Cameroonian novelist Imbolo Mbue covers the March/April 2021 issue of Poets and Writers. In the cover photo, she looks stunning in her signature afro, a yellow high-neck top, and green double teardrop earrings.

The feature article focuses on Mbue’s new novel How Beautiful We Were. The novel tells the story of Kosawa, a fictitious African community suffering from environmental degradation thanks to a corrupt government in cahoots with a multinational corporation. Following the success of her first novel which explores the 2008 financial crises, Mbue returns with yet another compelling narrative about the systemic exploitation of vulnerable communities.

In the featured piece, she shares the experiences that inspired aspects of the book. For a novel about individuals standing up against extremely powerful and dangerous forces, she drew inspiration from figures such as Nelson Mandela, Patrice Lumumba, and Thomas Sankara.

I was fascinated by those men and their tactics. I leaned heavily on revolutionaries of the 20th century because I wanted to understand the individual cost that comes with standing up against your oppressors when you can’t know the likelihood of success.

The decision to center the novel on a female character who is also a revolutionary came from realizing how important it was to counteract the erasures of women in narratives about resistance.

When you grow up in a world where you don’t see women in certain positions, it’s hard to imagine it. When I heard about the freedom fighters in my childhood, they were all men. As I learned more about women who are and have been doing this work, I began to move away from making it about Malabo to Thula: it was her mission.

The feature contains a lot of context for the novel and interesting details about Mbue’s thinking on storytelling, politics, and activism.

Buy the issue here.