In a continent as ethnically and culturally diverse as Africa, it comes as no surprise that the literature that has emerged from it be equally diverse and multifaceted. Dealing with a range of social and cultural issues, from women’s rights and feminism to post-war and post-colonial identity, here are some of Africa’s best contemporary writers.
One of the world’s most widely recognized and praised writers, Chinua Achebe wrote some of the most extraordinary works of the 20th century. His most famous novel, Things Fall Apart (1958). Achebe is also a noted literary critic, particularly known for his passionate critique of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899), in which he accuses the popular novel of rampant racism through its othering of the African continent and its people.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Born in Nigeria in 1977, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is part of a new generation of African writers taking the literary world by storm. Adichie’s works are primarily character-driven, interweaving the background of her native Nigeria and social and political events into the narrative. Adichie’s works have been met with overwhelming praise and have been nominated for and won numerous awards, including the Orange Prize and Booker Prize.
Ayi Kwei Armah
Ayi Kwei Armah’s novels are known for their intense, powerful depictions of political devastation and social frustration in Armah’s native Ghana told from the point of view of the individual. His works were greatly influenced by French existential philosophers, such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, and as such hold themes of despair, disillusionment and irrationality. His most famous work, The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born (1968) centers around an unnamed protagonist who attempts to understand himself and his country in the wake of post-independence.
Born in Somalia in 1945, Nuruddin Farah has written numerous plays, novels and short stories, all of which revolve around his experiences of his native country. The title of his first novel From a Crooked Rib (1970) stems from a Somalian proverb “God created woman from a crooked rib, and anyone who trieth to straighten it, breaketh it”, and is a commentary on the sufferings of women in Somalian society through the narrative of a young woman trapped in an unhappy marriage. His subsequent works feature similar social criticism, dealing with themes of war and post-colonial identity.
One of Africa’s most influential women authors, Mariama Bâ is known for her powerful feminist texts, which address the issues of gender inequality in her native Senegal and wider Africa. Bâ herself experienced many of the prejudices facing women: she struggled for an education against her traditional grandparents, and was left to look after her nine children after divorcing a prominent politician. Her anger and frustration at the patriarchal structures which defined her life spill over into her literature. One of her popular works is So Long A Letter (1981)