Literasphere with Olusola Akinwale @olusolaakinwale
The year 2017 saw Nigerian female writers saunter in glory in the literary world. From Ayobami Adebayo, Lesley Nneka Arimah, Julie Iromuanya to Akwaeke Emezi, the women writers were shortlisted for and won major writing prizes and had their books released to global acclaim.
In 2018, the literary sun is set to shine once again on the Nigerian women writers and pour its streams of gold on their works. Therefore, in no particular order, we profile six women writers to make headlines in the Nigerian literary firmament this year.
Akwaeke Emezi’s debut autobiographical novel, FRESHWATER, will be released in February by Grove Atlantic in February, 2018. The novel, which explores the metaphysics of identity and being, is one of the most anticipated books of 2018. The book has received starred reviews and been recognized by Library Journal, Booklist, Publishers Weekly, BuzzFeed, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Huffington Post, and Book Riot. The book has also earned praise from bestselling and award-winning authors like Daniel José Older, Chinelo Okparanta, NoViolet Bulawayo, and Taye Selasi.
In 2015, Emezi received a Morland Writing Scholarship to write her second novel, “The Death of Vivian Orji.” In 2017, she won the Commonwealth Short Story Prize for Africa for her story “Who Is Like God.”
FRESHWATER will be released by Faber & Faber in the UK, Farafina Books in Nigeria, and Eichborn Verlag in Germany. For Emezi, the release of her debut work comes with a book tour to each country of publication.
A Nigerian-American writer and creative writing coach based in San Diego, California, Tomi Adeyemi graduated from Harvard University with an honors degree in English literature and received a fellowship that allowed her to study West African mythology and culture in Salvador, Brazil.
Her debut West African Young Adults Fantasy novel CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE will be released on 6 March by Holt Books for Young Readers/Macmillan in the United States and Macmillan Children’s Books UK.
In 2016, Macmillan Children’s Books secured the publication of the fantasy trilogy in a “hotly contested” six-figure auction at Bologna Book Fair.
CBB is the first instalment in a YA Fantasy trilogy about a girl Zelie Adebola who must fight against the monarchy to bring magic back to her people. It is described as a compelling, magical fantasy, which draws inspiration from West African mythology.
The film rights to the novel were acquired in a six-figure deal by Fox 2000, and the movie is in development with Temple Hill Productions with Karen Rosenfelt and Wyck Godfrey (Twilight, Maze Runner, The Fault In Our Stars) producing it.
Translation rights to CBB have been sold to publishers in Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Holland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, and Turkey.
An editor-at-large at The Establishment, Ijeoma Oluo is a writer and speaker whose work on race has been featured in The Guardian, New York magazine, xoJane, and Jezebel. She is “one of the most influential people” in Seattle according to Seattle magazine.
In December 2017, Electric Lit listed Oluo’s anticipated book SO YOU WANT TO TALK ABOUT RACE as one of 46 Books by Women of Color to Read in 2018. Likewise, Harper’s Bazaar named it “One of 10 Books to read in 2018” while Salon.com listed it as “required reading.”
On 16 January, 2018, Seal Press released Oluo’s SYWTTAR. In the book, Oluo offers a contemporary, accessible take on the racial landscape in America, addressing head-on such issues as privilege, police brutality, intersectionality, micro-aggressions, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the “N” word. She shoots to bridge the gap between people of color and white Americans struggling with race complexities, answers the questions readers don’t dare ask, and explains the concepts that continue to elude everyday Americans.
SYWTTAR has earned praise from Forbes, Vogue, Kirkus, The Root, Publisher’s Weekly, Book Page as well as a starred review from Library Journal. On Amazon, the book has earned five stars from all its reviewers. Lindy West, New York Times bestselling author of Shrill, praised Oluo for the visceral and electric impact her writing has on readers.
Lesley Nneka Arimah
Little was known about this Minneapolis-based writer in Nigeria and Africa until she was shortlisted for and eventually won the 2015 Commonwealth Short Story Prize for Africa for her story “Light.” Since then, no year had passed without her making the shortlist of a literary prize. In 2016 and 2017, she was shortlisted for the Caine Prize for her stories “What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky” and “Who Will Greet You at Home.”
Arimah’s short story collection WHAT IT MEANS WHEN A MAN FALLS FROM THE SKY was published by Riverhead Books in April 2017 and won the 2017 Kirkus Prize. Prior to its release, the collection was named one of the most anticipated books of 2017 by the Millions, Elle, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Time Magazine, the Chicago Tribune, Nylon, and the Boston Globe.
In January 2018, WIMWAMFFTS was shortlisted for the 9Mobile Prize for Literature, the Pan-African Literary Prize for debut books by African writers. Arimah seems to have become a perpetual figure on the shortlist of African writing prizes. We could expect her to make the shortlist of other writing prizes this year.
Canon Gate released Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀’s STAY WITH ME in March 2017, and two weeks later the novel was longlisted for the Bailey’s Prize. Adebayo’s masterpiece of a debut eventually made the shortlist of the women’s prize for fiction. SWM was named a Notable Book of the Year by The New York Times and a Best Book of the Year by The Guardian, The Economist, The Wall Street Journal and many other publications. SWM tugs at a reader’s heartstrings and questions the age-long African belief that children validate a marriage.
In her review of Adebayo’s book, The New York Times revered but now retired chief critic Michiko Kakutani writes:
It [Stay With Me] is, at once, a gothic parable about pride and betrayal; a thoroughly contemporary — and deeply moving — portrait of a marriage; and a novel, in the lineage of great works by Chinua Achebe and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, that explores the pull in Nigeria between tradition and modernity, old definitions of masculinity and femininity, and newer imperatives of self-definition and identity.
The worldwide acclaim that Adebayo’s debut novel enjoined in 2017 has spilled over into 2018. SWM has been shortlisted for the 9Mobile Prize for Literature and longlisted for the £30,000 2018 International Dylan Thomas Prize. Some other literary awards may be beckoning at Ayobami’s stunning debut this year.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Year in, year out, the place of Adichie on the Nigerian literary scene is as guaranteed as the sun rising from the west. This multiple award-winning writer is a force in the Nigerian literary landscape. Her annual writing workshop is one of the major events on the Nigerian literary calendar. She has mentored many emerging writers and helped them find their footings in the literary business.
She has begun to make headlines in 2018. On January 25, she was in Paris to attend The Night of Ideas, a cross-continental cultural event held by the Institut Francais at the Quai d’Orsay. Her conversation with French journalist Caroline Broue had gone smoothly until the French woman asked, “Are there bookshops in Nigeria?” Adichie, baffled and livid, responded, “I think it reflects very poorly on French people that you have to ask me that question.”
Adichie’s remark in France caused a stir on social media. This attests to the fact that she doesn’t have to publish a new book or win a writing prize to be in the news. Her speeches, interviews, and essays command the attention of the world.