When it comes to Western school curriculums, African literature is vastly underrated. I myself wasn’t educated about African writers until I moved to Cameroon for high school. But even today when I mention certain masterpieces written by African writers to people in the states, there are still a few who cock their heads at me in confusion. If children can be taught Pride and Prejudice in schools, then they should also be taught Things Fall Apart and Americanah. In celebration of the continent’s diverse literature, here are some of Africa’s finest contemporary writers.
Perhaps the most well-known name on this list, Chinua Achebe’s first novel Things Fall Apart is considered one of the most widely read books in contemporary African literature. The critically-acclaimed novel details pre-colonial life Nigeria during the arrival of Europeans from the perspective of tribal leader Okonkwo. Achebe is known as “the father of modern African writing”, and his essays and poems have garnered critical acclaim as well.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Author of We Should All Be Feminists and my personal favorite book of all-time, Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is making waves as one of Africa’s most popular anglophone writers. Her works explore the concept of race in America, masculinity and femininity, identity, and love, to name of few. Adichie has been featured in TED talks, and has written for The Guardian and The New York Times.
Born to a Sierra Leonean father and a Scottish mother, Aminata Fomna’s critically-acclaimed memoir The Devil That Danced On Water depicts her life growing up in Sierra Leone, and the details surrounding the murder of her dissident father. Her later works, which include The Memory Of Love and Ancestor Stones center around her home country and the civil war that ravaged Sierra Leone for over a decade.
Nigerian writer Uzodinma Iweala’s debut novel, Beasts Of No Nation, depicts the horrors of Sierra Leone’s civil war through the eyes of a child soldier. Iweala published the novel at the young age of 23, and actually developed the idea behind the book out of his undergraduate thesis at Harvard University. His novel was mentioned in The New York Times, Time Magazine, and Entertainment Weekly, and was later adapted into a film starring Idris Elba in 2015.
The father of African magical realism, Ben Okri has been compared to the likes of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Salman Rushdie. Born in Nigeria in 1959, Okri began writing poetry at the age of 14. He has since published numerous poetry anthologies, literary essays, and novels- many of which utilize elements of magical realism and African traditional religion realism.
Known for his wit and dexterity, Congolese writer Alain Mabanckou has already won acclaim for his novels African Psycho and Black Moses. His works are marked by his use of black humor, and his most famous fiction novel Broken Glass has been the subject of several theatrical adaptations. Although critics have dubbed him the “Prince of the absurd” because of his sharp tongue, Mabanckou has left a lasting imprint on African francophone literature and has won numerous awards and recognition for his works.