Arabella Pike of William Collins has acquired from Isobel Dixon at Blake Friedmann the UK and Commonwealth rights in a radical, original and breath-taking new book about William Shakespeare – to be published for the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in April 2016. Farrar Straus & Giroux will publish in the USA.

Shakespeare in Swahililand is the first book by Edward Wilson-Lee, a Fellow in English at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. In a narrative that is part travelogue, part memoir, a satire, an ode to Shakespeare and a potted history of East Africa, Wilson-Lee aims to find the holy grail of literary studies – an answer to how and why Shakespeare is acclaimed as a global poet and why his writings should be so universally adored. 

Shakespeare in Swahililand takes Wilson-Lee back to the lands of his childhood (he grew up in Kenya) to dig through mouldering archives to recover the unknown story of the part played by Shakespeare’s works in the region’s history. His story is a literary adventure that throws high culture and the wild together in celebration of Shakespeare’s legacy as a poet of the world.

Wilson-Lee says: ‘Shakespeare in Swahililand began when I discovered that one of the first books printed in Swahili, on the island of Zanzibar in 1867, was a translation of Charles and Mary Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare. Starting from there, I uncovered an extraordinary sequence of stories in which explorers, railway labourers, decadent émigrés, freedom fighters, and pioneering African leaders made Shakespeare their own in this alien land.’ 

Edward Wilson-Lee was raised in Kenya, as part of a family of wildlife conservationists and filmmakers, and now teaches Shakespeare for a living at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, where he settled after periods of living in the Swiss alps, London, Mexico, New Orleans, New York, and Oxford. He has written and lectured widely on subjects from the Bible to Don Quixote, and is an expert on the early years of the printing press, chivalric romance, and the novel. He has won prestigious research grants from Cambridge University and the British Academy, and is currently reconstructing the greatest library of the Renaissance, which Columbus’ bastard son collected and went mad trying to catalogue.