Africa has birthed a diversity of noteworthy writers. Literature plays such an important role in our lives and these writers capture the spirit of Africa.
Ngugi wa Thiong’o
One of Africa’s most important and influential postcolonial writers, Kenyan Ngugi wa Thiong’o began his writing career with novels written in English, which revolved around postcolonial themes of the individual and the community in Africa versus colonial powers and cultures. Wa Thiong’o was imprisoned without trial for over a year by the government for the staging of a politically controversial play; after his release, he committed to writing works only in his native Gikuyi and Swahili, citing language as a key tool for decolonising the mindset and culture of African readers and writers.
One of the continent’s most widely recognised and praised writers, Chinua Achebe wrote some of the most extraordinary works of the 20th century. His most famous work, Things Fall Apart (1958), 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. Achebe is also a noted literary critic, particularly known for his passionate critique of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899), in which he accuses the popular novel of rampant racism through its ‘othering’ of the African continent and its people.
Ayi Kwei Armah
Ayi Kwei Armah’s novels are known for their intense, powerful depictions of political devastation and social frustration in Armah’s native Ghana, told from the point of view of the individual. His works were greatly influenced by French existential philosophers, such as Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, and as such hold themes of despair, disillusionment and irrationality. His most famous work, The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born (1968), centres around an unnamed protagonist, who attempts to understand his self and his country in the wake of post-independence.
One of Africa’s most seminal female authors, Mariama Bâ is known for her powerful, feminist texts which address the issues of fierce gender inequality in her native Senegal and wider Africa. Bâ herself experienced many of the prejudices facing women: she struggled for an education in the face of her traditional grandparents, and after her divorce from a prominent politician, was left to look after their nine children. Her anger and frustration at the patriarchal structures which defined her life spill over into her literature: her novel So Long a Letter (1981) depicts the simultaneous strength and powerlessness of her protagonist within her marriage and wider society.
Born in Somalia in 1945, Nuruddin Farah has written numerous plays, novels and short stories, all of which revolve around his experiences of his native country. The title of his first novel, From a Crooked Rib (1970), stems from a Somalian proverb ‘God created woman from a crooked rib, and anyone who trieth to straighten it, breaketh it’, and is a commentary on the sufferings of women in Somalian society through the narrative of a young woman trapped in an unhappy marriage. His subsequent works feature similar social criticism, dealing with themes of war and post-colonial identity.
One of the apartheid era’s most prolific writers, Nadine Gordimer’s works powerfully explore social, moral, and racial issues in South Africa under apartheid rule. Despite winning a Nobel Prize in Literature for her prodigious skills in portraying a society interwoven with racial tensions, Gordimer’s most famous and controversial works were banned from South Africa for daring to speak out against the oppressive governmental structures of the time. Her novel Burger’s Daughter follows the struggles of a group of anti-apartheid activists, and was read in secret by Nelson Mandela during his imprisonment on Robben Island.