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Trifonia Melibea Obono.

Each year, a step is taken that opens up the African literary scene the more. In 2017, Abdulai Sila’s The Ultimate Tragedy became the first novel from Guinea-Bissau to be translated into English. This year, we welcome the first English-language novel by a woman out of Equatorial Guinea: Trifonia Melibea Obono’s La Bastarda.

In an email to Brittle Paper, its translator Lawrence Schimel stated that the novel is forthcoming in the US from Feminist Books on 17 April of this year, in South Africa later this year from Modjaji Books, and in the UK where it will be distributed by Turn Around.

Trifonia Melibea Obobo was born in Evinayong, Equatorial Guinea, in 1982. She is a professor in the Faculty of Literature and Social Science of the National University of Equatorial Guinea and is also part of the Afro-Hispanic Studies Center of the National University of Distance Education (UNED) in Spain. She is completing a PhD in Gender Studies at the University of Salamanca, Spain. La Bastarda is her third novel, following Herencia de bidendee (2016) and La albina del dinero (2018). She has a collection of short stories forthcoming later this year.

La Bastarda comes with an Afterword by Abosede George.

Here is a description by its US publishers Feminist Press.

The first novel by an Equatorial Guinean woman to be translated into English, La Bastarda is the story of the orphaned teen Okomo, who lives under the watchful eye of her grandmother and dreams of finding her father. Forbidden from seeking him out, she enlists the help of other village outcasts: her gay uncle and a gang of “mysterious” girls reveling in their so-called indecency. Drawn into their illicit trysts, Okomo finds herself falling in love with their leader and rebelling against the rigid norms of Fang culture.

The novel has also drawn advance praise. Cheryl Clarke, author of Living as a Lesbian, called it “an invaluable contribution to lesbian and gay literary culture.” Here is a blurb from Alexis Pauline Gumbs, author of M Archive: After the End of the World:

“A breakthrough novel that tells the world, from an Equatorial Guinean perspective, that there is so much necessary life outside of, beyond, before, and after patriarchy. For those of us who have been told that we do not exist. That we cannot exist. That we should not exist. This groundbreaking story full of love and nurturing is a spell for remembering that we do exist, we have existed, and that we must support each other to exist and thrive as who we are.”

Here is another from Maggie Thrash, author of Honor Girl:

“Though I live a world away from Equatorial Guinea, I saw so much of myself in Okomo: a tomboy itching to be free and to escape society’s rigged game. I cheered her on with every page, and wished—for myself and all girls—for the bravery to create our own world.”

L-R: Trifonia Melibea Obono and La Bastarda translator Lawrence Schimel.

Equatorial Guinea was colonized by Spain—the only African country taken by Spain—and naturally, its literary output has been fed into the Spanish language. The first English-language novel from the country is Donato Ndongo’s Shadows of Your Black Memory (Swan Isle Press, 2007), first published in 1987 in Spanish as Las tinieblas de tu memoria. In 2014, an anthology, New Writing from Equatorial Guinea, was published. The anthology’s introduction, which appears in Words without Borders, is by Jethro Soutar, who translated Abdulai Sila’s aforementioned groundbreaking novel from Guinea-Bissau and wrote an essay on it, an essay published by us.

La Bastarda is translated by the two-time LAMBDA Award-winning Lawrence Schimel, who has done much work in translating Anglophone African literature into Spanish. He co-translated, with Arrate Hidalgo, the forthcoming Spanish-language edition of Koleka Putuma’s Collective Amnesia. He and Hidalgo had previously translated Makhosazana Xaba’s anthology Like the Untouchable Wind for the Spanish publishers Baphala, which specializes in postcolonial literature about queerness. Baphala is the Spanish-language publisher of Kenyan Ghalib Shiraz Dhalla’s 2002 novel Ode to Lata and Zimbabwean Tendai Huchu’s 2010 novel The Hairdresser of Harare.

Congratulations to Trifonia Melibea Obobo. And thank you to Lawrence Schimel for his work in bringing this book to our attention.

We will be bringing you updates on the book’s progress.

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Otosirieze Nnaemekaram is a writer, an academic, and Deputy Editor of Brittle Paper. His fiction has appeared in The Threepenny Review ("Mulumba," 2016), Transition ("A Tenderer Blessing," 2015), and in an anthology of the Gerald Kraak Award for which he was shortlisted ("You Sing of a Longing," 2017). His work has further been shortlisted for the Miles Morland Writing Scholarship in 2016 and a Pushcart Prize in 2015. He attended the 2018 Miles Morland Foundation Creative Writing Workshop facilitated by Giles Foden. He is the curator of the ART NAIJA SERIES, a sequence of themed e-anthologies of writing and visual art exploring different aspects of Nigerianness. The first, ENTER NAIJA: THE BOOK OF PLACES (October, 2016), focuses on cities in Nigeria. The second, WORK NAIJA: THE BOOK OF VOCATIONS (June, 2017), focuses on professions in Nigeria. He studied History and Literature at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, is currently completing a postgraduate programme in African Studies and Pop Culture, and teaches English at Godfrey Okoye University, Enugu. He has completed a collection of short stories and is working on a 600-page novel. When bored, he just Googles Rihanna.

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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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