The year 2019 was full. While it is gone, its books are not. In December, we released our list of The Notable Books of 2019 by African authors. As we look ahead into 2020, we list the year’s most notable debuts books and authors in fiction, poetry, and nonfiction, some of which also appear in our Notable Books list. A few of the authors are known names; a few are not publishing books for the first time but are doing so in a new genre or format; but all are making their marks. The buzz shouldn’t stop. Please buy the books.
THE OLD DRIFT
Hogarth/Penguin Random House | March 26, 2019 | 576 pages
Hailed as The Great Zambian Novel, it follows three families—one Black, one Brown, one White—through generations as their stories collide, allowing an experience of the passage of time. It combines fascinating characters, including a woman covered with hair and another plagued with endless tears, with riveting socio-political contexts, including the famed Afronauts programme of the ’70s. It resists easy categorisation in how it mixes science fiction, historical fiction, fairytale, and romance. Its execution drew comparison to Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The novel was reviewed in The New York Times by Salman Rushdie. And eyebrows were raised when it missed out on the 2019 Booker Prize longlist.
Namwali Serpell is a Zambian writer. She received a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award for women writers in 2011 and was selected for the Africa 39, a 2014 Hay Festival project to identify the best African writers under 40. She won the 2015 Caine Prize for African Writing and The 2019 Brittle Paper Award for Essays & Think Pieces, for her piece, “On Black Difficulty: Toni Morrison and the Thrill of Imperiousness.” She teaches at the University of California, Berkeley.
SKY RAINING FISTS
Madhouse Press | August 2019 | 34 pages
This debut print chapbook explores the nature of love, the psyche, and mental health. The poems, confessional and visceral, interrogate the body and the self in such strikingly beautiful, metaphor-laden language. They negotiate the aggressions of leaving and being left while retaining the different facets of being human: lover, son, friend, brother, citizen. Their consideration of family, God, country, and desire is memorable.
JK Anowe, Igbo-born poet and teacher, is Poetry Chapbooks Editor for Praxis Magazine Online. His first chapbook is The Ikemefuna Tributaries: a parable for paranoia (Praxis Magazine Online, 2016). He won the inaugural The Brittle Paper Award for Poetry in 2017, for his poem “Credo to Leave,” and was a finalist for the Gerard Kraak Prize in 2019. His poems appear in the temz review, Glass Poetry, The Shore, Agbowo, Fresh Air Poetry, and 20.35 Africa: An Anthology of Contemporary Poetry. He lives, teaches, and writes from somewhere in Nigeria. Sky Raining Fists is his first chapbook in print.
IF YOU KEEP DIGGING
Blackbird Books | June 1, 2019 | 184 pages
This collection of short stories, set in South Africa, explores a range of subjects, including migration, identity, gender, sexuality, race, the patriarchy, domestic violence, and class. The characters have hopes and ambitions and we follow them as they see their worlds clearly or accept themselves. It is a debut book that gives faces to the usually forgotten. One of the stories, “Monkeys,” was shortlisted for The 2019 Brittle Paper Award for Fiction.
Keletso Mopai is a South African storyteller born and raised in Lenyenye township, Limpopo. Her stories appear in The Johannesburg Review of Books, DRUM, Omenana, Brittle Paper, The Kalahari Review, and The Ebedi Review. She was shortlisted for the 2017 Writivism Prize and was a finalist for the 2018 Africa Book Club Competition.
PRINCE OF MONKEYS
Counterpoint | April 2, 2019 | 288 pages
Starting in the 1980s, this debut novel tracks a young man, Ihechi, as he and his group of close friends come of age in Lagos. An anti-government riot changes the direction of their bond as Ihechi’s mother makes him leave the house and he makes connection with a political heavyweight. A reconnection with his friends sets off a reconsideration of his worldview presented with a grasp of political, social, and religious life in Nigeria. A powerful book.
Nnamdi Ehirim is a Nigerian writer based in Lagos and Madrid. His writing has appeared in Afreada, Brittle Paper, Catapult, The Kalahari Review, and The Republic. He cofounded a clean-energy start-up in Nigeria and is currently pursuing an MBA focused on entrepreneurship in the renewable energy sector. Prince of Monkeys is his first novel.
I’M TELLING THE TRUTH BUT I’M LYING
Harper Perennial | August 20, 2019 | 272 pages
Based on the author’s personal experience, this New York Times bestselling collection of essays takes us through what it means to have mental health challenges. It explores the shame, confusion, self-consciousness, and medication that comes with it and shows how each affects every detail of life. It is a raw book that challenges conventions of what is accepted as truth.
Bassey Ikpi is a Nigerian-American writer and mental health advocate. A public speaker and TV personality, she was featured on HBO’s “Def Poetry Jam” and joined the touring company for its Tony Award-winning Broadway show. She was the resident pop culture critic for Philly’s WURD FM radio station and is currently a contributing editor for Catapult. Her writing has appeared in The Root, Ebony, Huffington Post, and Essence, as well as the anthologies Rookie On Love and Who Will Speak For America. She wrote and performed a short film, Invisible Barriers, for Nike’s global nonprofit Girls Effect. She is the founder of The Siwe Project, a mental health organization that centers Black and Brown people, and is the creator of #NoShameDay, an initiative that attempts to reduce stigma and increase mental health awareness. As a performing poet, she has opened for India Arie, Luther Vandross, and Alicia Keys.
IN THE NUDE
Ouida Books (First published by PANK Books as Mannequin in the Nude) | March 15, 2019 | 86 pages
Coming after three chapbooks, this collection of poetry digs into this 21-year-old’s enormous promise. It is an affecting exploration of grief, family, God, queerness, eroticism, religion, and mythology. The poems are a confessional look into the self done with vulnerability, tenderness, and sheer beauty.
Logan February is a non-binary Nigerian poet. They and their work have been featured in The Rumpus, Dazed, The Guardian Life, Lambda Literary, Washington Square Review, Africa in Dialogue, and Brittle Paper, among others. They are the author of the poetry chapbooks Painted Blue with Saltwater (Indolent Books, 2017) and How to Cook a Ghost (Glass Poetry Press, 2017).
THE MOURNING BIRD
Jacana Media | August 13, 2019 | 200 pages
This empowering novel, which won the 2019 Dinaane Debut Fiction Award, is a portrait of Zambia seen through the eyes of two siblings whose family is full of medical health, marital, and mental health secrets. Chimuka and Ali become street kids raised around drugs, crime, police brutality, and prostitution. Meanwhile, a military coup fails, election riots happen, and the economy fails, but Chimuka pushes on.
Mubanga Kalimamukwento is a criminal lawyer from Zambia. She won the 2019 Kalemba Short Story Prize and was shortlisted for the Bristol Short Story Prize and the SyncityNG Anthology Contest. She is a fellow of the Young African Leadership Initiative and the Hubert H. Humphrey (Fulbright) Fellowship. She is currently studying at the University of Minnesota.
DO NOT SAY IT’S NOT YOUR COUNTRY
Griots Lounge Publishing | March 1, 2019 | 256 pages
This collection of twelve stories takes us on a continental tour. Set in different countries—from Nigeria, South Africa, and Madagascar to Sierra Leone and Kenya—the characters’ hustles for love and survival is shown with beautiful generosity. Its focus on working class lives is one of remarkable illumination.
Nnamdi Oguike is a Nigerian writer. He won a 2019 Miles Morland Writing Scholarship and was a finalist for the 2018 Africa Book Club Short Story Competition. His writing has appeared in The Dalhousie Review, African Writer, and Brittle Paper.
DAVID MOGO, GODHUNTER
Abaddon | July 9, 2019 | 360 pages
In this thrilling fantasy, the gods have fallen to earth. In the ensuing chaos, the demigod and godhunter David Mogo is assigned to capture two of the most powerful gods in Lagos and deliver them to the wizard gangster Lukmon Ajala. It is godpunk made in Nigeria and has been called “the subgenre’s platonic deific ideal.”
Suyi Davies Okungbowa is a Nigerian author of fantasy, science fiction, and horror inspired by West Africa. His short fiction and essays have appeared in Tor.com, Lightspeed, Nightmare, Strange Horizons, Fireside, Podcastle, The Dark, and in the anthologies Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy (Saga, 2020), A World of Horror (Dark Moon Books, 2018), and People of Colour Destroy Science Fiction (Lightspeed/John Joseph Adams, 2017). He lives between Lagos and Tucson, Arizona where he teaches writing to undergrads while completing his MFA in Creative Writing.
THE CARELESS SEAMSTRESS
University of Nebraska Press | March, 2019 | 96 pages
The women and girls in this collection, which won the Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets as a manuscript, have a multiplex outlook on the world. The whole range of femaleness is present and portrayed with an awareness of labour: women are ceaselessly on the move, being daughters, mothers, fetching water, harvesting corn, raising children, and, in the central motif, sewing. Their personal ways of experiencing the world become political.
Tjawangwa Dema is a poet from Botswana. Her chapbook Mandible (Slapering Hol Press, 2014) was selected for publication by the African Poetry Book Fund as part of the Seven New Generation African Poets box set. Her poems have appeared in The New Orleans Review, The Kalahari Review, Cordite Review, and elsewhere. Her work has been supported by The Danish Arts Council, the Vermont Studio Centre, and Northwestern University’s Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities, among others. She has been named a Botswana Top 40 under 40 Catalyst as well as won a Mail and Guardian Editor’s Choice award recipient. Formerly chairperson of the Writer’s Association of Botswana, she is an Honorary Fellow of the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program. She is Senior Research Associate in the Department of English at the University of Bristol and holds an MA in Creative Writing from Lancaster University. She delivered the 2019 Ohio University African Studies Spring Lecture and co-produced the 2019 Africa Writes – Bristol festival.
THE ETERNAL AUDIENCE OF ONE
BlackBird Books | July 19, 2019 | 528 pages
Forced to leave Rwanda and avoiding Namibia because he thinks the country boring, Seraphin Turihamwe arrives South Africa and struggles to blend into Cape Town. He makes friends, has mentors and lovers, and continues to fight for tranquility in his life while aiming to become a certain kind of person. His journey is one of the immigrant life, family, love, race, and displacement.
A SMALL SILENCE
Cassava Republic | July 26, 2019 | 288 pages
After being released from prison, Prof., an activist and retired academic, decides to live in darkness, pushing away everyone around him. His life takes a turn when he is visited by Desire, an orphan and undergraduate who idolises him and who begins to visit him every day at 9 p.m. The novel asks us to consider the power of trauma to divide and the tendency of solitude to ignite. A lesson in the auditory art of storytelling.
Jumoke Verissimo is a Nigerian writer. Her first collection of poetry, I Am Memory, won the Carlos Idzia Ahmad Prize and was a runner-up for the Anthony Agbo Prize. Her second collection, The Birth of Illusion, was shortlisted for the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) Poetry Prize and longlisted for the NLNG Prize. Her poetry chapbook, Epiphanies, was published by Saraba magazine. She is a doctoral student in the Department of English and Film Studies at the University of Alberta, Canada.
RETURN TO THE ENCHANTED ISLAND
Amazon Crossing | November 5, 2019 | 172 pages
In the second novel from Madagascar to be published in English, and also the author’s second, Ietsy Razak, named after the first man at the creation of the world in Malagasy mythology, is plagued by restlessness, insomnia, and apathy. When tragedy causes him to go to boarding school in France, he finds that only a return to his country, the “enchanted island” of the title, will bring him to rest. This Prix du roman de l‘Océan Indien-winning novel is a coming-of-age tale that contextualises Madagascar in the 21st century.
Born in Antananarivo, Madagascar, Johary Ravaloson is an author and publisher living in Normandy. He co-founded Dodo Vole Publishing, with the contemporary artist Sophie Bazin, starting in-country publishing in Madagascar and Réunion. His first novel Vol à vif won the 2016 Prix du livre insulaire and the 2017 Prix Ivoire. His most recent novel is Amour, patrie et soupe de crabes.
Allison M. Charette translates literature from French into English. She has received an NEA Fellowship in literary translation and a PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grant, has been selected for the Translation Lab residency at Art OMI, and has been nominated for the Best of the Net. Her translation of Naivo’s Beyond the Rice Fields, the first novel to be translated from Madagascar, was published by Restless Books in 2017. She founded the Emerging Literary Translators’ Network in America (ELTNA.org), a networking and support group for early-career translators.
DO YOU DREAM OF TERRA-TWO?
Simon & Schuster | March 7, 2019 | 528 pages
It will take 23 years for a team of 10 astronauts to reach Terra-Two, another habitable planet in the solar system. Among them are four decorated veterans of the 20th century space race and six teenage graduates of the exclusive Dalton Academy. We follow them on an unpredictable journey. This brilliant book has been described as “The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet meets The 100.”
Temi Oh has a bachelor’s in Neuroscience from King’s College London and master’s in Creative Writing from the University of Edinburgh. While at Kings College, she founded a book club called “Neuroscience-fiction,” where she led discussions about science-fiction books which focus on the brain.
A PARTICULAR KIND OF BLACK MAN
A Nigerian family struggles to fit into life in the American Midwest. As the father works towards the American Dream, the mother descends into schizophrenia, and one day she runs away with Tunde and his brother. The story takes us on Tunde’s journey to find connection to the world around him—step family, neighbours, school mates, church mates, academic fraternity—becoming a meditation on home, masculinity, identity, and memory.
Tope Folarin is a Nigerian-American writer based in Washington, DC. He won the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2013 and was shortlisted in 2016. He was named to the Africa39 list of the most promising African writers under 40. He was educated at Morehouse College and the University of Oxford, where he earned two Masters degrees as a Rhodes Scholar.
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