Summer Reads: Pan-African Literature

To celebrate Africa Day, May 25, Zimbabwean information project Kubatana curated its top-10 titles from Exclusive Books’ Pan-African Writing ...

To celebrate Africa Day, May 25, Zimbabwean information project Kubatana curated its top-10 titles from Exclusive Books’ Pan-African Writing Catalogue. Check out the picks below, and get more from Zimbabwe via Kubatana on email, Facebook, or Twitter.

Leila Aboulela (Sudan), Bird Summons

Three Muslim women living in Britain take a road trip to the Scottish Highlands, to pay homage to Lady Evelyn Cobbold, the first British woman to convert to Islam and perform the pilgrimage to Mecca. Along the way, each woman unpacks her secret, surprising not only her friends but herself with it. Salma wants to escape her perfect life in the UK. Despite marriage and children, she still feels she does not belong, and regrets abandoning her dreams of becoming a doctor in Egypt. Moni is near the breaking point from caring for her disabled son. Despite pressure from her family, in Sudan, she resists her husband’s desire to uproot the family from Britain to Saudi Arabia, where she fears her son will be treated like an outcast. And Iman, having fled the civil war in Syria for the safety of Britain, is plagued by her beauty, and how it causes her lovers and friends to treat her like an exotic pet. She realizes it is not a child she most wants, but independence.


Ayobami Adebayo (Nigeria), Stay with Me

“If the burden is too much and stays too long, even love bends, cracks, comes close to breaking and sometimes does break. But when it’s in a thousand pieces around your feet, that doesn’t mean it’s no longer love.” In Nigeria, where having a child is the only thing that makes a woman a good wife, Yejide desperately wants to have a baby with her husband, Akin. She tries everything, but the situation gets even more dire when her mother-in-law introduces her to a new and potentially more fertile wife for her husband. This book explores the coexistence of love and traditional Nigerian beliefs.


Africa “Without Amnesia”

By Jeanne-Marie Jackson

Steve Biko (South Africa), I Write What I Like

A collection of powerful essays and letters from the anti-apartheid activist and founder of the Black Consciousness Movement, this volume is a cornerstone of South African literature. The BCM emerged as a lens through which black South Africans shifted the narrative—both internally and externally—on the black South African struggle for equality. The courage, passion, and power of Biko’s words continue to inspire oppressed communities around the globe.


Panashe Chigumadzi (Zimbabwe), These Bones Will Rise Again
From colonialism and white-minority rule to the brutal repression of an ethnically divided one-party state, Zimbabwe’s history is riddled with trauma. Through intercession with two ancestral spirits, Zimbabwean author Panashe Chigumadzi blends critical analysis with an exploration of loss, recovery, and memory as she wrestles with the complexity of her country’s history in its postindependence years.


The South African Novel Today

By Derek Attridge

Upile Chisala (Malawi), soft magic

This debut compilation of poetry and prose explores the author’s experience as a black Malawian woman in the diaspora, engaging with issues of spirituality, joy, and identity, and what it means to survive. The light touch and raw honesty of Chisala’s words record moments of realization and reflection.


Mubanga Kalimamukwento (Zambia), The Mourning Bird

Ten-year-old Chimuka lives in Zambia’s capital, Lusaka, with her parents and two younger brothers. It is the 1990s, and her father is a teacher. Some months, the government pays the civil servants late, and food runs low at home. But Chimuka’s school smarts ensure her father’s affection, and life at home is safe and comfortable. When a series of tragedies strike her family, Chimuka’s world unravels, and she is left to fend for herself. The Mourning Bird explores HIV, marital infidelity, family cruelty, commercial sex work, crime, and drug abuse through Chimuka’s adolescent experiences. Along the way it questions what makes some people give up, and what lengths others will go to in order to survive.

Alain Mabanckou (Republic of the Congo), Broken Glass

Stubborn Snail, the owner of the bar Credit Gone West, gives Broken Glass, one of his most loyal patrons, a notebook and asks him to record the stories and history of the bar. In describing the fictional bar and its customers, the narrator presents a satirical and skeptical take on the politics, corruption, gender dynamics, and religious opportunism of the former French colony Congo-Brazzaville.


Dinaw Mengestu (Ethiopia), How to Read the Air

Jonas Woldemariam said of his mother: “She always thought Americans were too territorial. ‘All those fences and flags,’ she had once said, seeing very little difference between the two.” After his father’s death, Jonas leaves behind his life and marriage in New York to retrace his parents’ history as Ethiopian immigrants in an effort to find his true identity. He finds that the war-torn Ethiopia that his parents left behind was a hard place to call home, but not as hard as America was, especially as the facade of a perfect country fell away.


My Heart Laid Bare in Lagos

By Ulrich Baer

Thomas Sankara (Burkina Faso), Thomas Sankara Speaks: The Burkina Faso Revolution 1983–87

In 1983, Thomas Sankara seized control of the former French colony Upper Volta in a coup. He renamed the country Burkina Faso and sought to rebuild the country around Marxist ideals through self-reliance, land reform, and gender equality. He was assassinated in a coup in 1987, when he was 37. Thomas Sankara Speaks is a collection of speeches and interviews from this revolutionary Pan-Africanist also known as “Africa’s Che Guevara.”


Warsan Shire (Kenya), Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth1

“I want to make love but my hair smells of war and running and running.” Shire’s delicate poems explore the various meanings of womanhood, sex, how it feels to be labeled the “other,” love and betrayal, displacement, and what is takes to leave one’s home. icon

  1. Born in Kenya to parents from Somalia, Shire grew up in London.
Featured image: Ethiopia (2013). Photograph by Luigi Guarino / Flickr