It is unforgivable to not know who Chinua Achebe is but the elite list he belongs to is growing by the day. More contemporary writers are rising up to the challenge of taking African stories to the international stage. The list is not that of the best African writers; that is a really difficult list to compile considering the amount of talent the continent has. Rather, it is an invitation to explore African art in its purest form.
How can a list be made and Chinua Achebe is not in it? That should be a cardinal sin! Chinua Achebe has been the game-change of African literature, the trailblazer. Achebe was a novelist, poet, professor, and critic all in one! His most famous work is Things Fall Apart which The Culture Trip said, “is a devastating depiction of the clash between traditional tribal values and the effects of colonial rule, as well as the tension between masculinity and femininity in highly patriarchal societies”. Suffice to say, Things Fall Apart Achebe’s magnum opus. It has managed to immortalise his name and fifty years after its publication, it has sold more than 12 million copies and has become the most read piece of African literature. Achebe died in March 2013 at the age of 82 but his feats are forever.
Other books by Chinua Achebe: No Longer at Ease, Arrow of God, A man of the People, Girls at War and Other Stories, Home and Exile
Ngugi wa Thiong’o
There has never been a louder literary and socio-political voice than Ngugi wa Thiong’o. This is a man who became such a threat to the political structures of Kenya that he was almost assassinated in Zimbabwe’s Harare. This is a man who had such a credible narrative voice that the Kenyan regime issued an arrest warrant for his fictitious character, Matigari. Ngugi is the recipient of many honors including the 2001 Nonino International Prize for Literature and ten honorary doctorates. His very first novel, Weep Not Child was published in 1964 and became the first novel in English to be published by a writer from East Africa.
Other books by Ngugi: The River Between, A Grain of Wheat, This Time Tomorrow, A Meeting in the Dark, I Will Marry When I Want (A play)
She is one of the most celebrated contemporary writers in modern Africa literature. Some have called her the heir to Achebe’s throne but that as Professor Masterson says is “deflecting attention from the singularity of Adichie’s authorial voice and vision”. Chimamanda was born in Nigeria in 1977. In 2003, her book, Purple Hibiscus was released to wide critical acclaim and so did Half of a Yellow Sun in 2006 and Americanah in 2013. She has received numerous accolades for her efforts including a Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Purple Hibiscus, Orange Prize for Half of a Yellow Sun and a Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize for Fiction for Americanah. Consistency is an obvious strength of hers.
Born in Herschel, Eastern Cape, South Africa in 1948, Zanemvula Kizito Gatyeni Mda has become one of the legends of literature in Africa. His father was an anti-Apartheid activist and a founding member of the African National Congress. With a keen interest in theatre, Zakes has produced loud plays which The International Literature Festival says “have repeated the premonition that a new government, being as corrupt and craving for power as the old one, would betray the ideals of resistance”. His first novel, Ways of Dying is a clear classic as are all his works. His writing has been translated into no less than twenty languages.
Other Books by Zakes Mda: Cion, Black Diamond, The Whale Caller
Ayi Kwei Armah
Ayi Kwei Armah, born in Takoradi, Ghana in 1939 has created a whole literary deity around his book The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born. Africa Book Club says, “Ayi Kwei Amar vividly captures the seemingly endless spiral of corruption, moral decadence and spiritual death in post-colonial Ghana.” Though seemingly tailored for Ghana’s post-colonial society, the book is an anecdote of what many post-colonial regimes became after a bit of time at the helm. The corrupt-free leaders, the beautiful ones, are not yet born becomes the emphatic message of the book. Armah also followed up on his success like any legend would by publishing “Why Are We So Blest?” in 1972, “Two Thousand Seasons” in 1973, “The Healers” in 1978, “Osiris Rising” in 1995 and the “Eloquence of the Scribes” in 2006. What a legend!
These five are not even the only literary giants in Africa. The talent the continent has cannot be exhausted in one article. They are simply a snippet of what avid readers can expect from Africa’s story-tellers. The likes of Wole Soyinka, a Nobel Laureate for Literature, Mariama Ba, Nuruddin Farah, and Yvonne Vera among other outstanding sharp shooters are the cream of the continent and their works are not in any way inferior to those of the writers who made the list. If this proves anything, it is that Africa is no longer cowering from telling her own story!
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