About

Diana


Here's a photo of yours truly, Diana Newton-Smith. In case you wonder, it was taken in 2012 and I use it on Twitter, too. I've got an oval face and very crowded teeth (despite an orthodontist's hefty bills for the tear-inducing extractions, braces and headgear that marked my late childhood). If you look closely at my chin you'll see it's scarred (from a bicycle accident when I was ten). My smiles are crooked, and often inverted (which I'm told is endearing). The bridge of my slightly upturned nose is wrinkled (a typical sign of allergies, apparently). Obviously, I'm not twenty any more. Yes, that's gray on the roots of my hair. And yes, that's rosacea you can see, but hey, this was a good day. On bad days I feel like putting a paper bag on my head with cut-outs for eyes and mouth (even my doctor laughed at that). My blue-gray eyes tend to water in the sun, hence the photochromic lenses. I've had glasses since I was eight years old and love the fuzzy vision I get when I take them off for a little daydreaming.

Africa matters to me. Deeply. I've felt this way ever since I landed in Nairobi, Kenya, a month before Steve Biko's brutal and tragic death (on September 12, 1977). With a brand-new architecture degree in my pocket, I was on my way to a two-year posting as a United Nations Volunteer in Gaborone, Botswana. My work designing and supervising the construction of schools, hospitals, and government buildings was even more satisfying than imagined. Thanks to a gifted teacher, I was able to add a decent level of Setswana to my other languages (English, French, Swedish, and German). This helped a lot in making new friends. I loved everything about Botswana and spent my free time roaming the countryside on my bicycle, with a sketch pad, pencils, and ink pens in a backpack, before completing my gouaches and watercolors at home and then showing them at two exhibitions. 

My years in Botswana coincided with the height of apartheid. I decided early on to travel to South Africa as often as I could afford to in order to learn as much as possible through first-hand experience. One particular trip, by car from Gaborone, through South Africa, and into Swaziland, was a real eye-opener. I will never forget the look of utter contempt I was given by the Afrikaner border officer who told me I was lining up at the wrong wicket and pointed to the "Whites Only" sign a few feet from where I was standing. In order to cross the border into Swaziland, I had simply followed the Batswana colleagues I had been travelling with, without noticing the "Blacks, Coloureds, and Asians" sign.

I gradually became disillusioned with the potential impact that architecture could have in a developing country like Botswana. The real power was held by economists at the Ministry of Finance, mostly fresh out out grad school in North America. With a snap of their fingers, so it seemed, they could kill the funding for a project, such as a shaded courtyard for the patients and their families at a remote hospital in the middle of the Ghanzi Desert.

After reviewing my options, I decided to apply to the Norman Patterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University in Ottawa. I was thrilled to be accepted and soon gravitated to my first love: books. Within a few months, I found a research topic that would allow me to combine two of my passions, books and Africa: "Autonomous Book Publishing in Francophone Africa". 

The most exciting years were yet to come. After graduating with a Master of Arts in International Affairs I was able to find work in my area of specialization: book publishing in Africa. To date, I have worked in 27 countries, mostly in Africa, but also in the Arab World, the Americas, and Asia. My clients included the World Bank, CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency), NDF (Nordic Development Fund), UNEDBAS (UNESCO Regional Office for Education in the Arab States), IIEP (UNESCO's International Institute for Educational Planning), as well as Ministries of Education and Finance, and individual book publishers. I am grateful to have met many amazing publishers and hold all whose life revolves around books, in print or digital form (authors, literary agents, editors, booksellers, distributors, librarians, literacy trainers, and of course readers) in great esteem.

The time has come to share some thoughts and memories, real and imaginary experiences, questions and possible answers with others "out there", in our beautiful world. One of my choices has been to create and launch this website, a process I've found both satisfying and nerve-racking. I'm eager to get some feedback. Do tell me, please and if you can spare the time, what you think!

Thank you and take good care.

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