Akwaeke Emezi Covers TIME as a 2021 Next Generation Leader

The Nigerian novelist is, the magazine says, “a storyteller for a changing world.”
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Akwaeke Emezi covers TIME. Photo by Elliott Jerome Brown Jr.

Akwaeke Emezi covers TIME. Photo by Elliott Jerome Brown Jr.

The Nigerian writer Akwaeke Emezi is on one of TIME’s covers for the magazine’s “Next Generation Leader” list. The caption: “Storyteller for a Changing World.” The photo is by Elliott Jerome Brown Jr. The 33-year old, who grew up in Aba, is profiled by Tre’vell Anderson.

“Emezi’s taking off their mask,” Anderson writes, “is also a fight for life, a foreshadowing of a promised land on the horizon.” He writes:

Since Emezi’s debut, words like visionary, radical and innovative have been used to describe their work. Perhaps all of these descriptors are true, but Emezi doesn’t see themself necessarily as a leader. Rather, they say they’re a conduit for a collective imagination they make tangible.

“My work is just channeling something that other people gifted me,” they say. For example, they credit the setting for their novel PET—a world without prisons and police—to social-justice organizers and prison abolitionists. “My job in the revolution is as a storyteller, to take those possibilities and shape them into stories [that] disseminate.”

Amplifier, then, is a more apt label for their brilliance, Emezi says, one that requires them “to climb as high as possible and be as bright as possible” so the realities and possibilities they’re amplifying can reach the masses. 

“The first step to creating a better world is being able to imagine it,” Emezi says in the video accompanying the profile (watch below). “And a lot of the work that people do right now is to tell you that a world where you are as free as this is not possible. The stories can be a bridge between what is possible and what we actually make happen.”

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Freshwater, their debut, was followed by PET, a young adult novel which was selected as a Book of the Year by the New York Times, NPR, School Library Journal, and TIME. Then came The Death of Vivek Oji, a New York Times Notable Book.

They have three more books coming: Dear Senthuran: A Black Spirit Memoir in June; a poetry collection, Content Warning: Everything, is slated for 2022; and a romance novel, You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty, also for 2022. Michael B. Jordan’s Outlier bought the film rights to You Made a Fool in a seven-figure deal.

Other 2021 “Next Generation Leaders” are the American actor Anthony Ramos; the Japanese mobile game creators Anna and Mizuki Nakajima; the French chef Mory Sacko; the Australian activist Grace Tame; the Afro-Brazilian pop star Iza; the French-Lebanese volcanologist Yves Moussallam; the South African photographer Trevor Stuurman; the youngest mayor in Afghanistan, Sarita Ghafari; and the American rock climber Kyra Condie.

Last year, TIME named novelist Tomi Adeyemi among “the 100 most influential people in the world.”

Read the profile here.

Ernest Ogunyemi
Ernest O. Ògunyemi is a staff writer at Open Country Mag. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Joyland, Tinderbox, Sierra Nevada Review, Journal Nine, The Indianapolis Review, Down River Road, Capsule Stories, No Tokens, The West Review, The Dark Magazine, Mud Season Review, Isele, and in the anthology 20.35 Africa: An Anthology of Contemporary Poetry III. He is the curator of The Fire That Is Dreamed of: The Young African Poets Anthology.

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