54 Years of Nigerian Literature: Fiction from Northern Nigeria

by - 08:35

Kurmi Market - Kano's 500 year old market. 2011
A couple of years ago,  I wrote about Hausa Popular Literature, which is also known as Kano Market Literature or littattafan soyayya (books of love) in Hausa. There I mentioned Balaraba Ramat Yakubub - said to be a leader in this genre - whose books Alhaki Kukuyo Ne (Sin is a Puppy that Follows You Home) was translated into English by an Indian publishing house. Just last year (October 2013), Words Without Borders presented works by women writing in indigenous African languages. One of the works was from Rahma Abdul Majid's novel Mace Mutum, which was translated into English by Ibrahim Malumfashi.

While that post focused on books in Hausa, in this post on writers from Northern Nigeria, I showcase some authors whose works are available in English. As Richard Ali writes in his essay On Northern Nigerian Literature And Related Issues, 'contemporary northern writing is now centred on four towns (Minna, Jos, Kano and Kaduna)'. 

*The post has been updated to include The Undesirable Element and Sterile Sky 
Cassava Republic is delighted and excited to announce the signing of Abuja-based writer Elnathan John.  Elnathan quit his job as a lawyer in November 2012 to focus on writing full-time. His work has been published in Per Contra, ZAM Magazine, Evergreen Review, Sentinel Nigeria and Chimurenga's The Chronicle.  In 2013 he was shortlisted for the Caine Prize For African Writing for his story Bayan Layi. He also writes political satire for his weekly column for the Sunday Trust newspaper. - See more at: http://www.cassavarepublic.biz/blogs/main/14725265-press-release-cassava-republic-signs-elnathan-john#sthash.OvoVCgYa.dpuf

Labo Yari's novel Climate of Corruption (1978) is said to be the first English-language novel published in northern Nigeria. Climate of Corruption is an ironic and amusing story of a group of young Nigerians making their lives in modern times, synonymous with a climate of corruption, in which traditional, moral and religious values are withering. Instead, they are exposed to drinking and smoking, and theatre and (Indian) films, extra-marital sex, feminism and homosexuality.
Labo Yari's other works include A House in the Dark and Other Stories (1985), Man of the Moment (1992), and A Day Without Cockcrow (1999).

In the 1970s, Macmillan Publishing House established the Macmillan Pacesetters Series. The series made its debut with three books - one being The Undesirable Element by Mohammed Sule (the other two were Agbo Areo's Director!  and Sam Adeowoye's The Betrayer). In The Undesirable Element, before his death, Mallam Shehu entrusts the care of his daughter, Bintu, to an old friend and begs her to fulfil his solemn vow that the girl will marry Faruk Abdu on his return from Europe. But before his return, events take a twist and lead Bintu down the path to tragedy. 
Mohammed Sule's other works include The Delinquent (1979) and The Infamous Act (1982)

Zaynab Alkali is said to be the first female novelist from Northern Nigeria and her debut novel, The Stillborn, was published in 1984. It tells the story of Li - a thirteen year old who has completed her primary education but is restless and finds her home stifling and longs to escape the boredom and drudgery of her life of sweeping, fetching the water and firewood and washing dishes. She longs to escape to the city, but the death of her father leads her to take up the responsibilities in her household. The Stillborn won the Association of Nigerian Authors Award for the best novel of the year when it was published.  
Alkali's other works include The Virtuous Woman (1987), the co-edited anthology,Vultures in the Air: Voices from Northern Nigeria in 1995 and the collection The Cobwebs and Other Stories in 1997 - this also won the Association of Nigerian Authors Award  for best collection of short stories that year. Her most recent works include The Descendants (2005) and The Initiates (2007). 

Innocent Victims (1988) is Abubakar Gimba's third novel. It is a story of fraud, abuse of power and political machinery for selfish ends. Centring on Faruk Kolo, the Director-General of the Department of Food and Animal production, a panel has been set up to probe the Departments activities. During this panel, the workings of the department come under scrutiny, with Innocent Victims revealing the in-fighting, power struggles and corruption present in the civil service. 
Other novels from Gimba include Trials of Sacrifice (1985), Witness to Tears (1987), Sunset for a Mandarin (1992), Golden Apples (1994) and Foot Prints (1998)

Fatima Ba'aram Alkali's debut novel, Personal Angle, published in 2008, delves into the world of politics and business and does it through the lives of two women - Zaria (a lawyer) and Basheika (a housewife). In an interview, Alkali explains what these two women represent to her: 
'The lives of the "two heroines" ... Basheika and Zaria, reflect the core moral messages I am seeking to express to the world. Zaria, a divorced professional lawyer, represents the ideal of a woman who maintains her dignity and integrity in a morally bankrupt world. Basheika's life helps me to express the belied I have always held about power struggles between men and women; that marriage should not be a battle ground where women 'fight' for their rights. It should rather be a loving union where women freely "claim" their rights.'
Personal Angle won the 2009 Abuja Writers' Forum (AWF) Ibrahim Tahir Prize for Prose.

Habila's third novel, Oil on Water, was published in 2010 and was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers Prize (2011) and the Orion Book Award (2012). It was also a runner-up for the Pen Book Award (2012). Oil on Water is set in the Niger-Delta region where the wife of a British oil executive has been kidnapped. Two journalists - a young upstart, Rufus, and a once-great, now disillusioned veteran, Zaq - are sent to find her. As Rufus and Zaq navigate polluted rivers flanked by exploded and dormant oil wells, they must contend with the brutality of both government soldiers and militants. Habila's other works include the short story collection Waiting for An Angel (2002), Measuring Time (2007) and The Granta Book of the African Short Story (2011). 

Sterile Sky, E.E Sule's debut novel won the 2013 Commonwealth Book Prize for the African region. As the gifted young Murtala comes of age in Kano, violent riots and his family's own woes threaten to erase all he holds dear. Stalked by monsters real and imagined, desperate to preserve a sense of self and the future, Murtala hunts for answers in the wreckage of the city - and gives us a unique insight into modern life in northern Nigeria. Other works from E.E Sule include poetry collections Knifing Tongues (2005), Naked Sun (2006) and What the Sea Told Me (winner of the 2009 ANA Gabriel Okara Prize). He also has two short story collections Impotent Heavens (2004) and Dream and Shame (2007). 
Published in 2012, The Whispering Trees is Abubakar Adam Ibrahim's debut collection of short stories, which employs nuance, subtle drama and deadpan humour to capture colourful Nigerian lives. There's Kyakkyawa, who sparks forbidden thoughts in her father and has a bit of angels and witches in her; there's the mysterious butterfly girl who just might be an incarnation of Ohikwo's long dead mother; there's also a flummoxed white woman caught between two Nigerian brothers and an unfolding scandal, and, of course, the two medicine men of Mazade who battle against their egos, an epidemic and an enigmatic witch. 
The Whispering Trees was longlisted for the inaugural 2014 Etisalat Prize for Literature, and the title story was shortlisted for the 2013 Caine Prize for African Writing. 

Richard Ali's debut novel, City of Memories, published in 2012, is a love story set in Northern Nigeria. It is about four characters negotiating the effect of various traumas. Towering above them is the story of Ummi al-Qassim, a princess of Bolewa, and the feud that attended her love - first for a nobleman, then for a poet - a feud that bequeaths her with madness and death. All four are bracketed by the modern city of Jos in Central Nigeria, where political supremacy and perverse parental love become motives for an ethno-religious eruptions calculated to destroy the Nigerian state.   
Finally, a press release from Cassava Republic in June announced that Elnathan John's debut novel will be published in the second quarter of 2015. No title yet, but here's a brief synopsis:
"[This] is a compelling coming-of-age story about Dantala a boy who starts out as a disciple of Quranic knowlege. Through Dantala's maturing eyes and diary entries, we are shown life as it is lived in northern Nigeria - the vagaries of familial care, violence and the nuance of political leadership. The novel uses fiction to give a finely textured exploration of the evolution of religious fundamentalism in the North and its complex relationship to politics and economics. Northern Nigerians reading the book will find in the novel a deep recognition of their circumstances, whereas those from beyond will appreciate (sometimes for the first time) that northern Nigeria is far from that monolithic existential space that prejudice and stereotype will have us believe. "

Elnathan John's writing has been published in Per Contra, ZAM Magazine, Evergreen Review, Sentinel Nigeria and Chimurenga. His short story Bayan Layi was shortlisted for the 2013 Caine Prize. 

He also released a short story collection in 2008 called DayDreams Etcetera, which he describes on his blog as 'an embarrassing collection of short stories which has thankfully gone out of print'.

is a compelling coming-of-age story about Dantala, a boy who starts out as a disciple of Quranic knowledge. Through Dantala’s maturing eyes and diary entries we are shown life as it is lived in northern Nigeria- the vagaries of familial care, violence and the nuances of political leadership. The novel uses fiction to give a finely textured exploration of the evolution of religious fundamentalism in the North and its complex relationship to politics and economics.  Northern Nigerians reading the book will find in the novel a deep recognition of their circumstances, whereas those from beyond will appreciate (sometimes for the first time) that Northern Nigeria is far from that monolithic existential space that prejudice and stereotype would have us believe. - See more at: http://www.cassavarepublic.biz/blogs/main/14725265-press-release-cassava-republic-signs-elnathan-john#sthash.OvoVCgYa.dpuf

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