black owned and operated, has as its mission to keep African American literature in front of readers.

At the helm is Anura Si-Asar, an unassuming 30-something brother with crystal-clear focus. In the mid-1990s he and a handful of other professionals took a stand against what he calls “the impact of being mis-educated in this country via the public schools, the media and some of our own institutions.”

The vehicle: Papyrus Publishing, Inc. Its catalog lists impressive offerings. Magnificent Dreams: An Autobiography of Colonel John E. Hazelwood is a memoir that serves as the family torch passing from generation to generation. Hazelwood speaks of his heritage beginning with his great grandmother leaving a southern plantation for a better life in Ohio. John reminisces about his childhood, college education and the years it took to go from ROTC to becoming a highly decorated, full-bird colonel in the U.S. Army.

Shegitu Kiflom’s My African Heritage tells the story of a six year-old Ethiopian-Eritrean girl living in the U.S.

Another product from Papyrus Publishing is the Metu Neteru Card Set. It’s deck of 40 cards marketed by Papyrus, copyrighted by the International Khepran Institute to help introduce students studying the language of Kemet (Ancient Egypt) to the philosophy of life encoded by the hieroglyphics.

The company’s newest titles are Arthur McWatt’s Crusaders for Justice (published in partnership with the St. Paul NAACP) and Mahmoud El-Kati’s The Hiptionary: A Survey of African American Speech Patterns, a crisp study of Black language in America.

Si-Asar takes a refreshing approach. Instead of authors dictating to Papyrus Publishing how the end product will look from editing to book cover, he says, “Essentially it is a collaboration between writer and publisher.”

El-Kati appreciates the relationship of mutual respect. “It feels good. It’s progressive, democractic, empowering,” he says.

Mahmoud El-Kati has taken a nod from Gwendolyn Brooks. Just as Brooks rejected major publishers to work with Third World Press in Chicago, El-Kati recently ducked a big-time house’s offer in order to stay with Papyrus Publishing.

This seamlessly dovetails with Si-Asar's guiding principle for the enterprise. It’s about putting the community first. “For thousands of years,” he reflects, “Africans along the Nile River used the papyrus plant to make the world’s first paper, on which all sacred documents were written upon. The papyrus stood as a symbol of prosperity.

“We have thoughtfully selected the name Papyrus Publishing because we understand that our commitment to the community is to reemerge and reconnect knowledge back to them.”

He adds, “Papyrus is a community publishing entity that emerged out of the community’s need to document and inscribe our experiences upon the hearts of our future generations to come, as our ancestors have inscribed us with theirs on papyrus and on the walls of hundreds of miraculous buildings of ancient Egypt and Sudan.”

To be sure, Si-Asar has a great deal more than good intentions going for Papyrus Publishing. Look at his credentials: He has been on the board of BEST Academy the past two years, worked with Harvest Preparatory School from 1991 to 1997 and taught in the Minneapolis Public Schools’ Project Kofi.

Accordingly, his program to counter propaganda has an experienced backbone. Further, Si-Asar has involved himself in the development of African children since 1988 at African American Academy for Accelerated Learning (AAAL) in Minneapolis (1988, 1989) and started the college youth development program Kijana through Inner City Youth League in St. Paul (1988-1990).

He has studied and worked with the likes of El-Kati, Katie McWatt, Nathaniel A. Khaliq, Rose McGee, Mary K. Boyd and Kwame McDonald. Through the University of Minnesota, he has degrees in African/African American studies (B.A.) and Special Education/Educational Psychology (M.Ed.), and he has studied with professors John Wright, Rose Brewer, Frank Wilderson and Josie Johnson.

Si-Asar has attended the International Khepran Institute and studied community and civilization building within African communities. Currently, he coordinates Imhotep Science Academy and the Imhotep Science Fair programs of the Powderhorn Phillips Cultural Wellness Center.

Suffice to say, Anura Si-Asar is serious about community empowerment and adept at applying himself to that dedication.

Papyrus Publishing Inc. is at 7409 Edgewood Avenue North, Brooklyn Park, MN, 55428. Contact them at 763-560-0760 or PapyrusPublishing [at] msn [dot] com.
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to dhobbes [at] spokesman-recorder [dot] com.

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Dwight Hobbes's picture
Dwight Hobbes

Dwight Hobbes (dwight [at] tcdailyplanet [dot] net) is a writer based in the Twin Cities. He contributes regularly to the TC Daily Planet.