African Literature: The New Dark Continent

Don’t you just hate the use of the phrase ‘Dark Continent’? C’mon, admit it. It’s become such a pejorative. Those two words smashed together have so many implications. What are you trying to say? Is Africa dark because we that dwell therein are primarily dark skinned? Is it dark because we’re lagging in technology (and sanitation and health and press freedom…)? Or is it dark because there is still so much to discover – little gems that the West and the Rest have yet to explore and exploit, just waiting to be brought to the light?

Let’s go with the lattermost assumption. I like that one to best.

There are worlds within Africa that we Africans ourselves have yet to discover. There are micro-universes that would make all our lives infinitely better if we could just figure out how to access them. Because most of our stories are still told by the international media who still carry a prescribed spin on how it tells African stories, these universes remain “dark” to the rest of us. There are advances in science, technology, social engineering and medicine in various parts of the continent that still remain unknown to us. You Ghanaian reading this: did you know that it is possible to attain an agreeable existence without plastic bags? We don’t NEED plastic in our society. Rwanda has proven that and saved their ecosystem. As I type this tonight, hear there will be a slight drizzle and Accra is bracing for flooding.

We’re not sharing knowledge, people, and I for one am here to repent. Forgive me! I have not held true to some oath I’m sure I took years ago to uplift and educate my co-sojourners in this life. I am here to make amends.

When Chinua Achebe died, I ran across an article entitled Beyond Chinua Achebe: Five Great African Writers You Should Read Right Now. Of course I was intrigued and dove into the list. Ah. But what was this? Save one person, everyone was born before independence from colonial rule! Are there no contemporary African writers one must read not just now, but right now? The list was published on the Smithsonian’s website, so I suppose it made sense that all the notables would be fossils. (Wole, you know I love you! I couldn’t just leave that punchline sitting there. Tell me you understand!)

Anyway brethren, I am here to help you with some names that I think you should watch for. Here are five contemporary African Authors you should read RIGHT NOW!

  1. Number one and most obvious is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who has usurped Oprah’s position for the most quoted woman of color in the world. I hear “Chimamanda says – “ at least twice a week, which is fabulous. That a woman so young should be so quotable is no mean feat. If you haven’t read Chimamanda, you don’t know what you’re missing! That being said, let me confess: I have never read any of Chimamanda’s books, and that’s only because I don’t want her writing style to influence my own. When I hit it big, I don’t want to be accused of fleecing her flair and art. I’m looking forward to finishing these two manuscripts so I can dig into Americanah; eventually.Chimamanda-Adichie
  2. Kwei Quartey is a Ghanaian crime fiction writer. Actually, Kwei is a hybrid Ghanaian like me, which is why I probably feel such a kinship with him. He went to Howard, I went to Hampton and neither of us can speak Twi – which doesn’t matter, because we are neither of us Akan anyway. Have I met Kwei? No! But it’s good to know a little bit about an author’s personal life. It helps you hear their voice a bit better. And no, it’s not stalking until you make some form of personal contact. *whispers* I love you, Kwei…Kwei Quartey
  3. I have always wanted to write historical African fiction à la Pride & Prejudice, but now I don’t have to because Kiru Taye has been doing it, and doing it for years. Did you know there’s a whole genre and squadron of contemporary African romance, replete with published authors just waiting for your beady eyes to discover their work? The group is called Romance Writers of West Africa. You didn’t, did you? I know. I’m here to bring you the Light! You can read about the group here: http://rwowa.wordpress.com/ kiru
  4. Africa has its share of geeks. Don’t you think for a second that we’re not here for that African Bambata, futuristic ish. Never consider for a moment that we are unfamiliar with flux capacitors, warp core breaches/stabilizers, plasma containment fields or the dangers and wonder of inter-species mating rituals. We are here for ALL of it! That is why Nnedi Okorafor was such a wonderful discovery for me. Nnedi has penned several African Sci-Fi novels, most notable Lagoon and Akata Witch. I spent two hours on her blog, and I never have two hours to spare. Her mind – good heavens. She’s so creative and OUT THERE. I have nothing else to add about Nnedi Okorafor.Nnedi Okorafor
  5. I couldn’t figure out whom to put on the last of the list, as there are so many more talented authors out there who deserve their spot in the lime light: Boakyewaa Glover, Nana Malone, Nnenna Marcia (whom I’m convinced is insane) and a host of other writers who we are all yet to discover. I’ll just part with modesty and say read me. Ehhh, yes. Read my books. I’ve written two. But you wouldn’t know that, because I keep my light “hidden under a bushel” as my elder sister Nana Ama often laments. You can find/buy my books by clicking here and here!malaka2

Hopefully, this will serve as a guide or at least an oar for your canoe ride into Darkest Africa’s Literary Rivers. I chose these authors because I like the pace of their writing: it’s quick, the story telling is excellent, and there’s something for everyone.

Who are your favorite contemporary authors? You know who else I love? Amy Tan. The woman is just wicked with the vocabulary. You know who else I love? Jemila Abdulai. She makes words bend and form in ways unimaginable. I can’t wait for her to write a book so I can put her on number one of my list!