There may be numerous African authors we wish we discovered earlier but is there a right time to discover a great author or a good book?
It is a great time for African authors, and authors of African origin. Many books and authors are being published and receiving their deserved acclaim on the continent and around the world. While some have argued that Africa is still playing catch-up to the West in terms of publishing and access to books, globally, African books are becoming increasingly popular. The best part? This is not limited to the African classics; there are new voices springing up across the continent and in the African diaspora. Thanks to this development, readers can discover books across all genres and themes.
From African literary fiction books to pivotal non-fiction reads, there’s a lot for readers to discover. Some authors we discover early and some we might discover later on in our lives. Consider Chimeka Garricks, for instance. I only discovered his writing last year, when I read his 2010 novel, Tomorrow Died Yesterday. His debut novel, Tomorrow Died Yesterday explores the lives of four friends after an oil worker is kidnapped in the Niger Delta. In Garricks’ page-turner, we meet unique characters with conflicting personalities. There’s the career militant, the lawyer-turned-restaurateur, the eco-warrior university professor, and a sketchy oil company executive.
Tomorrow Died Yesterday is remarkable, not only in its narrative but also in how it chronicles the lives and realities of a vital part of contemporary Nigeria. Discovering Garricks made me wonder if I had lost out on the author, whose stories capture the essence of everyday Nigerians. It also made me wonder, however, if there really is such a thing as a ‘right time’ to discover great writing. It reminded me of that question we’re often fond of asking authors in The Republic’s First Draft: who is the author you wish you discovered earlier? In processing my own thoughts, I put down some of my favourite responses. Here they are:
Earlier this year, The Republic spoke to journalist, Yinka Adegoke. ‘I’m excited to follow the career of Oyinkan Braithwaite after I read My Sister, the Serial Killer in one (long) flight from Cape Town to New York, a couple of years ago,’ Adegoke said.
Braithwaite’s debut novel won the 2019 LA Times Award for Best Crime Thriller. My Sister, the Serial Killer also won the 2019 Morning News Tournament of Books, the 2019 Amazon Publishing Reader’s Award for Best Debut Novel, and the 2019 Anthony Award for Best First Novel.
Set in Lagos, My Sister, the Serial Killer follows the life of Ayoola, through the eyes of her older sister, Korede, who struggles to keep her sister’s murderous habits in check.
My Sister, the Serial Killer was also shortlisted for the 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction, the 2019 Goodreads Choice Awards in the Mystery & Thriller and Debut Novel categories, and the 2020 British Book Awards. It was longlisted for the 2019 Booker Prize, and the 2020 Dublin Literary Award. Due to its success, My Sister, the Serial Killer has been translated into 30 languages. Braithwaite is also the author of the 2021 novella, The Baby is Mine.
Saheed Aderinto is a professor of History and African Studies at Florida International University. He is also the founding president of the Lagos Studies Association. Aderinto’s research interests include gender and sexuality; nationalism; peace and conflict studies; slave trade, slavery and African diaspora studies.
In the words of historian and author, Gbọláhàn Adébíyì, Aderinto ‘has been breaking the conventional way of writing history in Nigeria.’ According to Adébíyì: ‘historical research of old has been overly compartmentalized, but [Aderinto’s] scholarship is one of several others that is using an interdisciplinary approach to historical research, making history richer in output and easily relatable to modern readers.’
Aderinto’s 2015 book, When Sex Threatened the State: Illicit Sexuality, Nationalism, and Politics in Colonial Nigeria, 1900-1958, highlights colonial Nigeria’s complex relationship with sexuality. Among other novel thoughts and ideas, When Sex Threatened the State reveals the attempts of British colonial authorities at regulating prostitution in colonial Nigeria. The book won the 2016 Nigerian Studies Association’s Book Award Prize for the most important scholarly book/work on Nigeria published in English language.
Aderinto’s recent book, Animality and Colonial Subjecthood in Africa: The Human and Nonhuman Creatures of Nigeria analyses the relations between animals and people in colonial Nigeria. Animality and Colonial Subjecthood in Africa is a fascinating addition to understanding the animal-sensitive histories of colonial Africa as it is an area that has received little attention from Africanist historians. Other books by Aderinto include, Sports in African History, Politics, and Identity Formation (2019); Children and Childhood in Colonial Nigerian Histories (2015); and Nigeria, Nationalism, and Writing History (2010).
ANIMALITY AND COLONIAL SUBJECTHOOD IN AFRICA (AVAILABLE HERE)
OHIO UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2022
WHEN SEX THREATENED THE STATE (AVAILABLE HERE)
UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS PRESS, 2015
MY SISTER, THE SERIAL KILLER (AVAILABLE HERE)
KNOPF DOUBLE DAY PUBLISHING GROUP, 2018
THE BABY IS MINE (AVAILABLE HERE)
ATLANTIC BOOKS, 2021
A BROKEN PEOPLE’S PLAYLIST (AVAILABLE HERE)
MASOBE BOOKS, 2020
TOMORROW DIED YESTERDAY (AVAILABLE HERE)
PAPERWORTH BOOKS LIMITED (2ND EDITION), 2020
Born in 1967 in Port Said, Egypt, Egyptian-American journalist and social commentator, Mona Eltahawy, has dedicated her life to advocating for women’s rights. She is the author of the 2015 published book, Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution. In Headscarves and Hymens, Eltahawy travels across North Africa and the Middle East, meeting women and hearing their experiences. She confronts, according to Google Books, a ‘toxic mix of culture and religion that few seem willing or able to disentangle lest they blaspheme or offend.’
In her interview with The Republic, multimedia journalist and creator of the I Like Girls podcast, Aisha Salaudeen, highlighted Eltahawy as an author she wished she had discovered earlier. ‘In Headscarves and Hymens, [Eltahawy] makes the argument that if we’re to fight the oppression of women, we can’t be nice about it. It would require some form of rebellion, especially as history has shown us that being pacifist in the face of violence against women mostly just fuels subjugation,’ Salaudeen explained.
Eltahawy is also the author of Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls (2019).
Surprising, right? Although Things Fall Apart is widely read all over the world, Achebe’s 1958 debut novel is often new to younger generations of readers. Analyst and author of ‘Ken Saro-Wiwa’s Sozaboy: What War Literature Teaches Us About the Political Economy of Violence’, Ndidi Akahara is an example of such readers. ‘I actually read Chinua Achebe later than your typical bookworm (I completely read Things Fall Apart for the first time as an undergraduate),’ Akahara said. Things Fall Apart depicts pre-colonial life in the southeast of Nigeria and the impacts British colonization had on the southeast.
‘My appreciation for [Achebe’s] works has grown exponentially since I first read his novel,’ Akahara explained. Achebe’s other works are numerous and range from No Longer at Ease, a 1960 novel around the end of colonial rule in Nigeria to There Was a Country (2012), Achebe’s personal account of the Nigerian Civil War (1967-70).
THINGS FALL APART (AVAILABLE HERE)
WILLIAM HEINEMANN BOOKS LIMITED, 1958
THERE WAS A COUNTRY (AVAILABLE HERE)
PENGUIN PUBLISHING GROUP, 2012
HEADSCARVES AND HYMENS (AVAILABLE HERE)
HARPERCOLLINS CANADA, 2015
SEVEN NECESSARY SINS FOR WOMEN AND GIRLS (AVAILABLE HERE)
BEACON PRESS, 2019
‘I was recently introduced to Ebenezer Obadare’s books and articles on Pentecostalism in Nigeria, and I find them fascinating. In his book Pentecostal Republic, he provides insightful commentary on the significant influence that popular Pentecostal forms of Christianity have had on Nigerian politics since 1999. His writing becomes even more relevant when you consider that a major discussion point for the 2023 election is ensuring religious and ethnic balance on the major political parties’ presidential ticket.’ — Adekunle Adewunmi
In Obadare’s 2018 book, Pentecostal Republic: Religion and the struggle for state power in Nigeria, he examines the influence of Pentecostal Christianity on Nigerian politics since 1999.
Obadare is a professor of Sociology at the University of Kansas and a research fellow at the Research Institute for Theology and Religion, University of South Africa. He is the co-editor of the Journal of Modern African Studies and the author of Humor, Silence, and Civil Society in Nigeria (2016), and co-editor of Civic Agency in Africa: Arts of Resistance in the 21st Century (2014).
THE SHADOW KING (AVAILABLE HERE)
W. W. NORTON & COMPANY, 2019
BENEATH THE LION’S GAZE (AVAILABLE HERE)
W. W. NORTON & COMPANY, 2010
PENTECOSTAL REPUBLIC (AVAILABLE HERE)
ZEDD BOOKS, 2018
HUMOR, SILENCE AND CIVIL SOCIETY IN NIGERIA (AVAILABLE HERE)
BOYDELL & BREWER, 2016
Ethiopian-American novelist, Maaza Mengiste, is the author of the unforgettable epic, The Shadow King. The novel is set in Ethiopia at the beginning of the First World War. It follows the life of an orphan, Hirut, who struggles to adapt to her new life as a maid to a top officer in Emperor Haile Selassie’s army. The importance of The Shadow King, a work of historical fiction, lies in its successful attempt to celebrate the role of women in Ethiopian resistance against the invading Italian army.
The Shadow King was shortlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize. It was also a 2020 LA Times Book Prize Fiction finalist. The novel is available in Spanish, French, German, Italian, Turkish, and other languages.
Mengiste is also the author of Beneath the Lion’s Gaze (2010). This novel follows the life of a family in Addis Ababa during the transition from Emperor Haile Selassie to Derg rule in 1974. The Guardian selected it as one of the 10 best contemporary African books of the 2010s.
BETTER LATE THAN NEVER?
Maybe there is such a thing as the right time to discover an author—maybe there isn’t. One thing is for sure: while it is important to keep up with authors that are already on your radar, it is always fascinating to meet new ones. New discoveries can open you to new worlds, as well as understated yet important stories. To this end, it is never too late to meet authors whose works capture what makes us who we are. More important are the lessons we learn from these authors, the knowledge they offer and, possibly, how well we do in sharing these authors with the next person⎈
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