Tag: NoViolet Bulawayo

New Wave of African Writers with an Internationalist Bent

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie at the premiere, in Lagos, Nigeria, of the film “Half of a Yellow Sun,” based on her novel. (Credit: Akintunde Akinleye/Reuters)

More than a decade ago, when the young Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was struggling to get her first novel, “Purple Hibiscus,” published, an agent told her that things would be easier “if only you were Indian,” because Indian writers were in vogue. Another suggested changing the setting from Nigeria to America. Ms. Adichie didn’t take this as commentary on her work, she said, but on the timidity of the publishing world when it came to unknown writers and unfamiliar cultures, especially African ones.

These days she wouldn’t receive that kind of advice. Black literary writers with African roots (though some grew up elsewhere), mostly young cosmopolitans who write in English, are making a splash in the book world, especially in the United States. They are on best-seller lists, garner high profile reviews and win major awards, in America and in Britain. Ms. Adichie, 36, the author of “Americanah,” which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction this year, is a prominent member of an expanding group that includes Dinaw Mengestu, Helen Oyeyemi, NoViolet Bulawayo, Teju Cole, Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor and Taiye Selasi, among others.

The Ethiopian-born novelist Dinaw Mengestu in 2010, when his book “How to Read the Air” was published. (Credit: Ed Ou for The New York Times)

There are reasons for the critical mass now, say writers, publishers and literature scholars. After years of political and social turmoil, positive changes in several African nations are helping to greatly expand the number of writers and readers. Newer awards like the Caine Prize for African Writing have helped, too, as have social media, the Internet and top M.F.A. programs. At the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, black writers with recent African roots will make up more than 10 percent of the fiction students come September. Moreover, the number of African immigrants in the United States has more than quadrupled in the past two decades, to almost 1.7 million.

And publishing follows trends: Women, Asian-American, Indian and Latino writers have all been “discovered” and had their moment in the sun — as have African-Americans, some of whom envy the attention given to writers with more recent links in Africa.

“People used to ask where the African writers were,” said Aminatta Forna, author of “The Hired Man” (2013, set in Croatia). “They were cleaning offices and working as clerks.”

Some writers and critics scoff at the idea of lumping together diverse writers with ties to a diverse continent. But others say that this wave represents something new in its sheer size, after a long fallow period. (There were some remarkable exceptions, like Wole Soyinka’s 1986 Nobel Prize in Literature and Ben Okri’s 1991 Booker Prize.) And it differs from the postcolonial wave, roughly beginning in the 1960s, which brought international acclaim to writers like Chinua Achebe and Nuruddin Farah, among others.

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Zimbabwean Author NoViolet Bulawayo Makes Short List For Britain’s Booker Prize

NoViolet Bulawayo is a Zimbabwean author. She is currently a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University.
NoViolet Bulawayo is a Zimbabwean author. She is currently a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. (Smeeta Mahanti/Courtesy Reagan Arthur Books)

According to npr.com, the shortlist for the Man Booker Prize, Britain’s most prestigious literary award, was announced today.  Among the short listers was We Need New Names author and Stanford University fellow NoViolet Bulawayo.  Although the Booker Prize is limited to writers from the British Commonwealth and the Republic of Ireland, the list skews international, and includes novelists from Zimbabwe, New Zealand and Canada. The complete shortlist is:

We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo 
The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton 
Harvest by Jim Crace 
The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri 
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki 
The Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín

 article by Lori Lakin Hutcherson