By Paula Omiyi, ONE Principal Engagement
Anyone familiar with African literature is likely to have read one of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novels or NoViolet Bulawayo’s highly praised debut We Need New Names. If you’re looking to delve deeper into the world of African literature, look no further! In celebration of World Book Day (and in anticipation of International Women’s Day), here are some female African authors, some whose work holds a revered place in African literature, and others who are at the advent of their literary careers.
1. Ama Ata Aidoo
Aidoo is a celebrated Ghanaian author whose notable works include Changes: A Love Story, Our Sister Kill Joy and The Girl Who Can and Other Stories. Her work tends to focus on gender issues in West Africa and colonialism. Aidoo is internationally recognized as one of the foremost female figures in African literature and is the subject of the 2015 film “The Art of Ama Ata Aidoo,” which explores Aidoo’s life and legacy.
2. Nnedi Okorafor
Nnedi Okorafor is a Nigerian-American author that has gained prominence for her science fiction and fantasy novels. She has received much praise for her storytelling, which reflects Africans in genres that typically underutilize African characters and culture. Her novels include Who Fears Death (winner of the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel), Akata Witch (an Amazon.com Best Book of the Year), and Zahrah the Windseeker (winner of the Wole Soyinka Prize for African Literature).
3. Buchi Emecheta OBE
Fans of Adichie are bound to enjoy Emecheta’s writing. Much like Aidoo, Emecheta is one of the foremost African female authors and a lauded Nigerian author. Her work largely focuses on gender issues in Igbo society and Nigeria, and racial politics in the UK. Some of her more popular works include her first novel In the Ditch, Second Class Citizen, The Slave Girl, and The Joys of Motherhood. Her television play, A Kind of Marriage, was screened by the BBC in 1976. She was awarded with the Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2005.
4. Maaza Mengiste
Maaza Mengiste is an Ethiopian author and Fulbright scholar. Her novel Beneath the Lion’s Gaze, was named by the Guardian as one of the 10 best contemporary African books and appeared on our list of 10 African novels you need on your bookshelf. The novel tells the story of a family in Ethiopia during the last days of the monarchy and amidst the civil unrest that follows. She was a co-writer for the 2013 Girl Rising documentary directed by Richard E. Robbins.
5. Okwiri Oduor
Okwiri Oduor is a young Kenyan author and winner of the 2014 Caine Prize for African writing for her short story, My Father’s Head. The story sees a narrator coping with her father’s death as he struggles to remember the shape of his head. One quote from the story demonstrates the writing that earned Oduor the Caine Prize: “Bwibo had an explanation as to why I could not remember the shape of my father’s head. She said, ‘Although everyone has a head behind their face, some show theirs easily; they turn their back on you and their head is all you can see. Your father was a good man and good men never show you their heads; they show you their faces.’”