Chimamanda Adichie, The happy feminist – Nigeria
This year, the cinematic release of Half a Yellow Sun, an adaptation of Adichie’s second novel, garnered solid reviews, while her musings on feminism also drew many a crowd. Not only did she release a short book entitled We Should All Be Feminists, capturing the ideas articulated in her 2012 Ted Talk, but the same talk was sampled by Beyoncé in her 2014 single “Flawless”, launching Adichie’s discourse further into popular culture.
Ngugi wa Thiong’o, The literary giant – Kenya
The Kenyan literary giant remains influential not just for the lasting power of his works, but because his ideas are arguably as relevant today as they’ve ever been. From his debut 1964 novel Weep Not, Child, about dispossession under colonialism, to his latest novel Wizard of the Crow (2006), about a fictitious African dictatorship, Ngñgi wa Thiong’o has continued to call for African unity and a decolonisation of the mind. Does it matter he still hasn’t been awarded the Nobel Prize? What do you think the Gikuyu critic himself would say?
Yvonne Owuor, The novelist sprinkled with stardust – Kenya
Binyavaga Wainaina described an early draft as “crap”, and it may have taken seven years to reach completion, but Yvonne Owuor’s novel Dust was worth every moment invested in it. The lyrical story of the Oganda family in Kenya, spanning from the Mau Mau uprisings to the 2007/8 election violence, has been widely acclaimed by readers and critics alike for its breath-taking imagery and ambition. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait another seven years for Owuor’s follow-up.
Athol Fugard, The final bow – South Africa
During apartheid, the South African playwright fought the system by organising a multiracial theatre, supporting international boycotts, and addressing subversive themes. But this year, as the 82-year-old returned to the stage for what he says is the last time in his new semi-autobiographical play The Shadow of the Hummingbird, he is no longer reckoning with his country but himself. “I allowed the mystery and splendour to slip away through my fingers,” laments his ageing character Oupa. We should be grateful that we haven’t let Fugard slip away through ours just yet.
Binyavanga Wainaina, The imagination catalyst -Kenya
He was perhaps the best-known Kenyan writer already and one of Africa’s most recognisable faces, but this year Binyavanga Wainaina became even more prominent, declaring that he was gay at the start of the year. In one dramatic move, he helped humanise homosexuality and then followed his revelation up a few days later with his fantastically sweeping, manic and impassioned video essay, We Must Free Our Imaginations, calling for a free and deeply African cultural flourishing.
NoViolet Bulawayo, The young author who won’t stop winning awards – Zimbabwe
NoViolet is back on the list after amassing further awards this year for her debut novel We Need New Names, including the Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Legacy Prize for fiction. Through the eyes of Darling, NoViolet paints a jarringly vivid depiction of the immigrant experience, where dreams are shattered by the harsh realities of America, and the clash of cultures causes confusion.
Wole Soyinka, Nigeria’s national conscience – Nigeria
When Wole Soyinka speaks, people listen. And when the 80-year-old writer and Africa’s first Nobel Prize for Literature winner sees injustice, corruption or incompetence at work in his native Nigeria he is not afraid to speak. This year, he has been a fierce critic of the government’s response to Boko Haram and has called for a new generation of Nigerians to step up. Any new leaders would do well to learn from this literary great.
Fatou Diome, The adventurer away from home – Senegal
In her critically acclaimed novels The Belly of the Atlantic and Impossible de Grandir, the Senegalese author made a name writing about what she knows best. But this year Fatou Diome veered out of her comfort zone when she was sent to Nepal where she wrote a touching five-part essay about the injustice and struggles facing refugees from Bhutan.
Teju Cole, The Teju Cole of Teju Cole – Nigeria
It is difficult to pin down exactly what Teju Cole is. He is a writer, of course, a chronicler, tweeter and commentator. But from his critically-acclaimed 2011 novel Open City, to his short story composed of retweets, to his genre-defying novella/collection/memoir Every Day is for the Thief – about a Nigerian man who returns to Lagos after having moved to the US – Cole escapes easy categorisation. In the spirit of his parody of CNN’s Ebola coverage, maybe it is easiest then, and most accurate, to just say he is the Teju Cole of Teju Cole.