In Her Debut, Nana Nkweti Crosses Genres to Explore the Cameroonian American Experience

The short story collection Walking on Cowrie Shells “pulls from mystery, horror, realism, myth, and graphic novels.”
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Nana Nkweti's Walking on Cowrie Shells.

Photo Credit: Nana Nkweti's Walking on Cowrie Shells.

The Cameroonian writer Nana Nkweti’s short story collection Walking on Cowrie Shells is set for release on 1 June 2021. It is the Caine Prize finalist’s debut. Described by Kirkus Reviews as “boisterous and high-spirited,” the ten stories delve into the Cameroonian American experience, with fascinating characters and plots that subvert genre expectations.

Here is a synopsis from Graywolf Press:

In her powerful, genre-bending debut story collection, Nana Nkweti’s virtuosity is on full display as she mixes deft realism with clever inversions of genre.

In the Caine Prize finalist story “It Takes a Village, Some Say,” she skewers racial prejudice and the practice of international adoption, delivering a sly tale about a teenage girl who leverages her adoptive parents to fast-track her fortunes.

In “The Devil Is a Liar,” a pregnant pastor’s wife struggles with the collision of Western Christianity and her mother’s traditional Cameroonian belief system as she worries about her unborn child.

In other stories, Nkweti vaults past realism, upending genre expectations in a satirical romp about a jaded PR professional trying to spin a zombie outbreak in West Africa, and in a mermaid tale about a Mami Wata who forgoes her power by remaining faithful to a fisherman she loves.

In between these two ends of the spectrum there’s everything from an aspiring graphic novelist at a comic con, to a murder investigation driven by statistics, to a story organized by the changing hairstyles of the main character.

Pulling from mystery, horror, realism, myth, and graphic novels, Nkweti showcases the complexity and vibrance of characters whose lives span Cameroonian and American cultures. A dazzling, inventive debut, Walking on Cowrie Shells announces the arrival of a superlative new voice.

Nana Nkweti. From Nana Nkweti.
Nana Nkweti. From Nana Nkweti.

Nana Nkweti is an alumna of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She has fellowships from MacDowell, Kimbilio, Ucross, and the Wurlitzer Foundation. She is currently a professor of English at the University of Alabama.

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Samantha Hunt, author of The Dark Dark, described the 176-page book as “dazzlingly energetic, world ranging and straight-up brilliant.” Kevin Brockmeier, author of The Ghost Variations, called it “a collection of verve, audacity, and consummate control.” For Orange World author Karen Russel, it is “satirical, playful, keenly critical of the racial stereotypes and received narratives that limit women’s lives.”

Walking on Cowrie Shells will be released by Graywolf Press on 1 June 2021.

Paula Willie-Okafor
Paula Willie-Okafor
Paula Willie-Okafor is a staff writer at Open Country Mag. She is a student at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where she is custodian of The Writers' Community (TWC). Her writing has appeared in Kissing Dynamite Magazine and Praxis Magazine.

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