With other African industries such as fashion, modelling, and film taking off at lightning speed, it comes as no surprise that the literary industry would be close behind. With a large, varied, and diverse population over the continent, African authors are taking the world by storm with their unique takes on not just political situations, but also through fiction. Some of the most world-renowned authors come from the African continent, with heart-wrenching tales of both factual life stories, as well as fictional character struggles and perhaps most importantly, books that focus on real-life political issues such as apartheid.
One of the best and most prolific African authors on this list, Chinua Achebe was born in 1930 and first gained prominence with his first groundbreaking novel ‘Things Fall Apart’, which was published in 1958 and eventually translated into over 50 languages and made him incredibly popular. The novel tells the struggle between traditional tribal values versus colonialism as well as the tension between the masculine and feminine in patriarchal societies. He later was a professor of David and Marianna Fisher University, and professor of African Studies at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. He passed away in 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts.
Chimamanda was born in Nigieria in 1977 and is part of a new wave of African authors that are becoming increasingly popular the world over. Using a background of her native Nigeria and combining social and political events with character-driven personalities, she tells poignant stories with strong characters who have to overcome serious issues that are faced by many in Africa. Her novel ‘Purple Hibiscus’ from 2003 tells the story about a girl and her family having to cope and live through a military coup, while her latest novel, ‘Americanah’ from 2013 explores the immigrant issues faced by Nigerians in the western world. Her works have been nominated for and won numerous awards, including the Orange and Booker prizes.
Having won many awards and nominations in his time, Wole Soyinka is simply one of Africa’s best authors. Born in 1934 in Nigeria, he is the first African author to have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. In the 50s, he wrote his first important play titled ‘A Dance of the Forests,’ which tells the satiric story of a young nation coming to terms with the fact that their present day is no longer the Golden Age from the past. His work tends to house the satirical West Africanstyle, but with important, serious messages.
An author from Ghana, Ayi Kewi Armah’s work focuses on telling stories of political and social devastation and frustration in Ghana from the point of view of the individual. His work is influenced primarily by French existential philosophers such as Albert Camus and Jean Paul Sartre, and therefore uses darker themes such as despair, disillusionment, and irrational behaviour which rounds out the characters and helps focus on the issues at hand. The most famous and popular novel of this African author, ‘ The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born’ from 1968 follows an unnamed character and their journey towards trying to understand themselves and their nation following independence.
Often writing on the primarily feminist issue in her native Senegal and further afield in Africa, Mariama Ba is known for her powerful texts that focus on gender inequality, often taking themes from her own life, such as the struggle for education in a traditional family and being left to care for nine children after divorcing a prominent politician. These patriarchal themes and issues from her own experiences come to life in her novel writing. Her novel ‘So Long A Letter’ from 1981 examines these issues alongside the strength and powerlessness of her protagonist in not just her marriage, but also throughout the wider society at large.
This Somali-born African author first came to light in 1970 with his first novel ‘From A Crooked Rib’, which tells the story of a female protagonist trapped in an unhappy marriage experiencing the suffering of young women in Somalian society. His later works explore similar themes of social criticism and dealing with the emotions surrounding war and post-colonial identities. Many of his works from short stories to plays explore similar themes, all of which are common in his native Somalia.
Born in 1978 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Dinaw Megestu fled the country when he was a child with his mother and sister to reunite with his father in the United States, who had fled Ethiopia during the days of the Red Terror. Mengestu graduated from Georgetown University and become an increasingly prolific African author and novelist. He currently has two novels under his belt, ‘The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears’ and ‘How to Read the Air’, published in 2007 and 2010 respectively. Dinaw Megestu has additionally received a MacArthur Foundation prize just recently.
A Glaswegian by birth, but raised in Sierra Leone, this African author’s works include personal brave accounts of her own family’s tragic struggles living in war-torn Sierra Leone, including retelling her father’s unfortunate fate as a political dissident under the title ‘The Devil That Danced on Water’, published first in 2003. ‘Memory of Love’ from 2010 is the story of love and loss within the larger context of the overall Sierra Leone civil war and was nominated for the Orange Prize for Fiction writing. Many of her works so far include stories, comparisons, and contrasts of the Sierra Leone war, garnering her a large following and popularity.
Nobel Prize in Literature winner, Nadine Gordimer is one of South Africa’s most prolific writers, garnering attention for her powerful works exploring the wide net of social, racial, and moral issues stemming from the apartheid era. Despite these works, the most controversial writings of this African author were actually banned in South Africa by the government in power at the time. Her novel ‘Burger’s Daughter’ was read in secret by Nelson Mandela while on Robben Island and explores the struggles of a group of anti-apartheid activists.
With a childhood divided between England and his native homeland of Nigeria, Ben Okri’s experiences as a child in Nigeria influenced his later writings and so his first novels ‘Flowers and Shadows (1980) and ‘The Landscapes Within’ (1981) were focused on portraying the devastation of the Nigerian civil war, which he himself had experienced first hand as a child. The later writings of this African author including ‘The Famished Road’ (1991) were met with equal praise and additionally blended the real and spirit worlds telling the story of a spirit child, which went on to win the Booker Prize.