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5 African Authors Everyone Should Read

By Zaina Adamu

A great book will stay with you long after you finish the last page, and today’s authors are more experimental and brave than ever before. African authors are leading the way for engaging and memorable writing, so here’s a look at five authors who have raised the bar of storytelling in Africa.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was well-known for her epic storytelling long before her 2012 TED talk We Should All Be Feminists appeared on Beyoncé’s 2013 song “Flawless.” Her work including Purple Hibiscus and Americanah have been translated into more than 30 languages and have been critical and commercial hits.

Her 2009 TED Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story,” is one of the most-watched TED Talks in history with more than 18 million views. Adichie is a recipient of the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship and is the 2018 award recipient of the PEN Pinter Prize, a literary award established in honor of the late Nobel Literature Prize-winning playwright Harold Pinter.

RELATED: 5 African Children’s Books to Add to Your Child’s Library

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Alain Mabanckou

Alain Mabanckou is regarded as one of the most prolific writers from the African continent because of his catchy wordplay, which infuses humor and deep philosophical roots.

The Congolese author, known in France as the “African Samuel Beckett,” draws his inspiration from humble beginnings in Pointe-Noire, where he was the only child to an illiterate mother.

He first gained traction in Africa after the release of his 1993 book of poems.  Au jour le jour (Day to Day). International acclaim came when he released his first novel, Bleu blanc-rouge (Blue White Red) in 1998.

He was named a professor of French and Francophone studies at the University of California, Los Angeles and won the 2017 Man Booker International Prize selection for his latest work, Black Moses.

Tahar Ben Jelloun

It was being forced into a military camp as punishment for standing up to the “repressive and violent acts” of the Moroccan police that led Moroccan-born Tahar Ben Jelloun to begin writing in 1971.

His first collection of poems, Hommes Sous Linceul de Silence (Men Under The Shroud Of Silence), instantly took off throughout the continent, and the author has not slowed down since.

In 2006, he won the “Peace and Friendship Between People” prize at the Lazion between Europe and the Mediterranean Festival and two years later, former French president Nicolas Sarkozy awarded Ben Jelloun with the Cross of Grand Officer of the Légion d’honneur.

Other works of Ben Jelloun include A Palace in the Old Village and Yemma.

Aminatta Forna

Born in Scotland and raised in Sierra Leone and Great Britain, Aminatta Forna has consistently broken the mold of fiction storytelling.

While living in Sierra Leone, her politician father was imprisoned and declared an Amnesty Prisoner of Conscience. He was later hung on charges of treason in 1975. The events would eventually shape her childhood and lead her to write her award-winning memoir, The Devil That Danced on the Water.

Forna is also the award-winning author of Happiness and Ancestor Stones and has had essays appear in Vogue, The New York Review of Books and The Guardian.

She currently serves as the Director of the Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Practice at Georgetown University and was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in the 2017 Queen’s New Year’s Honors.

aminatta forna1@2x

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s love for writing was the very thing that imprisoned him decades ago. In 1977, the Kenyan playwright, novelist, and academic wrote and produced, Ngaahika Ndeenda (I Will Marry When I Want), a controversial play that focused on post-colonial Kenyan issues of class, culture, and tradition. Although it was a commercial hit, Kenyan authorities shut down the play six weeks later. He was later imprisoned, which is where he wrote his first novel on toilet paper called Devil on the Cross (Caitaani mũtharaba-Inĩ).

Since then, Thiong’o has received critical acclaim and experts predict he will become a candidate for a Nobel Peace Prize. Throughout his career, he has taught at Yale University, New York University, and the University of California, Irvine.

His most notable works include Detained: A Writer’s Prison Diary and Petals of Blood. He is the recipient of the 2018 Grand Prix des mécènes of the GPLA for his entire body of work and holds four honorary degrees from the University of Dar es Salaam and Yale University, among others.

Get to know more about Africa’s most influential writers when you stream Behind the Words on Demand Africa.

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