A glorious year for African writers
Last year was undoubtedly a year to celebrate for African stories and authors, with the Nobel Prize Abdulrazak Gurnah (pictured above) just one of many sweeping the most prestigious awards in the world of literature. Compiled by Gail Collins.
Jhis story of fame began in June 2021 when the Senegalese author, David Diop won the International Booker Prize – a prize that recognizes the best novels that have been translated from a foreign language into English – with At night all the blood is blackthe poignant and moving story of one man’s experience of war and his descent into madness.
In the same month, the Zimbabwean novelist, filmmaker and activist, Tsitsi Dangarembga received the 2021 German Bookstore Peace Prize – an annual prize that has existed since 1950, recognizing a person who has made a significant contribution to peace, humanity and understanding between peoples.
Her trilogy, which began with the first novel she ever wrote, Nervous conditions (1988), followed by the sequel in 2006, The Book of No and finally, This mourning body (2018), following a Shona family in post-colonial Rhodesia in the 1960s, led the judges to their decision, commenting that she was “not just one of her country’s most important artists, but also a widely audible voice of Africa in contemporary literature. “She is the first African woman to win the award.
November 2021 saw two more major successes, including a historic first with the International Booker, and the Booker Prizes won the same year by African writers.
South African author and playwright, Damon Galgut won the Booker Prize 2021 with his ninth novel – The promise – a powerful and insightful family saga that begins at the end of apartheid when, as we mentioned above, David Diop swipes the International Booker.
Secondly, the most remarkable literary distinction in France, the Goncourt prize, was awarded to the Senegalese author Mohamed Mbougar Sarr. Her third novel, The most secret memory of men (The Most Secret Memory of Men), a thriller about a young Senegalese writer discovering a legendary 1938 book and delving into the mystery of its missing author, withstood stiff competition. He also made another piece of history by becoming the first sub-Saharan writer to win the coveted award.
The year ended with another festive drumbeat, when the Tanzanian novelist and academic, Abdulrazak Gurnahwon the 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature, “for his uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the plight of the refugee in the chasm between cultures and continents”.
When he was informed of his victory, while at home in the UK, where he has lived since 1964, he very modestly thought it was a prank. Her victory comes at a time when Tanzania is experiencing steady decline and apathy towards reading and many in the country will ignore her novels, which are mostly set on the East African coast. Hopefully its success will spark renewed energy and interest in writing.
Plethora of excellent writings
But it’s not just the winners who have made 2021 a phenomenal year for African creatives. There has been a plethora of excellent fiction and non-fiction titles that have captured the attention of readers around the world. I have been captivated, amused and sometimes confused by the books I have read in the past year, by authors from across the continent. These writers give the world a real perspective on the extremely individual and diverse cultures and history of African countries.
Early authors made their mark with books such as Ghanaian-British Photographer and Writer, Caleb Azumah Nelson The wide – a story gracefully retracing the somewhat controversial love affair between a photographer and a dancer but also dealing with systemic racism.
Although this is not his first book, Mohamedou Ould Slahipublishes its first fiction title – The real true story of Ahmed and Zarga – which draws the reader into the seductive and harsh life of a Bedouin camel herder. 2021 also saw the release of the film Mauritanianbased on his non-fiction work written while imprisoned for 14 years without charge at Guantanamo Bay.
Cameroonian At Imbolo Mbue second novel, How beautiful we wereactually began almost two decades before it was published, but the powerful story of the inhabitants of a small African village rising up against the ravages of a global oil company is as moving today as when it started. for the first time and particularly poignant given the Niger Delta. end the fight against oil spills that continued to be reported last year.
seasoned novelist, Jamal Mahjoubdrew much of the inspiration for his work from his mixed (Sudanese-British) heritage and his experience of being raised in Khartoum and later living in several different countries including the UK, Spain and Denmark.
Her 2021 novel, The fugitives, takes us on a playful road trip when the Kamanga Kings, a now defunct jazz band from Khartoum, are invited to perform in Washington DC. Disenchanted Rushdy, the son of an original Kamanga King, seizes the opportunity to go beyond the borders of his country, relaunches the group and embarks on Donald Trump’s America.
Son of an acclaimed Kenyan writer and theorist, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Mukoma Wa Ngugi brought us his fourth novel last year. He stayed with the musical theme in Unbury Our Dead with songtelling a compelling yet grounded story through the eyes of a journalist who follows four talented Ethiopian musicians competing to sing the best Tizita.
And speaking of acclaimed writers, the revered first African winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Wole Soyinkagives us his third novel after 47 years of waiting with the brutally satirical Chronicles of the country of the happiest people on earth.
Non-fiction titles also attracted attention, including the unique and groundbreaking The sex life of African women: self-discovery, freedom and healing. From the pen of a Ghanaian feminist writer and blogger, Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah and inspired by African Women’s Bedroom Adventuresa limitless blog she co-founded in 2009 as a space for African women to express their sexuality, the book is a collection of powerful, liberating, raw and sometimes heartbreaking real-life stories of women across Africa and the Diaspora.
Six years in the making, it shatters the taboos that have hitherto surrounded many of the problems and experiences of African women, who have unfolded in its pages the most private realm of their lives.
The Big Picture: My Struggle to Bring a New African Voice to the Climate Crisisby young Ugandan climate activist, vanessa nakatetackles a global issue from an African perspective.
In 2020, Vanessa posed with four other young activists at the World Economic Forum. Later that same day, the photo began to appear in the media, minus Vanessa, the only black person in the original photo.
She saw this as a symbol of how Africa, the continent with the most to lose from the crisis, and at the same time which affects the climate the least, was not an equal voice in the global fight. That moment sparked her book, which clarifies the need for Africa to be an inclusive partner in the climate conversation and highlights the perspectives of a new generation of young activists seeking ways to save the world in which they grow up.
Finally, a writer who has been a steadfast advocate for marginalized writers and winner of the 2020 Booker Prize, Bernardin Evaristogave us a glimpse of his motivation in his memoirs, Manifesto to never give up. Her nonfiction debut is an inspiration for perseverance against the odds and offers a colorful, humorous, and rebellious understanding of her life and writing.
To those fine writers I haven’t had space to mention – I applaud you and may 2022 continue with a deluge of wonderful words!