56 Years of Nigerian Literature: 56 Nigerian Women Writers

by - 13:39

October is over, which means the end of my literary celebration of Nigerian women writers - my way of saying Happy Independence to my fatherland. I had a lot of fun researching and writing these posts on these extremely talented women. I also learned a lot on the way, while also getting to read as much of their work as I could. I had, however, hoped to do one post a day (at one point, I even thought I could do at least one post a day). Sadly, 10 days into the celebratory month, I was off on a work trip (to my fatherland, surprisingly) and where I was they had very erratic internet making it hard to post as regularly as I wanted to. 

Having said that, I was able to focus on 12 writers - who between them showcase the diversity of literature from Nigeria over the last 56 years: from Balaraba Ramat Yakubu writing books of love in Hausa to Kiru Taye and her sensual and passionate romance and erotica stories.Nigeria's literary history also includes Adaora Lily Ulasi and her 'juju fiction, the first published Nigerian female playwright, 'Zulu Sofola, contemporary poets - Jumoke Verissimo and Ijeoma Umebinyuo who are producing exciting works, writer, editor, critic and great contributor to literary arts in Nigeria - Molara WoodMabel Segun - a champion for children's literature, the 'Queen of African Horror' Nuzo Onoh, Chikodili Emelumadu who writes (mainly) SFF short storiesas well as and Suzanne Ushie - who also writes short stories (her most recent on that which we rarely talk about in Nigeria - sexual harassment in the workplace) and Nike Campbell-Fatoki, who writes both historical and contemporary fiction

Still, it was 56 years of Nigerian literature, and in the course of thinking up the series this year, I did find more than 12 writers. So for my (belated) final celebratory post, I bring to you 56 Nigerian women writers - novelists, playwrights, poets, short story writers and more - who have published works over the last 56 years. I have tried to be as diverse as possible in my selection including newer and/or emerging writers, as well as established ones, but of course there will be names that are missing (owing to me focusing on the post-Independent era and to me also looking at 56 women writers). The 12 I listed above and featured over the last month are, of course, included in this list of 56. So in alphabetical order (and from left to right), here they are.

I begin with Ayobami Adebayo, who I featured a couple months ago and whose debut novel Stay With Me is on my must-read list. It's published by (what seems like) everyone: Kwani? in Kenya, Canongate in the UK, Knopf in the States and Canada, Ouidabooks in Nigeria and Pirat Forlaget in Sweden -  and will be out next year (the Kenyan edition should be out soon, I think). Her short stories have appeared in a number of magazines and anthologies, she is the fiction editor of Saraba magazine and was shortlisted for the Miles Morland Scholarship on 2014 and 2015. 

Next up is Sade Adeniran - writer, filmmaker, basically a storyteller that can work in multiple media. Adeniran's debut novel, Imagine This, is told by Lola Ogunwoe in journal format. It was originally self-published in 2007 and went on to win the 2008 Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best Book in Africa - it's also going to be adapted into a movie (written by Adeniran). The sequel, A Mother's Journey, is a short film which continues the story of Lola Ogunwole. There's also writer, broadcaster and political analyst, Ifeluwapo Adeniyi - whose debut novel, On the Bank of the River was longlisted for the 2015 Etisalat Prize for Literature, as well as the 2016 NLNG Prize for Literature. A story of love and motherhood, Adeniyi started writing it at 17 and finished it when she was 19Of course, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who really needs no introduction (3 novels, 1 short story collection, countless other short stories, film adaptations, Flawless, Dior, Boots No.7 and many many more). 


Also on the list is Oyindamola Affinnih - who gave up law to become a writer - is the author of two novels - her debut Two Gone ... Still Counting and the Ankara Press novel A Tailor-Made Romance. As well as Kaine Agary, whose novel Yellow Yellow set in the Niger-Delta and following a bi-racial woman, Zilafeya, won the NLNG Nigeria Prize for Literature in 2008 and the 2007 ANA/Chevron Prize for Environmental Writing. And Pemi Aguda - winner of the 2015 Writivism Short Story Prize for her story 'Caterer, Caterer' - who writes short stores and flash fiction. Her work has appeared in The Kalahari Review, Black Fox Literary Magazine, Prufrock Magazine and Munyori Journal to name some. Aguda also co-blogs at Nik-Nak - a space where she and Kovie Parker 'share all the rad things [they] come across'There's Halima Aliyu whose debut short story collection, Fire on the Tip of Ice, was published in 2015. In an article for Daily Trust, the title story - 'Fire on the Tip of Ice' - is described as one that 
captures the frustration of a woman who is disregarded by her husband, except when he has sexual need for her. Her frustration results in her taking some rather shocking actions that affect not only her but her children.

Next on the list is Rafeeat Aliyu, who 'loves food, learning about pre-colonial African history and watching horror movies'. She also 'writes weird and speculative fiction sometimes.' Her stories can be read in the AfroSF anthology and Omenana. Also Zaynab Alkali - who is said to have been one of the first woman novelist from Northern Nigeria - and whose works include The Stillborn (published in 1984 and awarded the Association of Nigerian Writers prose prize in 1985), The Virtuous Woman (published in 1987), the short story collection Cobwebs & Other Stories (published in 1997), The Descendants (published in 2005) and The Initiates (published in 2007). Alkali came from 'an artistic family' - her mother a singer, maternal grandmother a composer/singer and maternal grandfather a drummer; and though she wrote in English, found 'writing in English agonising' ... especially when it comes to dialogue' - as explained in a fascinating interview with Adeola James published in 1990

Among the 56 women is writer and lover of good food, Yemisi Aribisala, who has written about Nigerian cuisine on several sites, including Chimurenga Chronic and her forthcoming book - Longthroat Memoirs: Soups, Sex and Nigerian Taste Buds - contains essays on Nigerian food. Ola Awonubi's first foray into the world of romance fiction was the Ankara Press novel, Love's Persuasion, but her short stories have featured on StoryTime, Brittle Paper and Naijastories.com.

There's also Simi Bedford - best known for her novel Yoruba Girl Dancing - a semi-autobiographical novel about a young Nigerian girl's education in the UK, but she also wrote historical fiction, Not With Silver (published in 2007) - about an aristocratic West African warrior betrayed and sold into slavery. While Maryam Bobi's debut novella Bongel - about a woman who was married off as a child - is one of five books (including Halima Aliyu's Fire on the Tip of Ice) published through the Minna Literary Series (an  initiative where writers based in Minna are published with the government taking responsibility for 70-100% of the production cost). 

Kiru Taye was one of the featured writers, but another on the list is Buchi Emecheta - who also needs no introduction, and has written for adults and children. Her works include Second-Class Citizen (1974), The Bride Price (1976) and The Joys of Motherhood (1979). Chikodili Emelumadu was featured in more detail in previous posts, but next on the list is Akwaeke Emeze - whose debut novel, Freshwater, will be published in 2018 (so one to add to your future reading lists) and was awarded a 2015 Miles Morland Writing Scholarship for her second novel. The Death of Vivek Oji. Emeze doesn't only write, as she is also a filmmaker - having shot, directed and edited the 'experimental short', Ududeagu

Another Ankara Press author on the list is Chioma Iwunze-Ibiam, whose first novel with the imprint was Finding Love Again. Iwunze-Ibiam also blogs at Creative Writing News and her stories have appeared in Saraba and Long Story Short to name a couple. A social worker in children's mental health, Yejide Kilanko is the author of Daughters Who Walk this Path and the novella Chasing Butterflies. There's also Sarah Ladipo Manyika, whose novels include In Dependence and Like a Mule Bringing Ice-cream to the Sun (shortlisted for the 2016 Goldsmiths Prize) and recently explained why she chose an African publisher over a western one for her second novel. 

The first African woman novelist to be published in English and also the first African female publisher, Flora Nwapa, is also one of the 56 Nigerian women writers celebrated, along with Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani - novelist and essayist - whose debut novel I Do Not Come to You by Chance won the 2009 Commonwealth Writers Prize Best First Book (Africa) and the Betty Trask Award for Best First Book in 2010. Molara Ogundipe is also on the list - poet, critic, editor and one of the foremost writers on African feminism and literary theories. Then there's writer, curator and arts project manager Irenosen Okojie - and writer of Butterfly Fish and the short story collection Speak Gigantular. As well as Ifesinachi Okoli-Okpagu - a marketing communications executive and author of The Domestication of Munachi  - about the 'unnecessary pressure on women to take on life partners.'

Amara Nicole Okolo is the author of Black Sparkle Romance - another Ankara Press publication, who is also a young lawyer and lover of cupcakes, green tea and her kitten. There's also award-winning author and professor, Nnedi Okorafor - who also ready needs no introduction (winner of many awards including World Fantasy, Hugo, Nebula, Wole Soyinka Prize for African Literature, Africana Book Award) and writer of many, many books for children, young adults and adults. As well as Ifeoma Okoye - who also writes for children and adults. Her debut novel Behind the Clouds (1982) won the Nigerian Festival of Arts and Culture Award, her next novel Men Without Ears (1984) won the Association of Nigerian Author Best Fiction of the Year Award, her short story Waiting for a Son was joint regional winner (Africa) of the Commonwealth Short Story Competition in 1999. Her most recent novel, The Fourth World (2013) was shortlisted for the 2016 NLNG Prize for Literature.

Also on the list is author of the short-story collection, Happiness, Like Water (2013) and award-winning Under the Udala Trees (2015) Chinelo Okparanta; along with Ayodele Olofintuade whose children's book Eno's Story was shortlisted for the 2011 Nigeria Prize for Literature, and focused on the subject of a young girl being accused of being  a witch. Olofintuade also wrote the BrittlePaper eight-part series, Adunni: The Beautiful One Has Not Yet Died which centred on the 'strange and terrifying word of an Abiku.' And South African based writer, architect and designer Yewande Omotoso has published two novels - Bom Boy (2011) which won the 2012 South African Literary Award for First-Time Published Authors, as well as the M-Net Literary Awards 2012 and The Woman Next Door (2016). 

Nuzo Onoh was already featured, but there's also writer and artist Mary Okon Ononokpono, winner of the 2014 Golden Baobab Prize for Children's Literature with her short story, Talulah the Time Traveller, which will soon be published as novel. Ononokpono was also shortlisted for the 2015 Miles Morland Foundation Scholarship. Also on the list is Chibundu Onuzo - author of The Spider King's Daughter  (2012) winner of a Betty Trask Award, and the forthcoming novel Welcome to Lagos (2017). As well as Chinelo Onwualu - writer, editorial consultant, editor and co-founder of the speculative fiction magazine, Omenana, and the chief spokesperson for the African Science Fiction Society. Longlisted for the British Science Fiction Awards and the Short Story Day Africa Award, Onwualu's writing has appeared in Strange Horizons, The Kalahari Review, Saraba, Brittle Paper, Jungle Jim and the SF anthologies - AfroSF vol 1, Mothership: Tales of Afrofuturism and Beyond, Terra Incognito and Africa 500. Her piece, The Unbearable Solitude of Being an African Fan Girl is an ode to well, African fan girls. 

On my list of 56 is internationally acclaimed playwright,  writer and scholar Osonye Tess Onwueme, who has written, produced and published over 15 plays including The Desert Encroaches (1985) and won several prizes for her work - the Association of Nigerian Authors Prize for Drama for many of her plays, including The Desert Encroaches. There's also Helen Oyeyemi - another author of many, many works who needs no introduction, including The Icarus Girl and Boy Snow Bird, a short story collection, What is Not Yours is Not Yours and two plays Juniper's Whitening and Victimese. Writer and publisher, Tolu Popoola, left a career in Accounting in 2008 to pursue writing and publishing  and since then set up Accomplish Press and published the romance novel, Nothing Comes Close, as well as two collection of flash fiction - Fertile Imagination and Looking for Something

Abidemi Sanusi, is another writer on the list (although she does a host of other things - as do most of the talented women featured), who was shortlisted for a  2010 Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Eyo (2009). Her other work's include Kemi's Journal (2005) and the sequel Zack's Story (2006). As well as Aramide Segun - whose debut novel The Third Pimple won the Association of Nigerian Authors Prose Prize and was shortlisted for the Commonwealth First Book Prize. Her most recent novel, Enitan: Daughter of Destiny was also one the shortlisted books for the 2016 NLNG Prize for Literature. Mabel Segun was one of the 12 women featured during the celebration, and another poet and writer on the list is Lola Shoneyin - author of The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives (2010), the children's book Mayowa and the Masquerade (2010) and the founder and festival director of one of Africa's top literary festivals - Ake Arts and Books Festival

Playwright 'Zulu Sofola was showcased during the celebration last month, and also on the list is poet and performer Titilope Sonuga whose poetry collections includes Down to Earth (2011) and Abscess (2014). Sonuga also acts and is Intel's ambassador for the She Will Connect Programme in Nigeria. Kiru Taye was featured, but another poet, writer and journalist is Wana Udobang (although Udobang is also a filmmaker). Her fiction and non-fiction have appeared in Brittle Paper and Al jazeera, her poems featured at the British Library's 'Word, Symbol and Song' exhibition and her spoken word album, Dirty Laundry was released in 2013. 

Also featured last month - Adaora Lily Ulasi and Ijeoma Umebinyuo - and on the list is Chika Unigwe (who also really needs no introduction) - author of four novels and several short stories and essays, winner of awards including the 2012 NLNG Priz  and fellowships. Both Suzanne Ushie and Jumoke Verissimo were also featured, but as I get closer to the end of my list of 56 female Nigerian writers, there's romance writer Myne Whitman - author of A Heart to Mend and A Love Rekindled and founder of NaijaStories - a website for aspiring Nigerian writers; as well as travel writer Noo Saro-Wiwa, who published Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria in 2012, which was nominated for the Doman Best Travel Book Award in 2012, has been translated into French and Italian, and in 2016 won the Albatros Travel Literature Prize in Italy. A 2015 Miles Morland Foundation Scholarship Winner, Saro-Wiwa aslo contributed to the 2016 anthologies An Unreliable Guide to London and A Country of Refuge. Finally, the last two writers - Molara Wood and Balaraba Ramat Yakubu were featured last month. 

So that's it, 56 Nigerian Women Writers to celebrate 56 years of Nigerian Literature. 56 amazingly talented writers showcasing different genres (travel writing, SFF, romance, historical fiction and more). Obviously, there are more women writers out there, which makes me think I should probably do a follow-up post soon (because why not). And here are ten more to get me started Catherine Obianuju Acholonu, Karen King Aribisala, Sefi Atta, Ifi Amadiume, Unoma Azuah, Diana Evans, Akachi Ezeigbo, Bilkisu Funtuwa, Chikwenye Ogunyemi and Helen Ovbiagele.

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