The notable books of fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and drama by African writers this year, selected by the staff of Open Country Mag, based on quality, significance, and impact.
Editors’ Note: Open Country Mag may earn a commission if you bought the books via the Amazon affiliate links under each selection.
By Romeo Oriogun
Taking in exile, history, slavery, colonialism and postcolonialism, and contemporary politics of identity, the collection’s narrative of seeing and surviving the world takes us through the West African countries of Benin Republic, Togo, Burkina Faso, Mali, Ghana, Senegal, and Côte d’Ivoire. It won the Nigeria Prize for Literature, making Oriogun the first openly queer writer to receive the $100,000 award.
GIRLS THAT NEVER DIE
By Safia Elhillo
Drawing from the acclaimed Sudanese poet’s own life and family histories, as well as cultural myths and news stories, this is an epic of Muslim girlhood and shame, the dangers of being a woman, and the myriad violences enacted and imagined against women’s bodies.
BLESS THE DAUGHTER RAISED BY A VOICE IN HER HEAD
By Warsan Shire
Shire’s first full-length poetry collection, drawing from her own life as well as pop culture and news headlines, guides us into the life of a girl becoming a woman on her own, unaided. In the music, mourning, sirens, and birds of the refugees and immigrant women depicted, it becomes a celebration of resilience.
By Kemi Alabi
A reimagination of poetic and cultural traditions and a reframing of mythic politics of respectability, resilience, and redemption. Alabi’s debut collection is a song of freedom, an inward turn to the body as a site of paradise, pleasure, and possibility for Black queerness. It won the Academy of American Poets’ First Book Award.
WOMAN, EAT ME WHOLE
By Ama Asantewa Diaka
An exploration of womanhood, the body, mental illness, and what it means to move between the Ghanaian and American cultures, the spoken word artist’s collection also takes on perceptions of beauty, consent, and how we grapple with demons internal and external.
A HISTORY OF DISAPPEARANCE
By Sarah Lubala
From the opening poem, the Gerald Kraak Prize-shortlisted “6 Errant Thoughts on Being a Refugee,” Lubala probes the experience of living on the margins—the pain of displacement, loss, absence, and grief—centering girls and women. The 56 poems, most of them like prayers, span forced migration, gender-violence, xenophobia, race, mental illness, love, and belonging.
By Tjawangwa Dema
History, belonging, and race converge in these poignant poems, which are compelling in their refusal of easy representations of nature and humanity and where our boundaries are located. The book, with a foreword by Chris Abani, is illustrated by Tebogo Cranwell.
MEMORY AND THE CALL OF WATERS
By Su’eddie Vershima Agema
Mixing styles, the Nigerian poet, curator, and publisher renders personal and collective memories, juxtaposing them with the realities of love, family, culture, politics, and depression. It was a finalist for the 2022 Nigeria Prize for Literature.
By Victoria Adukwei Bulley
Alfred A. Knopf
Can there be quiet without silence? How does one encounter meaning amidst many kinds of noise? Bulley’s poems on black interiority, intimacy, and selfhood are as celebratory as they are mournful. They navigate, with a metaphysical edge and a formal restlessness, the tension between guarding one’s inner life and the need to speak.
GREEN: SIGHS OF OUR AILING PLANET
By Niyi Osundare
In his environmentalist collection, the storied poet puts into words his experiences traveling the world, from the Amazon to the deserts of North Africa to his home country of Nigeria. Nature is speaking to him, and he is speaking to people to stop and reflect on our endangered surroundings.
A IS FOR ACHOLI
By Otoniya J. Okot Bitek
This sweeping collection observes the marginalization of the Acholi people in Uganda. Lyrical and layered, it unfold maps of history, culture, and identity, tracing a route of postcolonial awareness from the past to the present.
COMING UNDONE AS STITCHES TIGHTEN
By Iquo DianaAbasi
In her Nigeria Prize for Literature-longlisted second poetry collection, DianaAbasi is speaking to the national problem and spirit, in poems of personal and communal consequence. The emotions she invokes are as much a tribute to humanity as they are to art.
HOW TO WRITE ABOUT AFRICA
By Binyavanga Wainaina
When Wainaina, a pioneering voice in African literature, died in 2019, tributes poured for his singularly galvanizing role in the continental scene. This book, with an introduction by his friend Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, collects the gay icon’s powerful pieces about sexuality, art, history, and contemporary Africa, reminding us of his robust, generous vision of the modern world, and of his towering legacy.
IT’S A CONTINENT: UNRAVELING AFRICA’S HISTORY ONE COUNTRY AT A TIME
By Astrid Madimba and Chinny Ukata
The British Congolese and British Nigerian turned their popular podcast—listed as one of the best African podcasts by the Guardian, racking up an average of 4,000 downloads a month, and breaking into Apple’s Top 25 history podcasts—into a book that fill basic gaps in school curriculums in the UK.
FREEDOM WRITER: MY LIFE AND TIMES
Three years after the influential journalist Juby Mayet passed away, at the age of 82, her thrilling, jazz-inflected writing—a staple of such vital South African publications as The New Age, Drum, Golden City Post, and Voice—is collected in this memoir. The afterword by Susanne M. Klausen reminds us how much of a pathfinder Mayet was as a woman in a male-dominated field.
NORTH TO PARADISE
By Ousman Umar
When he was only 12, Umar left a contented childhood in his Ghanaian village and embarked on a dangerous five-year journey to Europe through the Sahara Desert. Yet on a path rife with violence, exploitation, and racism, he encountered friendship, generosity, and hope. An essential reading in an era of forced Black African migration across the Sahara.
BLACK AND FEMALE
By Tsitsi Dangarembga
In her philosophical, intimate, and urgent first collection of essays, the iconic Zimbabwean novelist and filmmaker, Open Country Mag‘s December 2020 cover star, traces the the legacy of imperialism on her own life and writing, as well as her struggle as an artist. Chief among her concerns is the intersection of race and gender, because Black feminists are “the status quo’s worst nightmare.”
THE WHITE MOSQUE
By Sofia Samatar
In the late 19th century, a group of German-speaking Mennonites travelled from Russia to Central Asia, where their charismatic leader predicted Christ would return. Over a century later, the enigmatic Samatar, recently profiled in Open Country Mag, traces this history in the light of her own complex upbringing as the daughter of a Swiss-Mennonite and a Somali-Muslim, raised as a Mennonite of color in America.
THE BLACK PERIOD: ON PERSONHOOD, RACE, AND ORIGIN
By Hafizah Augustus Geter
The American Nigerian poet’s memoir mixes history, political analysis, and cultural criticism to map out her own narrative: from a childhood between the two countries to an adulthood in which she is aware of systems of inequity but also of a world of potential in art, music, hope, and love, and of space for the beauty of Blackness, Islam, disability, and queerness. It contains stunning original artwork by her renowned artist father Tyrone Geter.
RADIUS: A STORY OF FEMINIST REVOLUTION
By Yasmin El-Rifae
As the Egyptian Revolution grew in 2012, so did stories of mass sexual assault in the revolution’s symbolic birthplace: Tahrir Square, Cairo. Out of the chaos arose Opantish (Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment), a group of women which deployed hundreds of volunteers, scouts rescue teams, and getaway drivers to intervene. El-Rifae, a founding member of Opantish, tells their aching story, based on years of interviews.
CAN THEMBA: THE MAKING AND BREAKING OF THE INTELLECTUAL TSOTSI
By Siphiwo Mahala
Wits University Press
This rich biography of the Drum-era journalist and writer Can Themba takes a critical historical approach, based on intensive and often fresh research and unprecedented archival access to Themba’s surviving colleagues and family. Against a backdrop of sparkle and pathos in 1950s Sophiatown, it places in context the triumphs and tribulations of one of South Africa’s literary icons.
IN MY LIFE: STORIES FROM YOUNG ACTIVISTS 2002–2022
Edited by Claudia Mitchell, Mandla Oliphant, and Shannon Walsh
In 2002, an educational HIV-prevention programme in Cape Town brought together a group of racially diverse young AIDS activists from Khayelitsha and Atlantis, South Africa. This book chronicles their inspiring and harrowing journeys over the last 20 years. Theirs are stories of hardship, loss, mental health issues, grief, and violence, but also of personal transformations, love, friendship, artistic achievements, community connection, and thrilling social justice wins.
THE BEAUTYFUL ONES HAVE JUST BEEN BORN
By the Gerald Kraak Prize
The fourth anthology from the Lambda Award-winning series continues the Gerald Kraak Prize’s tradition of capturing the essence of LGBTQI+ communities in Africa through the continent’s most talented writers. Edited by Otosirieze, it collects 12 powerful, revelatory works of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry—including this year winning story by Roy Udeh-Ubaka—insisting that differences must be recognised, embraced, and celebrated.
AFRICA RISEN: A NEW ERA OF SPECULATIVE FICTION
Edited by Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki, Sheree Renée Thomas, and Zelda Knight
COLLECTED PLAYS, VOL. I AND II
By Bate Besong
These two volumes collect plays by Besong, one of Cameroon’s best-known writers, whose work probes collective identities and the dynamics of suppressed narratives. Vol. 1 contains his post-modernist early plays, including The Most Cruel Death of the Talkative Zombie, Beasts of No Nation, and Requiem for the Last Kaiser. The second includes Once Upon Great Lepers, The Banquet, and Change Waka & His Man Sawa Boy.
GOD’S CHILDREN ARE LITTLE BROKEN THINGS
By Arinze Ifeakandu
A Public Space Books
These stories of queer male intimacy in Nigeria announce the arrival of one of the most exciting fiction talents in African literature in the last two decades. From childhood through adulthood, love is consistent even in the presence of loss. Shortlisted for the $50,000 Kirkus Prize. Ifeakandu was a finalist for The Future Awards Africa Prize for Art and Literature.
By NoViolet Bulawayo
Inspired by the unexpected fall of Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s president for nearly four decades, this allegorical novel, narrated by a chorus of animal voices, shows a country’s imploding, upholding the illusion of absolute power. It made Bulawayo the first woman, and third writer, to be shortlisted for the Booker Prize for her first two novels.
HARRY, SYLVESTER, BIRD
By Chinelo Okparanta
A white man, raised by racist parents, embraces liberalism as revolt. But when he falls in love with Maryam, a young Nigerian woman, he is forced to confront his identity as he never has before. By centering a white man, Okparanta, Open Country Mag’s December 2022 cover star, inverts expectations and stretches the limits of satire.
A DOWN HOME MEAL FOR THESE DIFFICULT TIMES
By Meron Hadero
These stories, partly set in the US, follows immigrants, refugees, and characters on the brink of dispossession. In her examination of race, gender, class, friendship, betrayal, despair, loss, resilience, and hope, the Ethiopian American writer expands our understanding of the essential and universal need for connection and the vital refuge of home.
YOU MADE A FOOL OF DEATH WITH YOUR BEAUTY
By Akwaeke Emezi
Five years after an accident killed the love of her life, an artist has a steamy encounter that cascades into a whirlwind summer she could not have imagined, and her romantic desires threaten to upend her relationship. How far is she willing to go for a second chance at love? It was optioned by Outlier Society in a 7-figure film deal.
FOR WHAT ARE BUTTERFLIES WITHOUT THEIR WINGS
By Troy Onyango
In these 12 stories, the Kenyan writer and Lolwe editor delves into solitude, loneliness, connection, loss, and love. His storytelling is engaging, with gentle revelations about the infinite intricacies of daily human life.
HOW TO BE A REVOLUTIONARY
By C.A. Davids
In Shanghai, a woman who has fled her marriage in Cape Town, tries to dodge whatever pangs of conscience she feels for her fealty to a South African regime that, by the 21st century, has betrayed its early promises. When her Chinese friend disappears and a manuscript appears on her doorstep, she has to reckon with her own past and the fate of one of her revolutionary friends.
THINGS THEY LOST
By Okwiri Oduor
Scribner & One World Publications
A wandering spirit—joyous, exuberant, filled to the brim with longing—unexpectedly finds a friend, in a world where she is fixated on her beautiful mother. Set at the intersection of the spirit world and the human one, this debut novel is a rich coming-of-age story of girlhood and connection, and of the dizzying dualities of love.
PEOPLE LIVE HERE
By T.J. Benson
In the follow-up to his debut The Madhouse, the Nigerian novelist brings us into the life of a woman who, to take care of her son, takes a job in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a as a foreign-aid nurse. She will return to Nigeria with experiences that not only change her life but that saves lives.
IF AN EGYPTIAN CANNOT SPEAK ENGLISH
By Noor Naga
Just after the Arab Spring, an Egyptian American woman and a man, a photographer of the revolution, meet at a café in Cairo and fall in love, but their desire takes an unexpected violent turn. Naga’s dark romance and exploration of gaps in American identity politics won the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize.
THE HISTORY OF MAN
By Siphiwe Gloria Ndlovu
The South African writer’s previous novel The Theory of Flight brought interconnected stories of history through one man’s journey from boyhood to manhood. Her follow-up, set in an unnamed southern African country, is penetrating gaze into the heart of a colonizer, probing the nature of manhood, fatherhood, and nationhood.
SWALLOW, EFUNSETAN ANIWURA
By Ayodele Olofintuade
When two star-crossed lovers are forced apart, their persistence in forging a place for themselves in a vicious world opens doors to possibilities, and then attracts new enemies.
By Malika Moustadraf (Translated by Alice Guthrie)
The Feminist Press at CUNY
The complete collection of the late Moroccan feminist icon Moustadraf’s published short fiction is an unflinching look at the gendered body, social class, illness, double standards, and desire. A provocation to patriarchal power, a celebration of the life, and a delight in vibrant sensory detail and rich slang.
HONEY AND SPICE
By Bolu Babalola
When an expert in relationship-evasion kisses a man she just publicly denounced, she finds herself fighting for her popular student radio show, and the two embark on a fake relationship to try and salvage their reputations and save their futures. A funny, sparkling romance.
HERE AGAIN NOW
By Okechukwu Nzelu
After a magical night, two men almost admit their feelings for each other, but a devastating event rips their lives apart. The surviving lover and his friend’s father must now try to rebuild, in the hope that grief may bring them peace and happiness.
THE FEELING HOUSE
By Saleh Addonia
Holland House Books
The Eritrean Ethiopian debut author Saleh Addonia’s collection of stories explore displacement, frustration, isolation, alienation, and how they can break people. The characters are afflicted with disorientation so powerful, it has fractured time and memory.
AN ANGEL’S DEMISE
By Sue Nyathi
Pan Macmillan South Africa
A young girl grows up in 1970s Zimbabwe, on a village farm run by a white bigot, and through three decades we follow her search for identity and independence, even as her parents leave to join the country’s liberation struggle. Nyathi delivers a saga of history, love, violence, and, ultimately, a family’s destiny.
TWO TONS O’ FUN
By Fred Khumalo
Penguin Random House South Africa
A car accident becomes the meeting point for a young girl and an affluent family, whose lives become intertwined with hers, even as her own family comes to revelations about her father. A coming-of-age story of a woman exploring her vocation as a writer, her sexuality, and eventually understanding her mother.
By Namina Forna
Six months after the goddesses in the ancient kingdom of Otera had been freed, war continues. A dark force is growing and the heroine Deka and her army must battle it, even as secrets threaten to destroy what she knows. It is the second installment of the Sierra Leonean author’s epic fantasy series.
TRUTH IS A FLIGHTLESS BIRD
By Akbar Hussain
A woman, picked up by her friend at Nairobi airport, goes missing after their car crashes. Her friend, an American pastor, even in captivity, must plunge into the moral complexities of the under-city to get her back.
By Akwaeke Emezi
Knopf Books for Young Readers
The prolific Nigerian writer’s companion novel to their previous work Pet centers a talented child who is in special school, beyond whose walls the city is brimming with protests against injustices. Pulled between friendship, art, and romance, she is unsure where she belongs—in the studio or in the streets.
THESE IMPOSSIBLE THINGS
By Salma El-Wardany
Grand Central Publishing
Three women have had friendship and solace in each other since childhood, but as their college years come to a close, one night changes everything. Now on the precipice of true adulthood, they must find a way back to each other; they must reconcile faith, family, and tradition with their own needs and desires.
TOMORROW I BECOME A WOMAN
By Aiwanose Odafen
Loosely based on stories of real women in her life, Aiwanosen’s tale of a love triangle is also one of a complex relationship between a daughter and a mother grappling with loss. Its sensitive exploration of a woman’s struggle to meet societal and cultural expectations within the confines of a difficult marriage gently pushes at the limiting spaces for female choices.
WHAT HAPPENED TO JANET UZOR?
By Miracle Emeka-Nkwor
A year after their best friend drowns, two women are trying to cope and move on, even as one searches for answers. When the other receives sinister letters threatening her life, she confronts her fears, setting out with her friends to find out who is after her and, by extension, what really happened to their friend Janet.
DAYS COME AND GO
By Hemley Boum (Translated by Nchanji Njamnsi)
Bakwa Books & Two Lines Press
On her dying bed, a mother is cared for by her daughter—a reversal of roles which draws mother and daughter closer and opens a window into their lives. Boum’s story of three generations of Cameroonian women spans the country’s history, from pre-colonial and colonial times through the independence movements to the contemporary terror of Boko Haram.
ONYEKA AND THE ACADEMY OF THE SUN
By Tola Okogwu
Margaret K. McElderry Books
A girl learns a shocking truth: her psychokinetic powers, bound to her enormous hair, make her a Solari, one of a secret group of people with superpowers unique to Nigeria. Now, at the Academy of the Sun, where Solari are trained, she and her friends are embroiled in a momentous battle between truth and lies. The YA book has been optioned by Netflix.
By Resoketswe Martha Manenzhe
When South Africa passes the Immorality Act of 1927, prohibiting sexual intercourse between white and black people, an interracial couple’s bond is tattered. The wife’s devastating response will reverberate through their entire family’s lives.
YINKA, WHERE IS YOUR HUZBAND?
By Lizzie Damilola Blackburn
Pamela Dorman Books
When her cousin gets engaged, a young woman commences Operation Find a Date, aided by a spreadsheet and her best friend. A fresh, uplifting story of an unconventional heroine who bravely asks the questions we all have about love.
By Diriye Osman
Team Angelica Publishing
The flamboyant Osman’s sophomore novel focuses on a confidently curvy, tea-spilling, super-bright queer British-Somali journalist with schizoaffective disorder and sauce to spare. Here is bombast and badassery, fusing Somali, Spanish, Kiswahili, patois, sheng, and hip-hop slanguistics into a narrative that discards the fourth wall. He was profiled in Open Country Mag.
By Nike Campbell-Fatoki
Narrative Landscape Press
On a visit to the coast of Marina, Lagos, in the 1830s, a young family is lured by a traitor and captured by slaveholders masquerading as traders. Rescued by British abolitionists, they are sent to Freetown. When their new host land names the traitor king, their lives are upended, but they don’t let it.
DELE WEDS DESTINY
By Tomi Obaro
Alfred A. Knopf
30 years after their last meeting, three women reunite at the wedding of one of the three’s daughters. Their long, complicated friendship—and the private wisdom each has earned—come to bear on a riveting, heartrending moment of decision.
By Nikki May
Custom House (UK) & Narrative Landscape Press (Nigeria)
Three women seem to be living their close-to-ideal lives—one has a boyfriend, another has a perfect husband but is plagued by guilt, and the third hides her imposter syndrome—but when a fourth woman joins their group, their friendship cracks.
SO DISTANT FROM MY LIFE
By Monique Ilboudo (Translated by Yarri Kamara)
Tilted Axis Press
In Burkinabé author Monique Ilboudo’s novel, a young man’s travails frame a compelling and complex portrait of migration. Its setting in a fictional West African city does not blunt its sharp critique of NGO-isation and currents of shame that divide communities and families.
By Eloghosa Osunde
A driver, a fashion designer, a lesbian couple, and a wife and mother live their lives as a form of resistance. In this fictional Lagos of realism, myth, and fantasy, where vagabonds are seized and challenged by spirits who command the city’s dark energy, these characters confront and support one another.
By Namwali Serpell
The Zambian novelist follows her wide-ranging debut The Old Drift with a story of a smaller focus: a family dealing with the grief of their lost child. It is a bold exploration of memory and mourning, a story of double consciousness, and the wishful, wilful longing for reunion.
THE NEXT GENERATION
Edited by Otosirieze
Open Country Mag
Our unofficial 61st pick is our debut special issue released in April, a landmark project in African literature which, for the first time, considers a generation of writers in context. Read and support the work of the 16 influential young writers and curators it profiles: Ebenezer Agu, Cheswayo Mphanza, Gbenga Adesina, Logan February, Romeo Oriogun, Troy Onyango, Remy Ngamije, Donald Oghenechovwe Ekpeki, Nana Nkweti, Suyi Davies Okungbowa, Keletso Mopai, Khadija Abdalla Bajaber, Nnamdi Ehirim, Tobi Eyinade, Letlhogonolo Mokgoroane and Alma-Nalisha Cele, and Gaamangwe Mogami.