Writing about, for, and from the continent has built a robust body of work we sometimes refer to as Contemporary African Literature. When writers are rewarded with prizes and prestigious nominations, it is exciting to see a celebration of these voices. This is a list of novels making literary headlines and written by Africans. There are stories told anew, history given a contemporary feel, and delicious food writing. Which one of these will you be adding to your reading list?
#1. Stay with Me by Ayobami Adebayo
This 29-year old author who is no stranger to the pen is sending ripples across the literary scene with her debut novel. Stay with Me features some of the strongest female characters a reader has come across on paper. It follows the story of Yejide, a woman who is scorned for being married and childless. When she finally conceives, her children are born with the pains and stigma associated with Sickle Cell disorder. A Sickle cell carrier herself, Ayobami has fused emotions with great storytelling in a novel that readers can empathize with. Stay with Me has been longlisted among 16 novels for the prestigious Bailey’s Women Prize for Fiction formerly known as The Orange Prize.
#2. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
If you would like to read a year of history in every page of a novel, you will be at home with Homegoing. This New York Times bestseller delves into 250 years’ worth of history in 300 pages. In a sweeping tale that involves two sisters separated by slavery and colonialism in 18th Century Ghana, Yaa Gyasi lends readers a different pair of eyes. This much-talked about novel is Yaa Gyasi’s debut novel and has carved her a spot in Contemporary African Literature. Readers have called it emotional, brilliant, and thought provoking. Homegoing was a finalist for the 2017 Pen/Robert W. Bingham $25,000 Prize for Debut Fiction.
#3. Black Moses by Alain Mabanckou
This is the 11th novel of prolific writer and professor of African Literature at UCLA, Alain Mabanckou. A native of the People’s Republic of Congo, Mabanckou has penned a comic tale of a young man’s quest to right the wrongs in this country. The main character is reminiscent of Robin Hood and the backdrop is 1970s Congo on the brink of a revolution. Black Moses has been longlisted for the $50,000 ManBooker International Prize for Literature. If it wins, the prize money will be split between the author and English translator, Helen Stevenson.
#4. Long Throat Memoirs by Yemisi Aribiala
This collection of essays is a labor of love by Nigerian food connoisseur, Yemisi Aribiala. Written over the span of 8 years, Long Throat Memoirs seeks to satisfy an insatiable appetite of Nigerian food and storytelling. This is a great read not just for the Nigerian palate, but for anyone whose senses come alive by aromas and well-told stories. Published by indigenous press, Cassava Republic, Long Throat Memoirs was the 2017 recipient of the prestigious John Avery Award. This award puts Yemisi Aribiala among a list of winners that includes renowned chef, Jamie Oliver.
#5. The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso
Writer, Yewande Omotoso has a distinct way of weaving heavy weight subject matters into stories told calmly. In The Woman Next Door, readers meet two women, two races, and apartheid South Africa broken into two. The nuances of aging and how women relate to each other are explored in this novel that moves at its own pace. The Woman Next Door is Yewande Omotoso’s second novel and has been longlisted for the Bailey’s Women Prize for Fiction alongside Stay with Me.
#6. Americanah by Chimamanda Adichie
Both Americanah and its author, Chimamanda Adichie need no introduction. Going on a journey that spans race, hair, and feminist politics with its protagonist Ifemelu has been likened to witnessing Adichie write unhindered. Americanah found its way to the New York Times bestselling list, was called the first great African novel of the new century, and was snatched up by the duo of Lupita Nyongo and Brad Pit for a movie adaptation. Most recently, Americanah beat out powerhouse novels to win the inaugural One Book, One New York contest. This means that in addition to the over 500,000 copies this novel has sold, millions of New Yorkers will be reading and discussing this story told like no other.
#7. What is Not Yours is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi
If you like a good short story collection, What is Not Yours is Not Yours should be in your library. For starters, the title is intriguing and the stories run along a cerebral stem. The mystics behind locks and keys are explored in unrelated settings and character mixes. Helen Oyeyemi is not your conventional writer and this collection is an eclectic display of the tales she is capable of constructing. There is dark comedy embedded in tales of love as well as set boundaries around seemingly mundane things. What is Not Yours is Not Yours is Oyeyemi’s first collection of short stories and has recently bagged her the $5,000 PEN Open Book Award.