With 25 May being Africa Day, the month of May is a time for acknowledging and celebrating all things Africa. Here at Creative Feel, we’re using that time to celebrate African art, music, literature and more. In this article, we’re looking at the rich literary history of the continent by highlighting a few of the writers we think you should know.
Ayi Kwei Armah
Ayi Kwei Armah is a Ghanaian writer and essayist whose novels frequently grapple with socio-political realties through a single protagonist. Having been born in Ghana and travelling abroad to study at universities such as Harvard and Columbia, both Africa and the United States are the settings for much of his writing. His most famous novel, The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born (1968), tells the tale of a single protagonist attempting to make sense of himself and of post-independence Ghana.
What to read: The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born
Wole Soyinka is a Nigerian poet, essayist, and playwright who received the 1986 Nobel Prize in Literature. Born in Nigeria, Soyinka went on to study in the UK where he worked with the Royal Court Theatre in London. Soyinka is also well-known for his outspokenness about Nigerian politics and his criticism around governance in Africa more broadly. In addition to his prolific work as a novelist, poet, essayist and playwright, Soyinka has taught literature in Nigeria and in the UK for a number of years.
What to read: Ake, the years of childhood
Growing up between Zimbabwe and England, Tstitsi Dangarembga’s writing grapples largely with the themes of identity, otherness, language, colonialism, and gender. The Zimbabwe-based writer and filmmaker is known the world over for her debut novel, Nervous Conditions (1988), which is the first in a trilogy of novels, with The Book of Not (2006) as the second novel in the series, and This Mournable Body (2020) as the third.
What to read: Nervous Conditions
Ben Okri is a Nigerian-born UK-based poet and novelist. With his early years spent in his birth country of Nigeria, Okri later moved up to live and work in London in the United Kingdom. It was here where Okri began revising the manuscript for his famous novel The Famished Road (1991), which secured him the Booker Prize when it was published. Much of Okri’s writing can be read as postmodern and postcolonial literature, with many of his novels adopting a dream-like, spiritual realism.
What to read: Stars of the New Curfew
Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o
Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o is a Kenyan writer and academic. Writing primarily in the Gikuyu language of Kenya, wa Thiong’o’s work spans children’s literature, novels, plays, shorts stories, poetry and more. Following his imprisonment by the authoritative Kenyan regime as a result of his groundbreaking play, Ngaahika Ndeenda, wa Thiong’o went into exile, eventually taking up residence in the United States where he taught at universities such as Yale and New York University. Much of his writing, in English and in Gikuyu, is strongly decolonial in its themes, with wa Thiong’o believing strongly in the power of language and literature to liberate the mind.
What to read: A Grain of Wheat
Born Zanemvula Kizito Gatyeni Mda, the South African playwright, novelist, and poet took up the pen-name ‘Zakes’ when he began writing. In addition to his prolific career spent writing novels and plays, Mda has also taught English and Creative Writing both in South Africa and in the United Kingdom. Since the publishing of his debut novel, Ways of Dying, Mda has produced novels, short stories and plays that have been performed and read the world over.
What to read: The Zulus of New York
Bessie Head was a novelist and short story writer. While she was born in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, Head is largely considered to be one of Botswana’s most important writers, with many of her novels taking place there. Much of Head’s early experiences with writing took place in Cape Town during the famous Drum era. Following her involvement in anti-apartheid political movements, Head left South Africa on a one-way exit permit and settled in Botswana. Much of her writing is concerned with notions of identity, the politics of power, and the realities of everyday people living under oppression.
What to read: When Rain Clouds Gather
No list of African authors is complete without Chinua Achebe. The Nigerian poet, novelist, and critic is known across the globe. His most famous work, Things Fall Apart (1958) is his debut novel and depicts pre-colonial life in Nigeria and the arrival of Europeans during the late 19th century. Achebe went on to publish a great deal of writing in his lifetime, including literary criticism. At the time of his death in 2013, Achibe had been living in America, teaching African studies and literature at Brown university.
What to read: Things Fall Apart
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Credited with attracting a new generation of readers to contemporary African fiction, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a Nigerian-born, US-based novelist, essayist, and short story writer. Following her move to the United States to pursue her studies, Adichie became acutely aware of the role race and identity played in her daily life outside of Nigeria. As such, much of her writing focuses on notions of identity, gender, and the role of history in contemporary, every day life. Her debut novel Purple Hibiscus (2003) launched her career as a writer, while her later works such as the book-length essay We Should All Be Feminists (2014) have continued to reach and inspire younger readers and writers across the globe.
What to read: Americanah