It is without a doubt that African authors have greatly contributed to the continent’s development. Be it fiction or non-fiction, African authors are making an indelible mark on the sands of time. However, few exceptional contemporary African authors have been able to redefine their history and cultures. They refuse to allow Westerners to define them or their cultures, thereby combating what Chimamnda Adichie calls ‘the danger of a single story’. Obviously, nobody can write another person or race’s story better than them.
African stories mostly have social-pressing themes, relatable settings, and dots of African proverbs. Another strong feature of African stories is the use of stylized humor. However, regardless of the tone and wordplay, the authors always make sure that the message is never lost. Here are some of the exceptional contemporary African authors you should be following.
#1. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Nigeria)
The likes of Michelle Obama, Beyonce, and other big names either love her, her works, or have worked with her. She is a Nigerian sensational writer who has grown into world prominence. Born in Enugu, Nigeria in 1977, the African author has written many exceptional books that brought her to the limelight and made her win many awards.
In 2003, Ngozi Adichie published her first book titled Purple Hibiscus. This book has its setting in the military era in Nigeria, and how it affected and changed the life of Nigerians. In 2007, she won the Orange Prize, now called Women’s Prize for Fiction for her sensational book, Half of a Yellow Sun. The novel peered into the Biafran civil war that almost divided the country.
She also won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction for her Americanah book in 2014. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie uses her writing skills and stories to inspire, expose, and question norms. She is currently mourning the loss of her mother earlier on the 21st of March 2021. We all send out our condolences.
#2. Hemley Boum (Cameroon)
Boum was born in Douala, Cameroon. She writes majorly in French, the official language of her birth country. However, some of her books have been translated into other languages. Hemley Boum’s books have been so exceptional that she just couldn’t shy away from the limelight.
In 2015, her book Les Masquisards got her the award for Black African literature written in French, the Grand Prix littéraire d’Afrique noise. The book is a masterpiece that showed us how the Bassa people liberated themselves from colonization. The book is the mash of series of very interesting themes—from love to war, colonization, and many more.
Also, in 2019, she won the same award for the new book she published, Les jours viennent et passent (Days come and go). The book talks about how three generations of women talked about their histories alongside the war and its evils that plagued their families. The latest on Hemley Boum was the Prix Kourouma 2020 winner which took place in Geneva. The author is set to release the English version of her Les jours viennent et passent in 2022.
#3. Ben Okri (Nigeria)
An extraordinary poet and novelist, Ben Okri was born on the 15th of March 1959 in Nigeria. The African writer rose to prominence when he released his first novel Flower and Shadows. The novel discussed the politically scarred country from where Ben Okri came from. The book saw a child Jeffia became familiar with the evils of the world and how it shaped his life.
In 1991, Ben Okri became the youngest ever to receive the Booker Prize for his exceptional book The Famished Road. The book features the belief of the Africans in the coexistence of the spiritual world and the material world. Also, for his book Incident at the Shrine, Ben Okri won the Commonwealth Writers Prize (African Region Best Book) in 1987.
Ever since his introduction to the international limelight, Ben Okri has won a series of awards for his works. Right now, Ben Okri lives in London, UK. Recently, PEN Nigeria endorsed the African writer and poet’s presidency bid, and they hope that the candidate would win.
#4. Irenosen Okojie (Nigeria)
The writer of the popular book Grace Jones was born in Nigeria. Okojie moved from the West African country to the United Kingdom when she was just eight years of age. Her stories are known to involve her West African heritage, and most importantly, magic realism.
Her first book that gained recognition is Butterfly Fish. This book won the Betty Trask Award in 2016. The book is about a young hermit of a woman who had to dig into her past following the death of her grandma and the unfolding of a series of bizarre incidents. Irenosen Okojie’s recent feat is winning the 2020 AKO Caine Prize for African Writing.
#5. Maaza Mengiste (Ethiopia)
Mengiste was born in Addis Ababa Ethiopia in 1974. She has written fiction and non-fiction books that have brought to fore her African heritage. Her most notable book is “The Shadow King” which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2020. A book that talked about how a lowly servant in Ethiopia went to being a strong and proud female warrior.
Her book “Beneath the Lion’s Gaze” is another exceptional literary piece. It was named one of the best books of 2010 by the Christian Science monitor. The book had widespread popularity and was named one of the 10 contemporary African books by the Guardian.
Maaza is currently an activist and she has given various interviews on her stand on women’s rights. The most recent she gave was with BBC on the topic “Women’s silence doesn’t mean weakness”. We are still anticipating more exhilarating and mind-blowing literature from the sensational writer.
#6. Laila Lalami (Morocco)
Aged 53, Lalami was born in Rabat, Morocco in 1968. She is a famous novelist, professor, and essayist with a lot of exceptional works to her name. Her book “The Moor’s Account” won the Arab American book award and the American book award.
The book also won the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award and was a finalist in the Pulitzer Prize for fiction award. The book is about a Moroccan slave who was the first black explorer of America.
Likewise, her 2019 book, “The Other Americans” was a bestseller. The story talked about the death of an immigrant Moroccan in California, USA. It became a finalist in the National book award in fiction and the Kirkus Prize. The most recent about Laila is her latest book, “Conditional Citizen“ which is as sensational as all the books she has written.
#7. Djalil Amadou Amal (Cameroon)
The African author was born in Diamare in Cameroon. She is a writer, an activist, and a renowned feminist. In fact, she is the president of the feminist collective “Femmes du Sahel” (Women of Sahel). The most notable work that brought her to the international limelight is “Les Impatientes”.
The book won the Orange Book Prize in 2019. The same book also won the 33rd French Literary Award in December 2020. In the book, women who had their lives set for them challenge the status quo. Amadou Amal is still in her pursuit of women’s rights. In many interviews and write-ups, she is trying to promote the rights of women in her society.
#8. Tsitsi Dangarembga (Zimbabwe)
Dangaremba was born on the 4th of February, 1959. The 62-year-old is a sensational writer and a filmmaker. The work that brought her to the international limelight is “Nervous Condition”. This book made her the first Zimbabwean woman to publish a book in English.
BBC named the book to be part of the 100 books that shaped the world in 2018. The book tells the story of an impoverished young Rhodesian girl in her pursuit of education.
Also, her book “This Mournable Body” made for the 2020 Booker Prize. The book tells the story of a woman and how she tried so hard to improve her financial situation.
The PEN International awarded Dangbarembga the 2021 Freedom of Expression Award. Tsitsi Dangbarembga is a sensational African writer with hopefully more interesting pieces in the pipeline.
#9. Chogozie Obioma (Nigeria)
Born in Nigeria in 1986, this sensational African author’s works have been translated into more than 25 languages. Obioma’s book that brought him to the limelight was “The Fishermen”.
Obioma published The Fishermen in 2015, and it made the shortlist for the Booker Prize. The book won Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction. The book also won the Nebraska Book Award For Fiction 2016.
The story portrayed how the lives of four brothers became a fiasco after meeting a mad man. The creative African writer is now a professor of English and creative writing at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, USA.
#10. Lauren Beukes (South Africa)
The sensational South African author was born on the 5th of June 1976. She is a short story writer, a television writer, a journalist, and a novelist. The first work that brought her to the international stage is “The Shining Girls”.
The novel explains the life of a time-traveling serial killer, and how one of his survivors turned the game around. The book won a series of awards like the RT Thriller of the Year, the University of Johannesburg Prize, and the Strand Magazine Critic best novel award among others.
Lauren has written many books that have won several awards. Her “Zoo City”, a book about the music industry, crime, refugees, magic, and redemption also won various awards. The book won the 2010 Kitschies Red Tentacle for best novel.
It also won the 2011 Arthur C. Clarke Award. Lauren Beukes’ latest work is her collaboration with RisCura, an African Investment firm to curate predictions of possible financial future through an anthology of parables.
#11. Youssouf Amine Elalamy (Morocco)
Youssouf is a Moroccan author that was born in Larache, Morocco. The first book that gave him international recognition was “Les Clandestins”. The book won him the Grand Prix Atlas in 2001. The book tells the tragic story of how twelve men and a pregnant woman tried to cross from Morocco to Europe but ended up dead.
Youssouf also won the Orange book Award in Africa in 2020 for his book C’est Beau, la Guerre. The African writer now teaches Arts, Stylistics, Communication, and Media Studies as a professor at Ibn Tofail University, Kenitra.
#12. Ayobami Adebayo (Nigeria)
This young sensational African author was born in Lagos, Nigeria in 1988. The work that brought her international attention is the sensational book “Stay With Me”. The book won her the 9mobile Prize for Literature in 2019.
It explains the life of a Nigerian couple who had issues with having children and how the societal pressure forced the husband into taking another wife. Adebayo’s story also made the shortlist for Bailey’s Award for women fiction. The latest in Ayobami’s award collection is that “Stay With Me” in 2020 won her the Prix Les Afriques.
#13. Ngugi Wa Thiong’o (Kenya)
This literary icon has fed us many books throughout his lifetime. Thiong’o was born on the 3rd of January 1938. He has myriads of works ranging from short stories to essays, novels, plays, and even children’s literature. Ngugi Wa Thiongo gained International recognition in 1973 when he received his first award—Lotus Prize for Literature. The author has also received a lot of awards for his literary works ever since.
His recent international recognition came in 2020 when he made the shortlist for the international Booker Prize for his book “The Perfect Nine”. The book is about the Gikuyu people and how they tried to find suitable suitors for their daughters.
#14. J.M. Coetzee (South Africa)
J.M. Coetzee is another sensational writer that has won various awards and has received various recognitions internationally. He was born in 1940, February 9th. Coetzee was the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2003. His book, “Life and Time of Micheal K” won him his first Booker Prize in 1983. And his book “Disgrace” made him the first African to win the Booker Prize twice. In 2020, the University of Adelaide proudly honored the works and life of the Nobel Prize winner as he celebrated his 80th birthday.
#15. Nnedi Okorafor (Nigeria)
This sensational writer was born in 1974. She is a writer of comics, fantasy, science fiction for both adults and children. Her works are are under the Africanfuturism and Africanjujuism genre. Nnedi has won various awards including the Hugo and World Fantasy awards. Her book “Stephen King’s Super-Duper Magical Negreos” won the Strange Horizon’s reader’s choice award in 2005.
Her most recent award is the Hugo Award for The Best Graphic Story for her book “LaGuardia”. The book fused science fiction with her Nigerian heritage. In the book, a pregnant Nigerian American Doctor smuggled in an alien plant which changed her life.
African authors are not pushovers on the global stage. Regardless of their small number, they are making their voices heard with powerful and nifty storytelling skills. Consequently, some of them have sealed movie contract for their books to be adapted into screenplay. However, we believe there are many more budding African writers who never get the opportunity of getting published because of the bottlenecks in traditional publishing. Is there any other African writer than should be on this list? Let us know in the comment box below.