Fiction Texts by African Women and Non-Binary Writers

Summer is almost here, which means it’s the perfect time to catch up on leisure reading and discover some hidden gems for your reading lists. For this post, the TEAW team has compiled a list of some of our favorite fiction books!

Stay With Me by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀

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About the book:
Yejide and Akin have been married since they met and fell in love at university. Though many expected Akin to take several wives, he and Yejide have always agreed: polygamy is not for them. But four years into their marriage, Yejide is still not pregnant. She assumes she still has time--until her family arrives on her doorstep with a young woman they introduce as Akin's second wife. Furious, shocked, and livid with jealousy, Yejide knows the only way to save her marriage is to get pregnant, which, finally, she does--but at a cost far greater than she could have dared to imagine. An electrifying novel of enormous emotional power, Stay With Measks how much we can sacrifice for the sake of family. (source)

I was a bit sceptical at first because it’s easy to become desensitised with storylines like this. They can seem very stereotypical and at a time when we are constantly talking about telling new African stories, I wonder whether it’s worth reading a book like this. But when I began reading, not only was I taken in by the fantastic writing, I could empathise deeply with the character. The author does a great job of conveying complexity and nuance, so it’s not stereotypical, it’s gripping.

- Anwulika Okonjo, Executive Director.

Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta

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About the book:

Inspired by Nigeria's folktales and its war, Under the Udala Trees is a deeply searching, powerful debut about the dangers of living and loving openly.
Ijeoma comes of age as her nation does; born before independence, she is eleven when civil war breaks out in the young republic of Nigeria. Sent away to safety, she meets another displaced child and they, star-crossed, fall in love. They are from different ethnic communities. They are also both girls. 
When their love is discovered, Ijeoma learns that she will have to hide this part of herself. But there is a cost to living inside a lie. (source)

Under the Udala trees speaks of the dangers and problems of loving and living openly as a queer person in Nigeria. This a book that stays forever in your heart, powerful and compelling. Everyone should read it honestly!

- Mariam Adesope, Social Media Coordinator.

This book is beautifully written and it’s a story about a young woman who has always felt like there was something wrong with her because of her sexuality. She always had questions, most of which we’re eventually answered. Thoroughly enjoyed it and it spoke of the violence against the LGBTQ community due to human beings’ irrational fear of the differences in us.

- Oluwatobi Afolabi, Graphic Designer.

It is a story of conflict, love and a young girl, Ijeoma, who falls in love with another girl amidst the political crisis that was the Nigerian Civil War. After she was discovered by her very religious mother, Ijeoma settled for living a "normal" life which includes getting married and having children. The book was so beautifully written and I loved every minute of it.

- Boluwatito Sanusi, Editor-In-Chief.

Nervous conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga

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About the book:

A modern classic in the African literary canon and voted in the Top Ten Africa’s 100 Best Books of the 20th Century, this novel brings to the politics of decolonization theory the energy of women’s rights. An extraordinarily well-crafted work, this book is a work of vision. Through its deft negotiation of race, class, gender and cultural change, it dramatizes the ‘nervousness’ of the ‘postcolonial’ conditions that bedevil us still. In Tambu and the women of her family, we African women see ourselves, whether at home or displaced, doing daily battle with our changing world with a mixture of tenacity, bewilderment and grace. (source)

It's a coming-of-age story that discusses poverty, customs, African family heroism, colonialism, gender and religion. It provides a mine of information about Shona customs that are familiar to readers from various black African cultures. Its appeal to lay readers lies with the guileless Tambu -- a sonorous, eloquent tribute to the women she loved, and to their losses, resilience, pain, subjugation and their men who were products of their environment.

It is a story painfully familiar.

- Margret Azuma, Data Manager.

Everything Good Will Come by Sefi Atta

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About the book:

It is 1971, and Nigeria is under military rule, though the politics of the state matter less than those of her home to Enitan Taiwo, an eleven-year-old girl tired of waiting for school to start. Will her mother, who has become deeply religious since the death of Enitan’s brother, allow her friendship with the new girl next door Sheri Bakare? This novel charts the fate of these two Nigerian girls, one who is prepared to manipulate the traditional system and one who attempts to defy it. (source)

I read this book for the first time when I was nine or ten and despite being set decades before I was born, I was struck by the familiarity of it. It's unapologetically Nigerian and I loved the book's portrayal of a close friendship between two very different female characters. I loved reading about so many amazing, fully realised female characters.

- Gabrielle Harry, Curator.

Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi

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About the book:

Ada has always been unusual. As an infant in southern Nigeria, she is a source of deep concern to her family. Her parents successfully prayed her into existence, but something must have gone awry, as the young Ada becomes a troubled child, prone to violent fits of anger and grief. But Ada turns out to be more than just volatile. Born “with one foot on the other side,” she begins to develop separate selves. When Ada travels to America for college, a traumatic event crystallizes the selves into something more powerful. As Ada fades into the background of her own mind and these alters—now protective, now hedonistic—move into control, Ada’s life spirals in a dangerous direction. (source)

My favorite thing about this book (aside the fact that it’s beautifully written) is that it explores the complexities of identity in a way that is rooted in Igbo ontology and not confined to a singular, Western framework. Instead of narrating Ada’s dissociative experiences through the lens of mental illness, Akwaeke Emezi opts for a different approach; they normalize and validate Ada’s encounters with her various selves. “Freshwater” is raw, heart-wrenching and riveting and I highly, highly recommend it!

- Charlene Ngige, Curator.