Ten great African contemporary writers

Wednesday, September 25th, 2019 00:00 |
Novel. Photo/Courtesy

Africa brims with extraordinary talent in contemporary writing. In the last 10 years, many African writers of different ages and genres have emerged to boldly showcase ‘Africanness’ in a wider scope, writes PETER NGILA

Peter Kimani (Kenya)

Peter Kimani is known for books such as Dance of the Jakaranda, published in New York, USA, in 2017, and re-published in the UK to great critical acclaim.

Peter Kimani is known for books such as Dance of the Jakaranda, published in New York, USA, in 2017, and re-published in the UK to great critical acclaim.

His other works include Before The Rooster Crows and Upside Down, for which he was awarded the 2011 Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature.

He was one of only three international poets commissioned by National Public Radio to compose and recite a poem to mark Barack Obama’s inauguration in January 2009.

Kimani earned a doctorate in Creative Writing and Literature from the University of Houston, US, in 2014.

In 2007, he was one of 30 writers selected to participate in the University of Iowa’s International Writing Programme.

Akwaeke Emezi (Nigeria)

Akwaeke Emezi, 32, is a gender non-binary Nigerian writer whose debut novel Freshwater won the 2018 Women’s Prize for Literature and a 2018 honouree for the National Book Foundation ‘5 Under 35’.

Her debut young adult novel Pet was published on September 10, 2019, while her sophomore adult novel The Death Of Vivek Oji will be out in 2020. Her short story, Who Is Like God, won the 2017 Commonwealth Short Story Prize for Africa. 

Fiston Mujila (DRC)

The 38-year-old writes poetry, prose and theatre. Mujila lives in Graz, Austria, where he teaches African literature at University of Graz. His first novel, Tram 83, was published in 2014 to rave reviews.

It was longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize and the Prix du Monde in 2016, and was awarded the Pan African Etisalat Prize for Literature in 2015 and the International Literature Award from Der Haus der Kulturen der Welt (Germany’s national centre for the presentation and discussion of international contemporary arts, with a special focus on non-European cultures and societies) in 2017. Tram 83 was also a 2014 French Voices grant recipient. 

Mubanga Kalimamukwento (Zambia)

Mubanga is a new exciting voice from Zambia. The manuscript of her debut novel, The Mourning Bird, earned her a cash prize of ZAR35,000 (Sh250,000) and published by South Africa’s Jacana Media this June.

Mubanga won the 2019 Kalemba Short Story Prize and is shortlisted for the Bristol Short Story Prize. Mabanga began writing at the age of 10 as a way of dealing with her grief following her mother’s death. 

Novuyo Tshuma (Zimbabwe)

Tshuma’s 2013 book, Shadows, was nominated at the 2014 Etisalat Prize for Literature and won the Herman Charles Bosman Prize the same year.

In 2014, she was enlisted as part of Africa39, a collaborative project by Hay Festival and Rainbow Book Club that recognises top writers from Africa under the age of 40.

She serves on the editorial advisory board and is a fiction editor at the Bare Life Review, a journal of refugee and immigrant literature in San Francisco, USA. Her debut novel, House of Stone, won a 2019 Edward Stanford Travel Writing Award. 

Binyavanga Wainaina (Kenya)

The late Binyavanga Wainaina is best known for his 2011 memoir, One Day I Will Write About This Place – whose ‘lost chapter’ details Binyavanga coming out as gay.

He died in May this year aged 48 and will be remembered for founding Kwani? Trust, a daring journal of new African writing in 2003, a year after winning the prestigious Caine Prize for African Writing.

He was the director of the Chinua Achebe Centre for African Writers and Artists at Bard College. Binyavanga was awarded in 2003 by the Kenya Publisher’s Association for his services to Kenyan literature.

He also hosted the yearly Farafina Trust Writing Workshop with celebrated Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Hawa Jande Golakai (Liberia)

If you still think African writers don’t write crime novels, I would recommend The Lazarus Effect, the first novel by writer and medical immunologist Hawa Jande Golakai.

The book was published in South Africa by Kwela Books, and later in the UK by Jacaranda Books Limited. She is the winner of the 2017 Brittle Paper Award for her creative non-fiction essay, Fugee, published by Granta in the UK. 

Zukiswa Wanner (African Nomad)

She was born in Zambia to a South African father and a Zimbabwean mother; and now lives in Kenya. Her novel, London Capetown Jo’burg, won the K Sello Duiker Memorial Literary Award in 2015.

Her Men of the South (2010), was shortlisted for the 2011 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize (Africa region), and the Herman Charles Bosman Award.

Zukiswa has led numerous writing workshops such as Writivism and the Caine Prize for African Writing workshop.

In 2018, she set up her publishing company, Paivapo, with writer Angela Makholwa. Zukiswa holds a journalism degree from Hawaii Pacific University in Honolulu, US. 

Jennifer Makumbi (Uganda)

Makumbi is renowned for her novel, Kintu, which won the Kwani? Manuscript Project in 2013. It was published in 2017 in the US and in 2018 in the UK.

She was awarded the 2014 Commonwealth Short Story Prize for her story Lets Tell This Story Properly and her first full story collection Manchester Happened was published this year.

She was awarded the Windham-Campbell Prize for Fiction in 2018 to support her writing. Her second novel, The First Woman, comes out in 2020.

In March 2019 she was offered the Cheuse Writing Fellowship from George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, USA.

Maaza Mengiste (Ethiopia)

Mengiste is best known for her 2010 novel Beneath the Lion’s Gaze. The novel was selected by the Guardian as one of the 10 best contemporary African books and named one of the best books of 2010 by Christian Science Monitor and Boston Globe.

Mengiste studied Creative Writing at New York University. She was a runners-up for the 2011 Dayton Literary Peace Prize and a finalist for a Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize, an NAACP Image Award and an Indies Choice Book of the Year Award in Adult Debut. Her much-awaited historical novel, The Shadow King, is set to be released this month. 

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