Read it! Loved it! African Literature on the Interweb

Summer is officially over, and I realised the last time I shared my round-up of what I've been reading on the interweb was in July (where did the time go?!). Well, I'm back with Read it! Loved it! and this will be a sort-of bumper edition - covering a bit of what I read the last couple of months. So, here we go!

Image via Pinterest

Let's begin with the most recent reads -Tope Folarin's essay on Achebe, Adichie and Mbue and what he has 'been missing from much of the African fiction [he has] been reading of late':

If you are a black African novelist in the 1960s or 1970s or 1980s or 1990s or early 2000s, you can name a number of writers if you like, you can wax eloquent about the wonders of Shakespeare and Virginia Woolf if it makes you feel good, but everyone - including, no, especially Western publishers and editors and critics - will be waiting for one name. And if you are too prideful to utter it they shall utter it for you, they will hold up your work to the light of Achebe and decide id your work is similar enough to warrant attention.  
This is the case until about 2003.

Followed by this response to the essay by Aaron Bady:

... as a description of structural tendencies in the American marketplace for Anglophone African fiction, I want to say from the start that he's absolutely right: Big publishers are risk-averse and because publishing is always about speculation from precedent and potential, then past successes will be enormously important and influential ...  
And yet ... Folarin's point is so sharp that it becomes narrow, and there's a begged question that holds together everything that follows: What African fiction has he 'been reading of late'? Who has she been reading and finding wanting?

There's also Petina Gappah's short story in the New Yorker - A Short History of Zaka the Zulu, possibly the first ever fiction piece by a Zimbabwean author to be featured in the New Yorker. After reading the story, check out this interview with Gappah - also in the New Yorker - on the aforementioned short story, as well as her new short story collection, Rotten Row out in the UK in November:

'Rotten Row' is the street in Harare on which you find the Criminal Division of the Magistrate's Court. The book is made up of twenty stories about crime, seen from different perspectives. I also experiment with different approaches to storytelling: I use a court judgement, an autopsy report, and an  Internet discussion forum, as well as other voices.

Rotten Row via Faber Books.

Also this review from Gappah on Teju Cole's Known and Strange Things.There's also this review on Route 234 - the collection of African travel writing by African writers edited by Pelu Awofeso. Speaking of Teju Cole, here's a conversation between him and Taiye SelasiOn stories about African immigrants written by, wait for it, African immigrants, with Bim  Adewunmi discussing 'the first immigrant narrative' she remembers reading: 

... Buchi Emecheta's 'Second Class Citizen', cited by many Nigerian-Brits of a certain age as a tour de force in literacy cinema verite. It was, for me, an alien read in many ways. My parents, my grandparents, and my siblings and I lived very different lives from those depicted in the book, the most notable in the casual cruelty that was inflicted on its protagonist, Adah. Adah is one of those women whose lives would be infinitely better without their terrible husbands. Her triumphs and woes are symptomatic of more than what she is (an immigrant) - they become more spectacular or pitiful because of the space she occupies (cold, grey, and wet London) and the time in which she lives (the overtly racist and not-so-great-for-women-of-any-race 1970s).

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Half of a Yellow Sun turned ten this year and Adichie reflected on this - and more - at the Southbank centre in London. On to Puku's Children Literature Foundation and making books available for children in their first language and decolonisation, as well as this piece on decolonisation, not diversificationChris Abani on a more diverse representation of the continent and the many controversies of the Nigerian Writers series, including its level of commitment when it comes to producing and promoting the 10 books in the series. Then this interview with Chinelo Okparanta on telling her own stories and writing Nigerian LGBT characters:

... I knew ahead of time that many of my fellow Africans would not exactly be thrilled with my subject matter. I was indeed sent some threatening messages via social media, I did not return home for quite a while after my collection was published due to feeling unsafe. Because, of course, anything could happen.  

On Science Fiction's ancient roots in Africa to Somalia's nascent love affair with books and what happened when Ben Okri and Jeremy Corbyn met in London to discuss art, creativity and their dreams of a better world.

On lists, the mother of all lists - a little over 200 books collated by the Media Diversified Library from author Nikesh Shukula's 200+ books by writers of colour on Twitter. This one showcasing 9 publishing companies 'devoted to uplifting marginalised voices and providing quality literature that reflects the diversity of our world'. There's also 10 African countries you can visit through books including Ghana through Murder at Cape Three Points and Equitorial Guinea via By Night the Mountain Burns and this beautiful list of African SFF short stories on Omenana

Also listened to this interview on warscapes with Panashe Chigumadzi on American rap music, Afro-pessimism and literature. There's also Caine Prize winner Lidudumalingani on his win and his documentary about the hip-hop movement in Khayelitsha and this interview on Okayafrica - also with Lidudumalingani, in which he speaks on a number of things, including Binyavanga Wainaina's stance that the Caine Prize is 'not our prize':

The reality of it is that no prize would ever be out prize because it will be run by a few individuals with their own prejudices and agendas. This idea that in the world there is or that someday there will be a prize that represents everyone's interests is a myth. What I would agree is that we need more literature prizes. But none of them, I do not think, will be fully encompassing. It is structurally impossible but the contributions, even with their own limitations, contribute towards the bigger goal. 

Speaking of Caine Prize, Tinder Press acquired a story collection and debut novel of shortlisted author - Lesley Nneka Arimah. Finally this beautiful story from Yovanka Paquete Perdigao on her own journey from Guinea-Bissau to London via Dakar and Lisbon

That's it for Read it! Loved it! and also listened to it. Hopefully it won't take a couple of months for the next round up.

Early Cover Reveal: US Edition of Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi's 'Kintu'

Back in May, Writivism announced on its social media pages that Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi's Kintu had found a Western publisher - the Oakland-based indie publisher, Transit Books - and would be published in the US in 2017. This was amazing and wonderful news because Kintu is one of those books that I had been told was fantastic, brilliant, a must-read - but ridiculously hard to get a hold of outside of East Africa. Winner of the 2013 Kwani? manuscript project, Kintu  follows the stories of Kintu Kidda - Ppokino of Buddu Province, in the kingdom of Buganda - and his descendants over 2 centuries (and a bit) as they seek to break with the burden of their shared past. I finally got a copy while I was in Kampala for Writivism, and you know what, they weren't lying - the book is fantastic, brilliant, a must-read. I am 240 pages in to Kintu - about to start Part IV - and I have been savouring every word as I really do not want it to end. 

So this makes it even more exciting that today Transit books (can we take a minute to celebrate small presses/indie publishers and African literature) gave an 'early peak at the cover art for Kintu' on their Facebook page. Transit Books also quotes Makumbi's reaction to the book cover in their facebook post:
This is 'Kintu's' first outing in the West. I am delighted that the landscape, the immensity of the myth (looming over the characters and place) have been captured in the images colours and illusions. Hats off, Transit Books.
Well, here's the cover!!!!! And let the countdown to the US edition and wider availability of this gem of a novel begin. 

Cover art via Transit Books facebook page


Four and a Half Years Later: Science Fiction and Fantasy in African Literature

Image from SA edition of Lauren Beukes' Broken Monsters. Designed by Joey Hi-fi. Source:

March 2012 - that's when I shared my first post on African Science Fiction. A not-so-closeted fan of the genre (particularly of the Fantasy variety), I was venturing into it with African literature. That post was a personal list on what to read as I started the journey. Over time I updated the list, first in 2013 with African Science Fiction Part 2, then African Speculative Fiction in 2014, and finally some SFF releases in 2015

As my adventure into the wonderful world of African SFF continued, many essays expanded my knowledge on the genre, including recent ones, such as Wole Talabi's on Why Africa Needs More Science Fiction and Chinelo Onwualu's essay on African Science Fiction and Literature - in which Onwualu discusses how 'the last decade or so' has seen 'a true groundswell of science fiction written by Africans for a primarily African audience', but also that African SFF is not new:
 ... Africans have been creating their own science fiction for quite some time; only these stories often don't have the elements we have come to expect from the genre. For instance, two icons of African speculative fiction Ben Okri's 1991 novel 'The Famished Road' and 'Wizard of the Crow' by Ngugi Wa Thiong'o in 2006 feature magic and spirits, but neither deals with technology.
There are also lists - wonderful lists, beautiful lists - including Wole Talabi's favourite AfroSFF short fiction of 2015, part one of Geoff Ryman's 100 African Writers of SFF - the setting Nairobi, as well as Mark Bould's African  Science Fiction 101African Science Fiction 101: update and African Science Fiction 101: update 2;

Beyond essays and lists, African SFF seems to be getting greater visibility and recognition: two novels by African Writers were on the Kitschies Golden Tentacle (debut) shortlist - A Igoni Barrett's Blackass and Tade Thompson's Making Wolf, with Making Wolf taking the award. Additionally, Irenosen Okojie's Butterfly Fish, which has elements of magical realism won a 2016 Betty Trask Award, and Nnedi Okorafor's novella Binti won both the 2016 Nebula Awards and 2016 Hugo Award for best novella - and Okorafor's works are getting an even wider audience with a number of translations. 

L-R: Binti (Chinese edition), Lagoon (German edition), Lagoon (Polish edition). Covers via Nnedi Okorafor's Facebook Author page

There's also the fact that when the 17th Caine Prize shortlist was announced, the Chair of Judges, Delia Jarret-Macauley commented on ' ... the increasing number of fantasy fictions [with] the sci-fi trend resonating in several excellent stories', with Lesley Nneka Arimah's Who Will Greet You at Home described by Brittle Paper as '[a] science fiction story that reads like a fable' with 'a Grimm's Brother's fairytale feel'. While the winner of this year's Writivism Short story prize, SunDown by Innocent Immaculate Acan is also SFF - set in 2050AD with the sun dying. 

And it keeps on getting better - in August, the African Speculative Fiction Society (ASFS) was announced - a professional and semi-professional body of African writers, editors, publishers, graphic artists and film makers of Speculative Fiction. A conversation between Nerine Dorman, Geoff Ryman and Tade Thompson revealed the genesis of the ASFS: 

You know, I have no memory what kicked it off. I was reading stuff on the African Fantasy Reading Group and just thought 'sod it, we need an award and it will have to be entirely in Africa. Just keep everybody else out, me included. I had just come back from Nairobi and had loved the writers there, their mood of owing so little to everybody else, just growing their own wild sort of beatnik scene. And I was very impressed talking to Moses Kilolo and Richard Oduor Oduku, how they had got Jalada together by talking through all the issues first. So I just start[ed] chatting online with the group, and all those good people who formed the Awards Discussion Group came on board. 
                                                 - Geoff Ryman

.... to some extent, what it means:

The ASFS helps to unite people like you, Nerine, and Chinelo for example, who have been fighting individually to raise the SFF profile on the continent. I think together we can get more done. 
To me part of the job of the ASFS is to demonstrate that we're here and we're like SFF writers everywhere, to bring fucking quality to the party, and mindpain to the haters! 
                                        - Tade Thompson

... and some of its long-term goals: 

An anthology of nominated works. A programme with the French, Arabic, Portuguese and local language worlds. Publications in Luo on one page facing the page of English translation so that local languages can be sold bound in with the English. An expanding awards programme to recognise the outstanding auteur cinema springing up outside and maybe inside Nollywood. A searchable database of published novels, stories, graphic novels. A programme of Wikipedia maintenance to keep everybody's bios and bibliographies available and accurate. Programmes to encourage developing writer. BUT ABOVE ALL ELSE. Developing the audience in terms of both numbers and its expectations. Giving African writers Africans to write for, in genres that are controlled by African readers. So I hope the pros don't leave behind the 1000+ African Readers on Facebook. I hope both groups grow together, readers and writers. They are on the same side. 
                                      - Geoff Ryman

Along with the ASFS came the Nommos - prizes recognising African SFF by Africans, which will be formally announced in November at the 2016 Ake Festival. So clearly, it's very, very exciting times in the world of African SFF and with all that, I thought it was time to update the list. Because ... why not? So here are a few more to add to the list - some of which I've shared my thoughts: Azanian Bridges, AfroSFv2, African Monsters. Also check out the interviews with the AfroSFv2 authors on their novellas. (Note. Binti: Home is out next year).

Also, there's Chimurenga's latest issue of the Chronic, which explores ideas around mythscience, science fiction and graphic strorytelling. Drawing on the continents 'long history of producing comics that have pushed the boundaries of time and space', the issue also 'invited artists to produce graphic adaptations of stories that speak of everyday complexities in the world in which we live in, in which we imagine we will live and in which we want to live'. These include, Nikhil Singh's take on the Achimota Wars and London Kamwendo on The Palm Wine Drinkard.

Kamwendo on Tutuola's The Palm Wine DrinkardSource: Chimurengachronic
Very, very exciting times for African SFF indeed. 

New (new) beginnings

I'm getting a little personal on this post, but I will never, ever, ever forget the day I found out. It was five days before my birthday, a colleague/dear friend and I were out enjoying the sun for lunch, and were forcing ourselves to head back to the office when I checked my email - and saw these words: 'Congratulations Dr!'. I screamed and then cried - completely forgetting where I was and who I was with. My poor colleague had no idea what was going on, and probably a minute into my crying - I say, 'It's happy tears.' 

That was the beginning of June and saw the end of an extremely long and very difficult PhD process filled with anxiety, uncertainty, feelings of inadequacy, stress, tiredness and for 2 and a half years juggling it with a full-time job. 

For the longest time, I felt there was no light at the end ... Source: PhD Comics
I struggled (I mean really struggled) with my PhD. My loved ones may have all believed I could, and would, do it. Post-viva - I, on the other hand, had lost any faith in my ability to actually do this thing. Many times I wanted to give up because this clearly wasn't for me, and I was fooling myself that I could do it. This self-doubt went so deep that even after I got the official email from my university, it took me many, many, many weeks to accept that I had actually been awarded. It's still sinking in (if I'm honest), but with my graduation in a few months I think more and more I am accepting that it's happened, I did it, I survived - and the best part, I will never, ever, ever have to do a PhD ever again.

There clearly was something in the air in June, as a little over a week before I received the email about my doctorate, I was contacted by an organisation and asked if I would be interested in being considered for a new position they had available. I also remember that day - I asked my family and close friends what they thought. The unanimous answer- go for it, the worse thing that could happen is I don't get it. So on my birthday - five days after I officially became a Dr (whoop! whoop!) - I headed off to be interviewed. That was a little over three months ago.

Well, 5 days ago, I finally signed my contract for the new position - which means it's official and they can't take it away from me (I mean they can't right?!). Now, after a little over three years in my current organisation, I am kinda sorta terrified (new things always scare me), but also curious to see what this new role will bring - especially as I will be stepping out of my comfort zone and leaving academia. 

I am also excited (as scary as it is) to find out what comes with this entirely new chapter in my life. I really and truly have no idea what the next few months or even year will bring, but I am also ready for it. So here's to new (and hopefully positive) beginnings, but also to hard work and perseverance and never giving up, even when I wanted to. And most important - to those that believed in me when I was struggling to believe in myself. 

African Classics Go Digital: Flora Nwapa's Works on Digitalback Books

Exciting news, Digitalback Books - an online platform with a virtual library containing fiction and non-fiction from Africa and the Diaspora - have recently signed an agreement with Tana Press Ltd for the digital release of some of Flora Nwapa's publications. 

Image via Tana Press Ltd. 

Flora Nwapa was said to be the first African woman novelist to be published in English with her first novel, Efuru, in 1966, and was also one of the first African female publishers with the founding of Tana Press in the 1977 - established to publish her own works, as well as others. Nwapa's works also includes Idu, Never Again, and Women are DifferentI finally had the opportunity to read Efuru a few years ago thanks to the library at my workplace - they have an awesome selection of novels by African writers, including quite a bit of the African Writers Series, so it's absolutely fantastic that Flora Nwapa's works will be made even more widely available thanks to the digitisation. 

Uzoma Nwakuche - Managing Director of Tana Press - had this to say about the exciting partnership: 
We see the 50th anniversary of 'Efuru', Flora Nwapa's most well-known novel as the perfect opportunity to make this happen. Her titles in digital library will ensure continued access to individuals and institutions alike. 
While Gersy Ifeanyi Ejimofo - founder of Digitalback Books:
Signing an agreement for a number of Flora Nwapa's titles including her last unpublished work 'Lake Goddess' is an incredible milestone for us. We have a lot of contemporary writers on the platform, but Flora Nwapa's works will be our first from the legendary African Writers Series. I sincerely hope this will be the start of more African Classics being digitised and available to new audiences across African and globally.
It's still unclear which of Flora Nwapa's titles - in addition to Lake Goddess - will be released but they will be available on Digitalback books from the end of October 2016. 

The Outzone and Beyond: Nikhil Singh's Stunning Illustrations

Nikhil Singh's debut novel Taty Went West has over 40 illustrations that accompany it. 40+ images that take you on an adventure with Taty as she goes into the Outzone, and then beyond. 40+ images that are extremely detailed and precise. 40+ images that make you feel like you are part of this terrifyingly beautiful world Singh has created. And 40+ illustrations that are pretty distinct because Nikhil Singh's illustrations are, well, pretty distinct. 

So, when Nikhil offered to share his illustrations with me for the blog, I was so excited because I was in awe of Singh's stunning artwork as I read Taty Went West. I would spend time soaking up every illustration as I came across it in the novel. So here are seven of them, which I should say was so very hard to decide which ones to share. But I wanted ones that gave a mix of the characters and the landscape, and would also hopefully take you on a mini-journey. Enjoy!!!! And thank you again to Nikhil Singh for graciously sharing his illustrations. 

'The Outzone was a place where people went to escape. It was large enough for anyone to lose themselves in, a feverish sanctuary for those seeking to escape their lives ... ' p1
Into the Outzone. © Nikhil Singh

Checkmate at the clockshop.  © Nikhil Singh

'He took her suitcase and led her to the speedboat, staggering stiffly, like a dusty marionette.' p180
The Land of Strangers.  © Nikhil Singh
The Terminal.  © Nikhil Singh

'A golden moon had emerged in the wisps of the cloud, painting thousands of trees against the oil-deep of night. The light illuminated recessions of pyramids, floating eerily above the moon-washed jungle.' p217  

The Pyramids.  © Nikhil Singh

Trouble in Paradise.  © Nikhil Singh

Ghosts.  © Nikhil Singh

'She pressed play as she glided from shape to shape, starting the song from the beginning again' - p408 

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