54 Years of Nigerian Literature: Literature from Northern Nigeria

by - 08:14

I came across Bearing Witness: Readers, Writers and the Novel in Nigeria by Wendy Griswold the other day when I was doing some research for this post and through my reading learned that while the first full-length Yoruba novel in Nigeria was written by D. O. Fagunwa, and published in 1938 - this was translated into English in 1968 by Wole Soyinka as The Forest of a Thousand Daemons. It, however, was not the first novel published in Nigeria. As Griswold writes:
“ … for that distinction properly is shared by a set of Hausa novels published four years earlier. In 1933 the Translation Bureau in Zaria announced a fiction competition; the following year it published five of the winning entries”.

I did a bit more digging on these five novels and the story behind them is fascinating:

“When R. M. East decided in 1933 that not enough reading material existed to
Publication from
Zaria Transalaton Bureau
promote literacy in the Hausa language, he set out to convince learned scholars, called malams, to create the Hausa novel. To the malams, the idea of fiction, a kind of literature not directly aimed at education or spiritual edification, "seemed very strange," remembers East. Fiction belonged to the realm of folktales told by women to children; it ranked only slightly higher than the common lie. Malams, who were long familiar with writing, understood literature as a serious endeavor, used primarily for religious and moral exhortation and instruction. East proposed that the malams refrain from recreating folktales or the historic texts known as labari, yet worried that they had no models to work from. Given such an impossible choice, the malams did indeed turn to the literary models at hand—those of folktales, poetry, and historical non-fiction. Those models had far-reaching influence on what was to become the new genre of Hausa fiction. East's competition resulted in the publication of five short novels.”
Why the focus on Hausa fiction? Well, October, being Nigeria’s independence month, is the time of year where I celebrate Nigerian literature and I chose literature from Northern Nigeria for two reasons. Well, my Nigerian side is Hausa and I did say I’d be injecting some of my personal identity into the posts this year, but more than that literature from Northern Nigeria does not get as much attention as literature from the rest of the country, which is a shame really. 

So over the next couple of posts, I will spotlight a number of authors from Northern Nigeria. There are of course hundreds more and I am only touching the surface – especially as I am only really focusing on those in English - but this is my way of showcasing some of the amazing work from the Northern part of Nigeria. Hope you enjoy!!!

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