Kiswahili is spoken widely in Eastern Africa and parts of Central Africa. The language has morphed into different dialects spoken in these countries and is well documented in a rich literary tradition. Even though this collection centers on 20th century fiction, the Kiswahili literary tradition spans various genres and time periods.

Swahili novels known as riwaya are characterized by their lyricism and flowery expression crafted through a deft use of oral literary forms and experimentation with the form of the novel.

The authors featured in this collection are doyens of Kiswahili, writers and scholars passionate about the use of African languages to document African stories. The past decade has seen the advent of the Jomo Kenyatta Foundation and Mabati-Cornell Kiswahili literary prizes, organizations that support ground-breaking works of fiction by both established and new writers.

The books on this list have been shaped by the Kiswahili riwaya landscape over the decades, from the pioneering works of Shabaan Robert to the experimental works of K. W. Wamitila.