Top: Beverley Naidoo, Leila Aboulela, and Emma Dabiri. Bottom: Sarah Ladipo Manyika, Tade Thompson, and James Currey.

The Royal Society of Literature (RSL) announced its 62 new fellows last Wednesday, of which 6 of them are African. The African fellows include Beverley Naidoo, Leila Aboulela, Emma Dabiri, Sarah Ladipo Manyika, Tade Thompson, and James Currey.

The RSL is a UK charity aimed at advancing literature. It was founded in 1820 by King George IV as a learned society with the aim of rewarding literary merit and exciting literary talent. The current president is Booker Prize-winning author Bernardine Evaristo.

Evaristo remarked that the latest cohort includes a broad range of writers from “different parts of the UK, from different communities, different demographics.” She hopes that this broadened representation drives further change in the RSL, which has historically been an organization for writers who are white and middle class.

Of the 62 new fellows, 15 were elected by regular process, 31 through the Open initiative, and 16 were honorary fellows.

Regular process involves being nominated by two existing fellows for a body of writing that includes at least two works of outstanding literary merit. South African children’s book author Beverley Naidoo was elected by regular process. Her books focus on children surviving during and after apartheid.

Open fellows were nominated by readers and writers before being considered by a judging panel consisting of acclaimed UK authors such as Chibundu Onuzo and Monica Ali. RSL’s Open initiative was established as a two-year program in 2020, aiming to induct 60 new writers from backgrounds currently underrepresented in UK literary culture.

Of the 31 new Open fellows, 4 of them were African. They include Sudanese author Leila Aboulela, Irish-Nigerian writer and broadcaster Emma Dabiri, British-Nigerian author Sarah Ladipo Manyika, and Nigerian-British speculative fiction author Tade Thompson.

16 new honorary fellows were also announced, for having made a significant contribution to literature as publishers, agents, booksellers or producers. They include South African publisher James Currey, who pioneered Heinemann’s African Writers Series (AWS) along with Chinua Achebe.

Congrats to the 6 new African RSL fellows!