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The year 2016 has been fertile for writing in general, and for creative non-fiction in particular. On the African literary scene, the most remarkable talking points would be the upsurge of new talent (see the shortlists of the Miles Morland Scholarship and the Gerald Kraak Award) and new outlets for those voices (see our feature on Enkare Review and Expound magazines), and of course the annual assortment of acclaimed and talked-about books.

In drawing up this list, we considered literariness, eloquence, relevance, and focus. Is the piece about Africa? For Africa? Realized in Africa? By an African writer? In that order. And in the exciting result we settled with, there are dizzying writing skills and there are dissections of art.

There are political statements and there are reminders of our humanity. There are magazine publications and there are social media posts and there are YouTube clips. They are quotable, they are multi-layered, they are resonant—often devastatingly so.

From prose fiction to creative non-fiction, to poetry to essays, to speeches to interviews, we highlight 31 of the best and most important contributions by African writers — and to African writing — this year. This admittedly-non-definitive list is unranked, only numbered in order of publication.

 

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1. “The Ghosts of My Student Years in Cyprus” | By Chigozie Obioma | The Guardian UK | Essay

In January, Obioma plunged us into a dark tale as symbol-laden as his The Fishermen: of his time at university in Cyprus, “a nation under the United Nations embargo” but presented, by conmen, to unsuspecting prospective students as also the “overseas” they see in Europe or the U.S.A., and of how the consequent disillusionment led to a death. The prose here is riveting without being overcooked: “The light in his eyes was that of a man who had danced through life’s theatre of fire, and now bore the scars of his partial incineration like a trophy.” This piece demonstrates, once more, Obioma’s grasp of pain: “he had died from the impact of his head hitting the ground. But…he most likely did not die right away. It would have been slow, an hour or so, in the dead of the night.” Haunting.

2. “God’s Children Are Little Broken Things” | By Arinze Ifeakandu | A Public Space | Fiction

In refreshingly wielded prose, Ifeakandu paints a glowing tale of love and friendship set on the campus of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka as well as in Kano where “Hausa music filled the night.” We are taken, in the second person, through the hearts of the two male lovers in this brazenly honest evocation of the complexities of sexuality, through grief and loss and hope. “You had never believed that you could love this way, your entire being absorbed in something in the air.” More than a few moments are as beautiful as the story’s title: “People happen to people…Kamsi happened to you.” The story won him a 2015 Emerging Writer Fellowship from the prestigious A Public Space magazine and echoes what would surely become a major career.

3. “Fugee” | By Hawa Jande Golakai | Granta and Safe House: Explorations in Creative Non-fiction Anthology | Non-fiction

Golakai’s viral piece, an affecting interrogation of the Ebola crisis in her home country of Liberia as well as identity and the life of an artist-cum-clinical scientist, is one of the most refreshing things to happen on our literary scene in the past few years. “You can’t be unoriginally from somewhere,” she writes, the first in an embarassment of excitingly witty, humourous sentences: “The guy behind the counter at the Clicks pharmacy is so delicious he’s practically a food group,” “A guy back home has thrown his hat into the ring for my affection. I don’t know. Men are dicks…but then again, men have dicks. So. I’m vacillating between uncertainty and blushes. Her second novel, The Score, will be published by Kwela Books next year and we just cannot wait.

4. “How Not To Talk about African Fiction” | By Ainehi Edoro | The Guardian UK | Essay

Ainehi Edoro lectures Western publishers—and us—on how our discussion of fiction from Africa is centered “not on the basis of its aesthetic value but of its thematic preoccupation.” Comparing Amazon’s blurbs for Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah and David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, she outlines how terming Americanah “a powerful, tender story of love and racism” while describing Cloud Atlas as “postmodern…Nabokovian…mind-bending, philosophical and scientific speculation” is limiting to the former and is only so because of the respective authors’ origins. Her overview of what she describes as “100 years of branding disaster” is a lesson in progressive marketing for African fiction.

5. “Alien Taste” | By Binyavanga Wainaina | Brittle Paper | Fiction

This story of a gay man’s sexual realization enters its own politics as it should: unabashedly. And in its bluntness, there is nothing like it in the African literary space, nothing as delightfully overt. The striking opener—“There are times that even Graham believes the story he has peddled for so many years, about how he came to be gay”—lays the ground for a rhythm of don’t-give-a-fuck lines: “the unambiguous epiphany that the first gay fuck gave him marked not his sexuality, but his approach to life itself, it was his Woodstock, his civil rights movement”; “the hairy, soft, oddly naked layers of her pussy were confusing”; “I like to fuck men, fuck them silly”; “as a large lubricated finger prized him open.” It is brief, it is gold. It is Binyavanga leading from the front, flawlessly.

6. “Memories We Lost” | By Lidudumalingani Mqobothi | Incredible Journeys: Stories That Move You Anthology | Fiction

In May, Lidudumalingani sprinkled us with this Caine Prize-winning tale of a family dealing with their daughter’s mental illness, a story that echoes Amy Bloom’s classic “Silver Water” in which a girl also attempts to shield her sister from psychosis. “Every time this thing took her, she returned altered,” he writes, “unrecognisable, as if two people were trapped inside her, both fighting to get out, but not before tearing each other into pieces.” A lot goes into building the affective, isolated atmosphere that is the story’s strength: “It was in November that things got worse. This thing, this thing that took over her.”

7. “Beyonce Is Not Shining a Light on African Literature—It’s the Other Way Round” | By Ainehi Edoro | The Guardian UK | Essay

Ainehi frowns out loud at what we’ve always frowned at the moment it began: suggestions in the Western media that “being linked to Beyoncé had somehow upgraded Adichie into a truly global celebrity,” and that her adaptation of Warsan Shire’s poetry reinforces her promotion of literature from Africa. Analyzing Beyonce’s use of Warsan Shire’s poetry in her album, Ainehi asserts that because “Shire provides the vital connections that hold the work together,” “Lemonade is a very African project.” “The conventional assumption is that ideas and aesthetic innovation flow from the west to places such as Africa,” she writes. “But this can be reversed: African literature shines light on Beyoncé’s work, not the other way round.

8. “Is the Caine Prize for Emergent African Writing, or the Best African Writing?” | By Aaron Bady | Literary Hub | Essay

Aaron Bady’s exhaustive assessment of “the biggest and most prominent prize in African literature—or at least the best publicized” is a reflection, with concrete examples, on the dual role the Caine Prize has played in both introducing top talent and “promoting African writers.” But he asks the question that has plagued the prize particularly in the past half-decade: “Are these writers and these stories the best in African fiction?” In outlining its inconsistencies, Bady is, in effect, questioning the premise of the prize: what is the prize for? Is it for the best stories from Africa when better stories from Africa abound, or for the best new talent when previous winners keep reappearing on its shortlists?

9. “How to Paint a Girl” | By Gbenga Adesina | The New York Magazine | Poetry

Gbenga Adesina’s poetry is remarkable, and this one, collected in New-Generation African Poets: A Chapbook Box Set (Tatu) published by Akashic Books, bears pain in language that is beautiful and entire. “With him you come to learn/ That when a man is called to paint a girl/ He paints all of himself.” Its highlighting of details, in its brevity, builds up to what Matthew Zapruder introduces as “clarity of observation and empathetic insight into the suffering of another.” The last few lines are haunting: “…the silence in her eyes, is the night his mother/ Died while he fought rebels in the Nigerian army.”

10. “Africa’s Future Has No Space for Stupid Black Men” | By Pwaangulongii Daoud | Granta | Essay

Seldom does so much heart and fierceness converge with such beauty as they do in Daoud’s viral tear-jerking tribute to a dear friend in which the struggles of a confident, fearful community of LGBTIQ creatives in Zaria is laid bare. With the opening sentence setting the tone—“Boy, that night was energy”—Daoud’s language is calculated and crisp, compressing and releasing anger in a build-up to an explosive climax, and all with an efficient balance of the political and the emotional. The persecution of Nigeria’s LGBTIQ people is broken down in heart-wrenching detail: “What have we done to be scared to death like that? What?” But it is a call to arms rather than one for help. “Unknown to the world, we are buzzing in here with energy and stamina and dreams,” he spits: “We are smart laughing fires. Our feet are fires…blazing, emitting prophecies…smoky hot fires, ready to choke to death the places and imaginations that threaten our survival.” The essay’s Afro-modernist outlook grants it the necessary fire gushed by such seminal declarations as Taiye Selasi’s “Bye-Bye Barbar (or: What Is an Afropolitan?).” The brightest highlight of the year.

11. “The Arrangements” | By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie | The New York Times | Fiction

In June, Adichie let Donald Trump have it. Commissioned by The New York Times Book Review, this story merges her trademark poignant observation with witty humour and rips into the now U.S. President-elect, taking apart his imagined life through the eyes of his wife, Melania. “At first, she wished…that he would not be so nakedly in need of their praise,” Adichie intimates. This fictional Melania is a woman frightened of the possibility of her husband’s win while shrinking in a tacit rivalry with Trump’s daughter, the now-to-be-First Lady Ivanka. Uncomplimentary but fact-based descriptions are thrown at Trump: “happily blind,” “Donald’s brashness and bluster and bullying,” “that primal restlessness that thrummed in him,” “the amoral ease with which untruths slid out of his mouth,” “protective of him…she often felt…that she was older than Donald.” Summarized by Slate as “psychologically astute,” it announced Adichie’s fervent participation in the election frenzy, preceding her piece on Hilary Clinton and this lauded moment in a BBC Newsnight interview.

12. “still life with my mother’s hijab” | By Safia Elhillo | Narrative Northeast | Poetry

Safia Elhillo’s portrayal of Muslim womanhood in the West begins this way: “on a beach in france a veiled woman/ is in keeping with the law/ stripped & expected to say thank you/ for freeing me.” Because of the culture of Islamophobic scrutiny, the persona subsequently informs us that “today i am at the mall with my mother/ & she wears a hat instead to cover her hennaed hair.” Like in her “empire service train #283” where the threat of the white police is employed to coerce, it is the identity of the foreigner that she interrogates in this similarly short piece. Elhillo is riding high critical acclaim—she co-won the 2015 Brunel University African Poetry Prize and won the 2016 Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets—and we await, with expectation, her first full-length, The January Children.

13. “His Middle Name Was Not Jesus” | By NoViolet Bulawayo | Granta and The Daily Assortment of Astonishing Things | Fiction

In this tale, about a man’s eventual dissatisfaction with a woman he is interested in, that takes us from a restaurant to a game reserve, NoViolet’s prose, while not being the heightened, throbbing poetry of We Need New Names and her pre-WNNN short stories, is as humourous, and as skillfully delivered, as anything she has massaged us with. “Besides, she had no ass. And the midget – the midget was not even worth talking about.” She wraps us in the character’s bruised emotions: “He listened to it spread and spread until he could feel it in his bones, until his blood warmed up, until his insides began to melt, until the urge to cry seized him.”

14. “Teju Cole Talks with Taiye Selasi: Afropolitan. American. African. Whatever” | Guardian UK | Conversation

Rarely does a conversation between two high-powered, intellectually-steep minds disappoint, especially when their names are Teju Cole and Taiye Selasi. Here, they discuss being translated: “one of the purest luxuries,” says Cole. Being classified: “Are you Afropolitan, like Taiye Selasi?” Selasi says, quoting Elnathan John. “Are you an African writer, like Ngugi and his protégés? Are you lost like Teju Cole? We cannot place him.” The probabilities of being subjected to racism while traveling: “They might not hassle me,” Cole states, “but they’d hassle someone who shared my skin colour but not my confidence or clothing or bearing.” They further touch on their privilege, gender, photography, and something else that would have made for an engrossing writing class if indulged a little further: prose fluency; especially considering that they just might be our top two prose stylists.

15. “Beautiful” | By Helon Habila | Adda | Non-fiction

Habila’s aptly-titled visceral narration of hope and football, of “what it means to go for glory, to believe in something,” and of unfulfilled potential in Ajegunle, Lagos, is a depressing story. Modeled on a typical sports profile, it tells of a boy called Buzuzu who is expected to become a football star in Europe but grows instead into an unfulfilled man whose grip on hope isn’t enough to prevent him from being “killed so randomly on the streets” by the police. “There are two ways to enter Ajegunle,” he begins, a passage of graphic description: “from the front, past the noisy market and the frenetic traffic facing the store-front displays of clothes and household wares; or from the back by boat over the dirty, shit-lined lagoon separating the ghetto from the Apapa Industrial neighborhood.” His recreation of atmosphere is eidetic: “the pitch watched in silence as the perfectly curving ball rose and dipped…a leg rose in a bicycle kick…redirecting its trajectory to the back of the net.” It feels not merely read but lived. A story with a breathing soul. Proof that we’ve missed Habila’s fiction.

16. “There Are No Successful Black Nations” | By Chigozie Obioma | Foreign Policy | Essay

Obioma brings to the surface an age-old discussion that has mostly been interrogated in academia—that black Africans are being disrespected because no single black nation has yet risen politically and economically to command global respect. In what is an angry, frustrated slam at his home country of Nigeria, the most populous black nation in the world, Obioma continues the political arguments pursued in his 2015 debut, The Fishermen, where he metaphorically dissects the abortion of Nigeria’s democracy in 1993. He further lashes out at the “farcical democracies” of Zimbabwe, Cameroon, and Equatorial Guinea “ruled by men who exclusively cater to their interests and those of their clipped circles.” Connecting racism in the U.S. and the refugee problem in Europe, he calls for a “restoration of the Pan-Africanist movement with an eye toward building sustainable black nations,” asserting that “although largely unacknowledged in American political discourse, Jim Crow ended in part because of the African Independent movements.”

17. Keynote Address at the United Nations’ 2016 World Humanitarian Day | By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie | Speech

Adichie’s eight-and-a-half keynote address at the United Nations’ World Humanitarian Day is a resonant examination of human beings’ need for external help and a plea for political consideration and bristles with everything that makes her storytelling so persuasive: eloquence, elegant enunciation, gravity. “In 1967, almost fifty years ago,” she begins, “my parents lived in Nsukka, a university town in Eastern Nigeria. They had two small children, a house, a car, friends. A stable life. Then the Nigeria-Biafra War started.” She reifies the decisiveness of an uncluttered moral perspective: “Nobody is ever just a refugee. Nobody is ever just a single thing. And yet, in the public discourse today, we often speak of people as single things. Refugee, immigrant. We dehumanize people when we reduce them to a single thing.” As beautiful as it is powerful.

18. “Against Accessibility: On Robert Irwin, Chinua Achebe, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Imbolo Mbue’s Behold the Dreamers | By Tope Folarin | Los Angeles Review of Books | Essay

Folarin’s juxtaposition of the artist Irwin with Achebe, Adichie and Mbue’s novel is an honest and painstakingly outlined take on the door-opening-but-limiting effects of Adichie’s unprecedented position in global literature: how, as happened with Achebe, the rest of Africa has to follow her lead or risk exclusion from Western recognition. “One could argue,” he points out, “that many of the men and (mostly) women who have signed lucrative book deals over the past five years or so would not have received as much money as they did if Adichie did not prove that African fiction is a viable commercial venture.” Linking her to the similarly-positioned Jhumpa Lahiri and Junot Diaz, he argues that “Adichie has established the two dominant strands of accessible contemporary African fiction. One is a drama that takes place somewhere in Africa, often involving conflict of the household or national variety. The other is a tale about immigrants journeying to the United States.” Even before his writing off of Mbue’s Behold the Dreamers, one realizes that it will end on a note not of cynicism but of outright pessimism. But because most complaints he lays down here are true—although not quite in the way he presents them—it isn’t a happy read—it is rewarding, but not happy.

19. “A Short History of Zaka the Zulu” | By Petina Gappah | The New Yorker | Fiction

Gappah, Brittle Paper‘s 2016 Literary Person of the Year, guides us, in mainly plain prose, through a recognizable college moment—characterized by fear and expectation and competition and betrayal and the need to fit in, and eventually a suicide and a murder—centered on the narrator’s perception of the life of an insufferable Head Boy whose stoic outlook masks the pains in his betrayed private life. “How could any of us have imagined, in the innocence of those days, that there was this darkness at the school? A darkness that had led to Gumbo’s death and then, all these years later, to Nicodemus’s, and would now lead to Zaka’s own.” The writing is straight to the point, relying on the stocked emotions and suspicion and suspense to drive the story. It is a depressing dissection of interpersonal relationships and homosexual loneliness.

20. “A Question of Audience” | By Eghosa Imasuen | The Guardian Nigeria | Essay

In the way that the pioneering generation of Ngugi and Achebe and Obi Wali wrestled and continues to wrestle indecisively with The Language Question, the 2000s generation has found itself seemingly trapped in The Audience Question. Imasuen’s regurgitation of an aspect of the unending, expansive argument—“How much do I explain to my readers when I tell them a story?”—drew a disapproving response from Chigozie Obioma, which itself drew a rejoinder by Imasuen and at least an opinion from the rest of us not already tired or handicapped by this very important discussion. Listing the editing condescension in African writing—“We had editors who italicised our words. We had to insert that most irritating set of words, the explanatory phrase”—he points out how Junot Diaz, a Dominican writer, does the exact opposite and gets away with it. His is a yet another call for Africans to do it in a natural way, to write for each other rather than for the West.

21. “In a Traditional Confessional” | By Hapuya Ononime | Commonwealth Writers | Memoir

Structured as titled, as though in a confession, Ononime saddles us with a multi-layered perspective of a young man interrogating his homosexuality, each notion tackled presenting possibilities for a wide-ranging conversation of its own. Drawing on personal experiences, he lets us into a world of unsettled conviction: “…and I still wonder why God created me like this.” He scrutinizes the proximity to femininity of his emotional responses, the Top vs. Bottoms dichotomy in homosexual relationships, the practical ruthlessness of an emotionally un-dared person, and the nature of homophobia in the absence of knowledge of our loved ones’ sexualities. “I can’t remember what prompts her to say that she would report to the police if she found out that any of her children was gay, I only remember that she says it with such clarity and gravity, with such certainty, that after she says it, a heavy silence hangs between us like a blanket of smoky incense.” Its power is its unadorned poignancy.

22. “Amsterdam” | By Junot Diaz | Enkare Review | Fiction

Our jaws happily dropped when, in September, this story by Junot Diaz, told by a man frustrated at yet another failed relationship with a woman, appeared in the then-beginner Kenyan magazine Enkare Review. “Anyway: something about where we each were in our lives,” he writes in that nonchalant voice of his recurrent narrator Yunior. “Something about the wildness of our relationship, something about our own weaknesses, but we were kind of trapped in each other.” Given the circumstances, one might be surprised to find how top-notch this story is, how it seems to have been excerpted from his acclaimed This Is How You Lose Her collection.

23. “Afropolitan, No More, No Less” | By Taiye Selasi | Enkare Review | Essay

Somewhere in the midst of the Afropolitanist noise, in the rush to condemn as elitist a certain worldview of transnational Africans, necessary acknowledgements were ignored, important points lost. Ten years after the original essay “Bye-Bye Barbar (or: What Is an Afropolitan?)” lighted the conversation in 2005, Selasi assesses its impact. And these ten years after, nothing has changed: she re-affirms her views. “A description of a particular experience, by definition, does not apply to all people in all places,” she writes. “That there are those—among 1.3 billion Africans living on the continent, 169 million living off—who do not share this experience should neither surprise nor alarm us.” Her acknowledgement of this difference is, in words she does not write here, what anti-Afropolitans lack. The short piece is all the more crucial for offering us a re-assessment by one of Afropolitanism’s harshest critics, Binyavanga Wainaina: a Facebook post in which he apologizes “for denigrating the term Afropolitan. I should have looked deeper.” The original essay was a seminal cultural event that, with the advent of social media culture, found its way into academic and popular discourse and fashion and music and art and literature, represented firmly by her debut novel Ghana Must Go as well as her 1.7 million-viewed TED Talk, “Don’t Ask Where I’m from; Ask Where I’m a Local.”

24. “Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions” | By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie | Facebook | Essay

In this trademark successor to the instant classic that is “We Should All Be Feminists,” Adichie breaks down her own feminism to accomplished details, sending the Internet into a frenzy. She asserts: “Do not ever tell her that she should do or not do something ‘because you are a girl.’ ‘Because you are a girl’ is never a reason for anything. Ever.” She challenges: “We also need to question the idea of marriage as a prize to women.” She acknowledges: “Teach her about difference. Make difference ordinary. Because difference is the reality of our world.” And she attacks “the idea of conditional female equality,” what she terms Feminism Lite: “Being a feminist is like being pregnant. You either are or you are not. You either believe in the full equality of women, or you do not.” Is it also a social media statement—her decision to post on Facebook an essay any A-List magazine would lobby to publish? Ainehi Edoro calls it “the best 9,000 words ever written on feminism in African literature,” but we just might struggle to find a better set of feminist words anywhere else.

25. “Working the City” | By Bernard Matambo | Transition | Essay

Matambo’s recollection of trying, with a friend, to leave Zimbabwe for America is “lyrical yet sobering” and sometimes humourous. From the generally tempered prose here occasionally emerges such gems as: “a clamor of voices piercing its way through the sunshine,” “Bald head bouncing…catching glints of the sun like an orb of polished metal,” “floating into the city like another leaf longing for a sail,” “the sun low and loud in my face,” “the sun full in my face,” “Another tree advertises a carpenter, the sign rusting like blood at the edges.” It is an often-cynical, mischievous gauge of the Let’s Run Away from Africa efforts and the difficulty of it. “The way people speak about getting a job over there,” he writes, “it’s like picking low-hanging fruit off a ripe tree.” It was awarded Transition‘s “Editor’s Choice” and nominated for a 2016 Pushcart Prize.

26. “Because Your Body Took the Wrong Way Home” | By Wale Owoade | Brittle Paper | Poetry

In one of the year’s most mood-changing pieces, Wale Owoade pays tribute to the spirit of Akinnifesi Olumide Olubunmi, the gay man who died from wounds from a public beating in Ondo State in February. “…they said a boy once waited at the center of your prayer,” the persona reflects, “and they won’t stop reaching into their bile to throw punches and curses at you.” Written in prose form, there is a beautiful, comma-less breathlessness in the 435-word sentence that the poem is: “but you stayed then you ran then you stopped because you are broken then you started…and your mother is a smoke waiting to hide you.” But it is beauty that blossoms in pain: “you don’t want to die because he is waiting and you’re dying…your heart is beating for a boy and boys don’t love boys.” Disquieting.

27. “Dreams and Other Dangerous Pursuits” | By Abubakar Adam Ibrahim | 2016 NLNG Prize Acceptance Speech

Ibrahim’s heavily symbolic win of the 2016 NLNG Nigeria Prize for Literature, for his novel Season of Crimson Blossoms, was followed up by a rousing, beautiful, political acceptance speech, a rallying call full of heart. “I wanted to immortalize us,” he says of his choice to write. Frustration at Nigeria brewing beneath his graceful words, he appeals to our humanity and the choices we make: “that despite the wars, the violence, the immeasurable harm we perpetrated, our resilience and strength and our humanity still shone through the dark mist.

28. “Complicating the Significance of Gender” | By Keside Anosike | Brittle Paper | Essay

Keside Anosike’s essay, the first in Brittle Paper’s “My Feminism” series, is a thought-out, nuanced navigation of the limitations of the social construct that is gender. “In a linear discourse of gender,” he points out, “I would be labeled female for my domesticity.” But he turns the tables on this notion, arguing that it leaves men “disadvantaged.” His steady hand guides us through a childhood complicated by his leaning towards femininity: “at nine, I’d noticed that domestic chores soothed my mind.” Without relinquishing its narrative beauty, it makes a strong case for the de-simplification of gender.

29. “Jollof Rice Wars, Cultural Appropriation, and the Ugly Heart of the Other’s Darkness” | By Ikhide R. Ikheloa | Enkare Review | Essay

In this litany of dissatisfaction, Ikhide strikes out at everything in his path. He reminds us to “ignore the institutionalized single story despair about the state of Africa in African fiction,” because “All over the Internet many African writers are doing innovative things with literature and showcasing African communities as the sum of their stories,” that “many white writers have nurtured the perverse tradition of infantilizing characters of color, of making caricatures and stick figures out of their lives” but also that “many contemporary African writers like Chris Abani are guilty of this sin.” He insists that “Young African writers do not feel a need to italicize African words like egusi and ugali and no longer provide helpful footnotes explaining African words and sayings. Google is your friend, they say.” He calls out Lionel Shriver for her cultural appropriation comments, likening her fiction to Conrad’s which Achebe termed “thoroughgoing racist,” he sneers at gatherings where writers “are invited to say important things and make groundbreaking pronouncements that cause a stir only among that circle,” and he flings one at the Caine Prize: “The best writing of this generation of writers is on the Internet and on social media.” There are enough hyperlinks in this essay to build a library. A must-save.

30. “Teju Cole Reminds Us of Life beyond Politics, and the Beauty of Art” | Literary Hub | Conversation

On the day of the U.S. election, Teju Cole, “one of our great essayists,” sat with the poet Adam Fitzgerald to give us a deep discussion about the limits of politics and the reaches of art. About his multi-perspective identity and his need to hold on to all, what Fitzgerald calls his “taking from so many different intellectual and cultural traditions,” Teju Cole gives this example: “there are forms of argument present in the Anglo-American legal tradition that are more helpful to me than traditional Yoruba jurisprudence. In the latter, my rights as a community member are defended but not always my rights as an individual.” Here, everything from James Baldwin to Edward Snowden is analyzed.

31. “In the Spirit of Ake” | By TJ Benson | Praxis | Memoir

In the past few years, the African literary scene has seen an increase in the number of published memoirs of such trending events as the Ake Festival and the Farafina Workshop, and in this recollection of the 2016 Ake Festival, TJ Benson offers what is perhaps the longest, most detailed and most personal of them all. “It afforded me the opportunity to meet my buddies and babes from Facebook whom I knew only by profile picture and name,” he tells us, before devoting paragraphs to them. Of a performer, he poetically emotes: “Falana is the lone butterfly that travels the beautiful gardens of dreams. From Yoruba to Portuguese she ruins us all from her throne on stage singing.” His criticism is strong—“Some of the book chats are just there, you know, especially if you’ve attended other book chats where people ask redundant questions”—and his impressions candid—“Teju Cole really is Teju Cole, yes, the one you meet in his The New Yorker articles and Instagram posts—as precise in speech as in his sentences. Helon Habila is way softer than I imagined.” By the end, we feel as though we have been there with him, feel even the eventual thick nostalgia that follows such moments as this.

 

 

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Post image by Lidudumalingani via Instagram.

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About Otosirieze Obi-Young

View all posts by Otosirieze Obi-Young
Otosirieze Obi-Young was shortlisted for the 2016 Miles Morland Scholarship. His story, "Mulumba," appears in The Threepenny Review and his Transition story, “A Tenderer Blessing,” was nominated for a 2015 Pushcart Prize. His story, "You Sing of a Longing," is currently on the 2016 Gerald Kraak Award shortlist. His essays appear in Interdisciplinary Academic Essays and Brittle Paper where he is Submissions Editor. He edited Enter Naija—The Book of Places, an anthology of writing, photography and digital art about places in Nigeria created to mark Nigeria’s 56th Independence anniversary. A lecturer at Godfrey Okoye University, Enugu, he blogs popular culture at naijakulture.blogspot.com.

16 Responses to “African Literary Digest: The 31 Best Pieces of 2016” Subscribe

  1. Pearl Osibu 2016/12/21 at 01:38 #

    This is a brilliant collection. Thank you so much for this!!!

  2. Nnamdi Okeke 2016/12/21 at 03:05 #

    ‎There’s something subjective and quite messed up (forgive the phrase, but it’s necessary) about this article. Propaganda. Pieces like Nneoma Ike-Njoku’s award-winning story, “The Burial”, El-nathan John’s satirical pieces, any of Mark Ge‎visser’s essays, Akwaeke Emezie’s story in Commonwealth Story Series, “Texture of Joy”, Tochukwu Okafor’s Warscapes story which has been featured in several journals internationally, Chika Unigwe’s story in Asterix Journal which is really beautiful, Bongani Kona’s Caine Prize shortlisted story, Kenny Brandmuse’s Travel Diary in six parts on Facebook…Not even Lesley Arimah! Haba, I could go on and on and on. Anyway, I guess this list is not a comment on the worth of writers who weren’t mentioned. I suggest you open calls for nominations next time. Again, I think this list is quite messed up (I hope you forgive the word)

  3. Chiziterem 2016/12/22 at 03:56 #

    @Nnamdi Okeke. I wanted to use polished oyibo English for this reply. But no. Our creole does the job better: “Why people no dey read preamble before dem begin talk?”

  4. Robert Dyck 2016/12/23 at 14:41 #

    Check out codecan.org

  5. Isabelle O 2016/12/23 at 21:45 #

    As a person that doesn’t consume African pieces on the regular or even very scarcely, I greatly appreciate this thoughtful list. Bookmarking this website for daily reads.

  6. Tom Jalio 2016/12/25 at 05:44 #

    Thank you Otosirieze for shining a light on these pieces in an admittedly non-definitive list. It’s great to see African writers take control of the African narrative. That said, just as with the Caine Prize where the usual suspects feature, this list appears to reward fame more than emergent writing. Multiple works from the same publications further indicate a limited scope.
    I wrote a creative nonfiction piece about Africa, for Africa, in Africa that went viral due to the depth of its research, quality of its writing, and intrigue of its theme: the biggest scandal on the African literary scene this year. For the benefit of those who missed it, it’s called ‘A red scar on African poetry’ and was published in African Arguments. You can read it here: http://bit.ly/RdscrPlgrsm

  7. Otosirieze Obi-Young 2016/12/26 at 02:55 #

    Hello, Tom Jalio. It’s good of you to share your essay with us. Thanks. It is simply not true, however, that this list “appears to reward fame more than emergent writing.” While most of the included pieces were written by well-known authors, a third of this list comprises lesser-known, or relatively unknown, writers who have mostly found recognition in the last two years. Arinze Ifeakandu, Gbenga Adesina, Pwaangulongii Daoud, Safia Elhillo, Hapuya Ononime, Wale Owoade, Keside Anosike, TJ Benson. It must be noted, also, that this list is about the pieces rather than their authors, and so we were primarily not occupied with whether or not the authors are “emergent” or established. Consider, further, that “multiple works from the same publications” do not necessarily “indicate a limited scope”–their presence could also mean that those publications have excelled in the difficult job of consistently putting out very good pieces. We believe that Enkare Review and Granta published some of the best pieces by Africans in 2016 and so they have multiple entries. Rarely are listicles definitive. Again, thanks for sharing your essay with us, Tom.

  8. Tom Jalio 2016/12/26 at 06:09 #

    Hi, Otosirieze. Thank you for taking the time to respond. I’m pleased to share my essay and hope you enjoy it.
    Your counter-arguments are valid. At the end of the day, what matters is that someone went to the trouble of compiling not just a top 10 but a top 30 of pieces that captured the imagination. Despite my concerns, I’ve been happy to share the list on social media. If there’s anything in my feedback that can enlighten future compilations, I’d be much obliged.
    Cheers, TJ.

  9. Otosirieze Obi-Young 2016/12/27 at 23:50 #

    Thank you, Pearl Osibu. Thank you too, Isabelle O. It’s great to know you’ll be coming around more often.

  10. Otosirieze Obi-Young 2016/12/28 at 00:20 #

    Hello Nnamdi Okeke. We love that you have highlighted pieces you feel should be in the list. Thanks. We hope, though, that you understand that your rather heavy choice word, “propaganda,” is evidently indefensible here. In the same way that your phrase, “messed up,” is evidently not based on the quality of what you see on the list but on your distrustful belief that we deliberately, unjustifiably excluded the pieces you mention–a belief so unfortunate. And, like Chiziterem points out, you also did not read the preamble, or you would have seen that, like any other list, we admit that this is not definitive. Your two penultimate sentences further allow the suspicion that you have taken this listicle to be two things that it has neither claimed nor will ever aspire to be: a power list of sorts, a popularity contest. While the pieces you have made a case for are undoubtedly good, I would suggest that you actually read the pieces listed here. Thanks for engaging us with your views, Nnamdi.

  11. Chic 2016/12/28 at 00:33 #

    Thanks for this list. I’ve read most of the works but will try to read those i missed!
    For those who don’t like the list, its not a competition or award nomination, its a damn list. If you don’t likey, start your blog and write your own list, add all thr names therein. We will read.

  12. Bernard 2017/01/20 at 18:42 #

    Hi Otosirieze,

    Thank you for the shout out for “Working The City”, I appreciate it! This is a wonderful site and a strong list. Keep up the wonderful work you are doing.

  13. Otosirieze Obi-Young 2017/02/05 at 01:04 #

    Thanks Bernard. “Working the City” is a delightful, funny read and we love it. Thanks for dropping by.

  14. mofedest miracle review 2017/02/26 at 18:23 #

    I do believe all the ideas you’ve presented to your post.

    They are very convincing and will definitely work.
    Still, the posts are very quick for novices. Could you please lengthen them a little
    from next time? Thanks for the post.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Recap: 2016 – Bisii Adedun - 2016/12/27

    […] so inspired to up my writing game to that level. A good number of the short stories are on this list, and I got introduced to the sensational writing of TJ Benson, Lidudumalingani Mqombothi (love his […]

  2. ¿Podemos hablar de los mejores 10 libros africanos de 2016? – Otras Voces en Educacion - 2017/01/06

    […] necesarias y completan a la actual (las de expresión inglesa de Africa is a country, Writivism, Brittle Paper o Bookshy, o, los repasos a lo que ha surgido en expresión francesa que ofrecen Jeune Afrique o Le […]

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

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