Being a Nigerian immigrant to the states and a bibliophile, I’ve always found the deepest connection to my roots through African writers. Growing up, classics to me were just as much Achebe as they were Hemingway so I’m currently loving the emergence of African literature on the American scene. As I started to compile this list, I realized I had a long list of writers to share, which is amazing to say the least, but I wanted to particularly focus on six writers that either recently debuted their work or are just so popular in recent African lit, it’s almost required reading. This list is not exhaustive (obviously), it’s definitely biased toward West African authors, and it made me realize I need to share my book lists more often – there are so many new authors and books to cover!
1. Taiye Selasi
Ghana Must Go: A Novel by Taiye Selasi
Selasi is not a new author by any means, but in the event you haven’t read this Nigerian/Ghanaian/British’s writer’s 2013 novel, Ghana Must Go, I’m happy to re-introduce you to her work. I’m sure I purchased Ghana Must Go when it was released in 2013, but never got around to reading it until a year or so ago. Very few books can captivate my attention so much that I read it in one sitting (I was on a flight, but nonetheless), there’s no surprise it was one of The Wall Street Journal’s Best Books of 2013.
2. Upile Chisala
Soft Magic by Upile Chisala
Now one of my favorite poets, this Malawian writer released her debut collection of prose and poetry in 2015. You’ll often find me quoting her for Instagram captions. Here’s an excerpt from Soft Magic:
“Today and all days,
I am thankful for women of color
from the root
apologize for their magic.”
3. Yaa Gyasi
Homegoing: A Novel by Yaa Gyasi
Gyasi, a 20-something Ghanaian-American author and Stanford grad, released her debut novel ‘Homegoing’ this past summer and there’s no doubt about it’s current and future success. The renowned Ta-Nehisi Coates gave a powerful endorsement:
“Gyasi’s characters are so fully realized, so elegantly carved—very often I found myself longing to hear more. Craft is essential given the task Gyasi sets for herself—drawing not just a lineage of two sisters, but two related peoples. Gyasi is deeply concerned with the sin of selling humans on Africans, not Europeans. But she does not scold. She does not excuse. And she does not romanticize. The black Americans she follows are not overly virtuous victims. Sin comes in all forms, from selling people to abandoning children. I think I needed to read a book like this to remember what is possible. I think I needed to remember what happens when you pair a gifted literary mind to an epic task. Homegoing is an inspiration.” – Ta-Nehisi Coates
4. Teju Cole
A couple of months ago, I went to a reading and talk by Teju Cole in Seattle. A couple of things blew me away – the fact that the talk was in a large auditorium yet sold out for months (I literally didn’t get a ticket until a few minutes before) and the diversity of the audience. I think that speaks volumes to how popular Teju Cole and his works have become. I’m not enough of a literary critic to adequately describe Cole’s writing style (I can’t quite put my finger on it), but my favorite book of his, Everyday is for the Thief, reads like a short diary of an expat returning home to Lagos and just observing how things were and are, how things change and how some things remain the same.
“Everyday is for the Thief, the story of a young man who sets out to visit his home country Nigeria after being away for fifteen years.The novel reads like a travel diary explaining the way of life in the city of Lagos and along the way, exposes how the democratic nature of corruption can affect anyone regardless of their status in the society” – Ayiba Magazine
5. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The Thing Around Your Neck: Short Stories by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
You already know this author, I doubt she needs introduction. If you’re even a little bit interested in African literature you’ve likely read Americanah, Purple Hibiscus, or Half of a Yellow Sun, so I’ll keep this relatively short. Adichie has been called, “the twenty-first century daughter of Chinua Achebe” and has captivated audiences both on the continent and abroad with her literary prowess. Those three novels mentioned above are great, but my favorite work by Adichie happens to be her collection of short stories in The Thing Around Your Neck. If you’re looking for a quick read, pick that up.
6. Jowhor Ile
And After Many Days: A Novel by Jowhor Ile
Nigerian author Jowhor Ile recently released his debut novel that is set in 1995 Port Harcourt, Nigeria. I first heard about this author when Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie mentioned him in an interview – “There’s a young man called Johwor Ile who is just finishing a novel, who I think is really spectacular. His novel, when it comes out, will be very good. But there’s just a lot of talent, people doing different things.”
I’m going to stop here but I would love to hear about some of your favorite books by African authors!