10+ Female African Fiction Writers to Read (other than Chimamanda Adichie)
I was reading an American Middle-Grade (junior secondary) textbook when I saw Purple Hibiscus listed as a Middle-Grade novel.
No surprises really as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is undoubtedly the most famous female African author right now. But it feels especially good to have Nigerian stories read by a wider public because Nigerians are voracious readers even reading many books by non-African authors.
Still, many people would like to and should have a broader view of the African continent asides Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. So, I decided to introduce you to, or remind you of about 17 other female African authors of fiction whose works are worth reading.
This is not at all an exhaustive list, rather, consider it a starting point!
So here we go, in no particular order:
1. Yewande Omotoso:
Born in Nigeria, raised in Barbados and currently living and working as an architect in South Africa, Omotoso has authored two books. I gave up on reading her debut novel, Bom Boy because I just couldn’t get into it, but I loved her second novel, The Woman Next Door. My favorite thing about her style of writing, in TWND, is the dry humor possessed by her characters. The story is often description-heavy though, so if you’re more of a straight to story kind of reader, it may take a while to adjust to her style of writing. Still, The Woman Next Door is very much plot-centered so you will get into the story eventually.
2. Pettina Gappah:
Zambia-born, Zimbabwean-bred author Petina Gappah currently lives in Berlin, Germany. I find Gappah’s writing very thought-provoking. Her stories often tackle societal issues and always incorporate her native language, Shona. Her second novel, The Book Of Memory is centered on an albino woman named Memory who is in jail for murder. I’ll admit, Petina Gappah’s books may not be the easiest to read because although quite funny, they’re slow paced and full of Shona words. Still, I enjoyed her most recent collection of short stories, Rotten Row. If you’re a patient reader, who appreciates reading of daily life in other African countries, try Petina Gappah.
3. Oyinkan Braithwaite:
Oyinkan Braithwaite is a Nigerian writer and illustrator. Last year, I read and loved her short novella Thicker Than Water about a girl who keeps murdering her boyfriends and getting her sister to clean up her mess. The story was darkly funny and intriguing! Her writing style is easy to read, juicy and enjoyable. Earlier this year, a full-length novel, My Sister, The Serial Killer, based on this novella was announced to be released in November. I am beyond excited about Braithwaite’s book, more so because it will be published in the US, UK and Nigeria (by Narrative Landscape Publishing). I liked her novel because for once, an African story isn’t about “culture” or history, just about a pretty girl who is a serial killer.
4. Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi:
Ugandan author Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi’s debut novel, Kintu is a generational saga following the lives of members of a Ugandan clan placed under a curse. Makumbi’s writing is laced with fascinating Ugandan folklore, myths, and sayings. I’ve never read any other novel like that. I liked that it fostered in me an appreciation for history. Her style of writing in Kintu is relatively easy to read, although there are a lot of characters to keep track of and she does use Swahili in parts of the book. History buffs who are curious about Uganda, readers who enjoy drama and suspense will love reading Kintu.
5. Ayesha Haruna Attah:
Ghanaian author, Ayesha Haruna Attah is a typical storyteller. I read her book Harmattan Rain, and while I enjoyed learning about Ghanaian history and being immersed in the culture and stories of the characters she created, I would’ve loved for the book to be a tad shorter. Still, it is always refreshing to read different authors from the continent and besides Taiye Selasi’s Ghana Must Go (which I loved) and Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing, I’d never read another book about Ghanaians set in Ghana. If you like a good, Nollywood/Gollywood-esque story, you’ll enjoy Attah’s Harmattan Rain. Her most recent book though is The Hundred Wells of Salaga.
6. Yejide Kilanko:
Most Nigerians seem to have read Yejide Kilanko’s Daughters Who Walk This Path, but just in case you haven’t, it’s worth adding to your list! Kilanko is a Nigerian therapist currently living in Ontario, Canada. Daughters Who Walk This Path chronicles the sexual abuse a young girl faces, the ways it changes her and the sisterhood she finds as a result. My favorite thing about this book is Kilanko’s ability to bring Ibadan to life so beautifully. Although dealing with weighty issues, this novel is very straightforward to read and hard to put down! I’m yet to read her new novella, Chasing Butterflies, but after this review, I’m dying to. If you’re looking for a nostalgic but compelling story to sink your teeth into, you’ll like this one.
7. Sarah Ladipo Manyika:
I adore British-Nigerian author Sarah Ladipo Manyika. Her novella, Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun, is the first book I’d see by an African author that featured a character like Dr. Morayo Da Silva. The protagonist of Manyika’s novella is almost seventy-five, in good health, driving a vintage Porsche, until she falls one day. The loss of independence prompts Morayo to ponder her life, past, and future. This read is unique and maybe a bit eclectic for those in need of the usual story arc. For those readers, Manyika’s first novel about an interracial romance amid Nigeria’s changing political scene, In Dependence may be a better pick. The book, In Dependence, is also available on Okadabooks.
8. Tricia Adaobi Nwaubani:
Nigerian author, Tricia Adaobi Nwaubani’s novel I Do Not Come to You By Chance is a wildly entertaining story about a first son enticed into the “419” business. This novel reads like a classic Nigerian movie. While the narrative arc might not be the most complex, it is a pageturner and introduces readers to the behind the scenes action of every fraudulent email ever received from a “Nigerian prince.” Nwaubani’s prowess as a humorist definitely shows in this book.
9. Sefi Atta:
To me, Sefi Atta is the queen of the quintessential “quiet” novel. I’ve read three of her books: Everything Good Will Come, Swallow and A Bit of Difference, of which, A Bit of Difference is my favorite. Atta’s novels are always insightful, whether exploring the thoughts of a girl growing up in post-independent Nigeria, a woman smuggling drugs across the Nigerian border or a young Nigerian woman dissatisfied with expatriate life in London. Her books are perfect for quiet nights by oneself. They always transport me entirely into her characters’ lives. I wish more international readers read Sefi Atta.
And there you have it - a great list to start from!
Some other female African authors on my To-Be-Read List include Tsitsi Daregamba, Maaza Mengiste, Leila Aboulela and, Nneka Lesley Arimah.
I haven’t included a few authors like Ayobami Adebayo, Taiye Selasi and Chibundu Onuzo because I reckon they’ve gained massive readership and publicity outside Nigeria. But if you haven’t read them, you should totally check them out!
Which of the authors / books mentioned have you read?
While we’re at it, what’s your fave Chimamanda’s book (because surely you’ve read a couple!). Which haven’t you read?
pS: if you counted, there’s only 16 names authors listed. Hoping the 17th is your recommendation, so tell us a female african author you like that’s not listed here!