Before the current crop of phenomenal African writers, there were those who paved the way. Writers like James Baldwin, Chinua Achebe, who continued to put pen to paper, established a legacy that has influenced so many already and even more to come. Below three choices offer a treasure of literary greatness that we love.
Genre: Fiction, plays, and poetry
Most famous works: The Interpreters (1965), Death and the King’s Horseman (1973) and Poems from Prison (1969).
In 1967, literary mastermind Wole Soyinka was arrested after writing an article that called for a ceasefire in the Nigerian civil war. He was consequently imprisoned and put in solitary confinement for two years, smuggling his poems out of prison on toilet paper. After his release in 1994, he went into exile and was later sentenced him to death in absentia. He became the first African to win the Nobel prize for literature in 1986. He is best known as a poetical playwright, and is soon to publish his first book in almost 50 years, Chronicles of the Happiest People on Earth, which he wrote during lockdown.
Genre: Children, drama, non-fiction, and short stories
Most famous works: The Joys of Motherhood and The Slave Girl
After moving to England in the 60s’, Emecheta used both her experiences of living in Britain to write about women in African and immigrant society. She explored themes of equality, modernity, and tradition. Now with over 20 books under her belt, Emecheta has made huge contributions to British literature, and has been described as “the first successful black woman novelist living in Britain after 1948”.
Most famous works: Kindred (1979)
Paving the way for black people in science-fiction, Octavia Butler is praised for her uncanny predictions about the direction that US politics would take, as well as her early challenging of traditional gender identity and concerns over climate change. Her work has been influential in the science fiction genre and she is now recognised as one of America’s best-selling authors to date.