When trawling big South African bookstores, one could easily conclude that African people have little to no interest in publishing books. Alternatively, African readers would seem to have no appetite for African stories. Our books are very briefly displayed in storefronts for a launch season and then replaced by a haphazard mix of current and outdated titles by European and US American authors. All of this, despite the fact that African authors are writing, rewriting and reimagining our stories at a furious pace, with innovative skill and urgency.
Here I will mention some titles and authors that piqued my interest, but these are by no means the only nor the most important offerings. I hope that some of these titles will lead you to discover the work of other authors who speak to you.
The creative work of African fiction writers is simply sublime and year on year, they blow our minds with the lengths and depth they have gone to, to create worlds never seen before or to turn the world we know on its head. Themes include migrancy, generational complexities in Black families, liminality, religion, substance abuse, spatial violence, love and the rest of spectrum of human experience.
Rešoketšwe Manenzhe – Scatterlings
Thenjiwe Mswane – All Gommorahs Are The Same
Akwaeke Emezi -Freswater, Pet, The Death of Vivek Oji and Dear Senthuran
Naledi Mashishi – Invisible Strings
Terry-Ann Adams – Those Who Live In Cages
Keletso Mopai – If You Keep Digging
Futhi Ntshingila – They Got To You Too
Ayòbámi Adébáyò -Stay With Me
When The Village Sleeps – Sindiwe Magona
Mermaid Fillet – Mia Ardene
The variety of topics in African non-fiction always leaves me gasping. New things written about in familiar ways, old things written about in new ways. Simply spectacular!
Barbara Boswell – And Wrote My Story Anyway
Makhosazana Xaba – Our Words, Our Worlds
Pumla Dineo Gqola – The Female Fear Factory
Janine Jellars – The Big South African Hair Book
Landa Mabenge – Becoming Him
Florence Masebe – The Heart Knows
Sisonke Msimang – The Resurrection Of Winnie Mandela
Kojo Boffoe – Listen To Your Footsteps
Lorato Trok – The Forgotten Scientist
Nanjala Nyabola – Traveling While Black
Patric Tariq Mellet -The Lie of 1652
The offerings of poetry are simply always something to look forward to from African writers and tell stories in ways that leave one agog for days after reading them.
Koleka Putuma – Collective Amnesia, Hullo, Bu-Bye, Ko Ko, Come In
Mthunzikazi Mbungwana – Unam Wena
Athambile Masola – Ilifa
Musawenkosi Khanyile – All The Places
Vangile Gantsho – Red Cotton
Mukoma Wa Ngugi – Logotherapy
Danai Mupotsa – Feeling and Ugly
Busisiwe Mahlangu – Surviving Loss
The offerings for African children have been a very important arena of literature especially as the stories pertain to self-acceptance, pride, and beauty standards. There have been some absolutely stellar efforts in this area that serve the growing cognitive needs of children.
Lebohang Masango – Mpumi’s Magic Beads
Karen Theunissen – I Have Brown Skin and Curly Hair
Rafiek Mammon – Faizel and the Stars
Louisa Olafuyi & Oladele Olafuyi (Kunda Kids) – Queen Yaa Saves The Golden Stool
Shudufhadzo Musida – Shudu Finds Her Magic
Zukiswa Wanner – Refilwe
I am sure that I have not even begun to scratch the surface of what is currently on offer in the African literature arena and of course, there are works that I have not even heard of yet. I find that reading is cumulative. The references and connections authors make in their works often lead one to a new topic and author. Reading can send one down through years and decades of discovery as you peel back the layers of archives.
Africa has always been a hub of literary genius and intellectual excellence. The contemporary books mentioned here are simply carrying on a long tradition of thought and artistry that has seen erasure, censorship and banning over the years. The continuation of this tradition of storytelling and research, however, proves that the spirit of African creativity is not easily quelled.
This resilience and renewal are a legacy we should all be proud of. The best way to show that pride, is to support African authors. Where we can share our access to books with others, and break down the existing barriers to access, we should do that.
It is important that we create communities for the upliftment and sustenance of African authors and publishers who give us opportunity to see the world through imaginations that show us that different, and sometimes better is possible.
In the last installment of this series, I will explore the work of African publishers and book clubs – very important components of to the longevity and vitality of the literary landscape. They are vehicles that keep the conversations moving and the possibilities open for established authors to present their new work and new authors to be received by audiences.