Africa is a continent filled with great creativity, innovation and imagination, producing some of the world’s finest musicians, authors, artists and entrepreneurs. In more recent years, we have seen African literature in particular enjoying an increasingly global impact, being introduced into the standard curriculum of countries like the UK and the USA, as well as being taught more widely on the African continent itself.
Whereas just a hundred years ago, much of the most well-read literature about Africa came from British writers like Joseph Conrad, the story of Africa is now told by African writers.
Whilst this boost to Africa’s presence in the global literary arena has come about via a number of factors, the internet’s presence has played no small part in the process. The past 20 years have seen almost half of the world’s population go online. Online access to entertainment has increased interest in many different services such as music streaming via AccuRadio, table games via Sky Vegas, and tv & film via Prime video. Books are now available to a much wider audience via e-books, e-readers and online libraries. This change has directly contributed to an increase in readership and, in particular, the global success of literature outside of the traditional canon.
Here we’ll take a look at some of the most successful African authors enjoying fame both at home and further afield.
It is impossible to talk about African literature without mentioning Chinua Achebe, author of the monumental Things Fall Apart alongside many other novels, short stories and poetry. His first published novel continues to be the most widely read and most widely studied example of African literature, both on the continent itself and across the world. Born in 1930 in Nigeria, Achebe went on to travel extensively, writing about Africa’s place in the global literature scene. His profound influence on the literature of the 20th and 21st centuries is not to be underrated, especially when it comes to the authors of his home country of Nigeria. He worked for many years as teacher, lecturer and fellow in eminent educational establishments both in Nigeria and the USA, preparing the next generation of writers to take up his mantle.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
One such Nigerian writer who has claimed to be greatly influenced by Achebe is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The star author rose to popular fame on an international scale in 2013 after Beyoncé sampled her speech ‘We should all be feminists’ on her new album. However, Adichie published her first novel in 2003 to great critical acclaim. 2006 saw her publish her second novel Half of a Yellow Sun, which won several prizes for literature, and from there onwards, the author has continued to move from strength to strength. Titles like Americanah have now entered the canon of essential literature written in the English language and Adichie herself has received numerous accolades as an author. Her lecture ‘The Danger of a Single Story’ is one of the top ten most viewed TED talks and she has spoken at distinguished American universities like Harvard and Yale.
Ngūgī wa Thiong’o
Kenyan writer Ngūgī wa Thiong’o is recognised as the first East African writer to have a novel published in English. His first novel Weep Not, Child, published in 1964, provides a brutally honest look at the uneasy relationship between the Africans and the British during the 1950s. This subject sets the tone for much of his work. It was written during Ngūgī’s time studying at the Ugandan Makerere University; after completing his BA in English there, he moved to Leeds University in the UK to complete an MA. Due to his experiences studying literature in both Africa and the UK, Ngūgī renounced writing in English and instead began to write in Gikuyu and Swahili. Since this decision, his politically charged writing for the stage and for publication has taken him all over the world, where he has lectured in numerous establishments and received many literary accolades.
Senegalese author Mariama Bâ was an influential feminist writer who dedicated much of her work to confronting the inequalities between genders in African culture. She was a trained schoolteacher and active member of the women’s movement from the 1940s onwards. Her unmistakable voice has informed the writing of many African authors, sounding particularly loudly within Muslim communities like the one she herself grew up in. Her most famous works are her first book So Long a Letter and her 1986 book, Scarlet Song. Both works are notable for their unapologetic exploration of the different roles of men and women in society, and their feminist critique of the extreme inequalities that could be found there. There is now a boarding school named after her in Senegal, continuing the education of the country’s youth under the guidance of Bâ’s influence.