Some of my oldest memories took place around story circles. My mother was a great storyteller! Maybe it was my love for her, maybe she was really that good. Whatever the reason, my memory of childhood is full of wonderful nights under the full moon sky listening to my mother tell fantastic stories featuring cunning rabbits and vengeful hyenas, brave princesses and handsome princes. As I grew up, I too started recounting the same folktales to my siblings and cousins. Then one day I discovered books! I have been in love ever since!
But it’s a love that’s been interrupted as of late. As of jobs, as of children, as of television, as of social media, as of all the distractions of growing up and making excuses about all the things that keep us from the things we love.
Since that discovery in a small room library at Kissi Bendy Secondary School in Koindu, Sierra Leone where I discovered Chinua Achebe’s “Chick and the River” and other African classics such as Mariana Ba’s “So Long a Letter,” to later in high school in Evanston, Illinois where I discovered JD Salingers’ “Catcher in the Rye” and the poetic prose of Toni Morrison, I have been hooked.
In college, I must admit I didn’t read as much. (Though I kept up and devoured all of Toni Morrison’s books as well as few other writers). After college and the stress of being an international college graduate trying to remain in the USA, the responsibilities of work, then what started with Black Planet, then later MySpace and Facebook, I would go years without reading a book from beginning to end. (Notwithstanding Chimamanda Adichie’s “Purple Hibiscus” and later “Americanah” which have sort of become required reading for anybody half interested in African literature.)
It’s been some long years away from books!
As 2017 wined down, maybe it’s the approaching beginning of the year, a time for new beginnings, that got me thinking and motivated. I decided you know what, I am going to find my way back to one of the things I love dearly! So right there—standing in the kitchen (where my heart sings), maybe I was in the shower (I get many of my inspirations there), or maybe I was driving (I do most of my thinking there)—I made a proclamation to myself: in 2018, I shall read 10 books by African writers!
Along the way, I decided to relaunch this Atlanticrock website, which I started back in 2003 but abandoned for the most part some 5 years ago, and when it was hacked about two years ago I forgot about it all together. Because along with reading, I love to write and invite others into my world.
I put the word out on Facebook (of course) and got some great recommendations. Among those recommendations and some quick research of my own, here is my 2018 read, 10 fiction and memoir by African writers!
What it Means When a Man Falls From the Sky, by Lesley Nneka Arimah – As I started doing this research, I found a buzz around Nneka akin to the one around Adichie back in the beginning of the century. And guess what, she lives right here in Minnesota, and I follow her on Twitter (after meeting her at a reading I believe my friend Nemo Farah organized some couple of years back featuring African women writers and poets.) I have heard some wonderful things about this collection of fantastic stories. Really looking forward to it.
Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue– With the description of “a Cameroonian couple in pursuit of the American dream,” it sounds played out, like how many books and movies have been made about the greatest lie America ever sold. But I have heard wonderful things about it as well. Plus it was recommended by my friend, Shannon Williamson, whose taste in literature I really respect.
One Day I Will Write about this Place by Binyavanga Wainaina – Once upon a time—I think it was seeing Toni Morrison walk across the stage to accept the Nobel Prize in Literature—I dreamed of one day winning this prize. So when I came across the description of this books as “memoir about Wainaina’s journey from book-devouring east African boy to African Caine prize-winning author” it peaked my interest. Sure the Cain Prize is not the Nobel Prize, and my Guinea and Sierra Leone are not East Africa. , But I was a book-devouring boy on my way to winning a prestigious award. This could have been my story! May still be. Yeah, go ahead and laugh.
Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor – To be honest, I went back and forth on this, and it was the last addition to my list. But I am really interested in supernatural stories these days. And I have also heard great things about it.
Gods and Soldiers, edited by Rob Spillman – Pulling this list together, I wanted to get a representation from all the major regions of Africa. As you can see, North Africa is glaringly missing. Hopefully, through this anthology, I will be introduced to some writers in this region. Because hey, North Africa is indeed Africa! And my friend, Shannon Gibney teaches it in her Literature of African Diaspora course, and she tells me the “kids dig it.” ‘nuff said!
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi – From what I have heard, this sounds like an epic multigenerational family story akin to Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “100 Years of Solitude.” I loved that book. But I would be telling a big fat lie if I told you it was an easy read. To keep up with the characters alone, I felt like I needed a massive flowchart. But at least two good friends think it’s a good read. And any book that even attempts to shed light on the severed connection between those Africans that were taken (and enslaved) and those that stayed (and colonized)…well has my interest.
Interventions: A Life in War and Peace by Kofi Anan – To be honest, I am scared of this book. I have a feeling it’s a big book. Yeah, that scares me. I am trying to read a book a month when I already told you I don’t have a lot of time. So be warned if it turns out to be like 500 pages, I may. NOT! Finish it. But Kofi Anan’s life is inspiring! He was UN Secretary General through some interesting time in the world. Looking forward to getting some insights on some of those headline news stories.
Growing Up, edited by Elikem M Aflakpui – Another collection. But this one by young emerging Ghanaian writers. I hope to meet some future stars here. Plus when one of your favorite sisters-in-law recommend a book, you read it! No questions asked. Thanks, Ruby!
The Abandoned Baobab by Ken Bagul – Originally published in 1982, I heard it was so scandalous (meaning went where most before were scared to go) the writer had to use a pseudonym. But today we know her real name: Mariètou Mbaye Biléoma. A story that touches on life as an African immigrant in Europe. Can’t wait!
Boyhood by JM Coetzee – I just now substituted this for “Sometimes There is a Void” by Zakes Mda. Though Zakes’ memoir sounds interesting, I would hold it for later. I want to read Boyhood for a perspective I don’t believe I have read before, that of a White African. And I like this description: “Here was a refreshing splash-in-the-face recounting of a white southern African childhood shorn utterly of any romance or excess emotion. ” Because it’s so easy to fall into politics and other clichés when writing about being White and African.
Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo – Again to be honest, this title sounds so cliché and pop read, I don’t have much expectation. But this description caught my attention: “Gives voice to both husband and wife as they tell the story of their marriage–and the forces that threaten to tear it apart.” Because I am married, and been for nearly 15 years, and of course we have survived some forces and continue to navigate new and old demons. Plus having multiple characters talk about the same thing from their respective vantage point is something I am really interested in.
Wish me luck.