The UK’s Royal Society of Literature has selected its 40 Fellows under the age of 40 with a strong contingent of writers with African roots. These are Bola Agbaje, Sabrina Mahfouz, Nadifa Mohamed, Chibundu Onuzo, Irenosen Okojie, Inua Ellams, and Warsan Shire.
Last year the United Kingdom’s Royal Society of Literature announced an initiative to welcome a new generation of writers under 40 to become Fellows, and sought out recommendations from outside of the society to select them. This was to honour the achievements of Britain’s younger writers, and “bring different perspectives” into the Society’s existing Fellowship of over 500.
A specially convened panel of Royal Society of Literature Fellows considered recommendations and writing samples submitted by literary agents, publishers, arts organisations, writer development agencies, theatres, and writers. After the panel made a group nomination to the RSL Council and Vice-Presidents, the forty new Fellows were elected. The panel chaired by Kamila Shamsie included Tahmima Anam, Lisa Appignanesi, Helen Edmundson, Bernardine Evaristo, Lavinia Greenlaw, Alexandra Harris, David Hare, Blake Morrison, Daljit Nagra, Ali Smith and Sarah Waters. The Africans in the group that was selected by this panel are;
- Warsan Shire’s debut pamphlet, Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth, was published in 2011. She won the inaugural Brunel International African Poetry Prize in 2013 and in 2014 was appointed the first Young People’s Laureate for London. She was also selected as Poet in Residence for Queensland, Australia, where she collaborated with the Aboriginal Centre for the Performing Arts. Read more about her here.
- Nadifa Mohamed was born in Hargeisa, Somaliland, in 1981. Her first novel, Black Mamba Boy, won the Betty Trask Prize; it was longlisted for the Orange Prize and shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award, the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize, the Dylan Thomas Prize and the PEN Open Book Award. Read more about her here.
- Sabrina Mahfouz’s theatre work includes Chef, an Edinburgh Fringe First Award winner; Dry Ice, for which she was nominated in The Stage Awards for Acting Excellence; and With a Little Bit of Luck, which was the first radio drama for BBC Radio 1Xtra. She also writes for children, and her play Zeraffa Giraffa won a 2018 Off West End Award. Sabrina has a poetry collection, How You Might Know Me. Read more about her here.
- Chibundu Onuzo started writing novels and short stories at the age of ten and less than a decade later became the youngest woman ever signed by Faber. Her debut novel, The Spider King’s Daughter (2012), was longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize and the Etisalat Prize. Read more about her here.
- Bola Agbaje graduated from the Young Writers Programme at the Royal Court Theatre in 2007. Her first play, Gone Too Far!, won the Laurence Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliated Theatre. Read more about her here.
- Irenosen Okojie is a Nigerian British writer. Her debut novel, Butterfly Fish, won a Betty Trask Award. Her short stories have been published internationally, including in Salt’s Best British Short Stories 2017, Kwani? and The Year’s Best Weird Fiction. She was presented by Ben Okri at the London Short Story Festival as a dynamic writing talent to watch, and featured in ES Magazine as one of London’s exciting new authors. Read more about her here.
- Inua Ellams, born in Nigeria, is a poet, playwright and performer, graphic artist and designer. He is a Complete Works poet alumnus and facilitates workshops in creative writing where he explores recurring themes in his work – identity, displacement and destiny – in accessible ways for participants of all ages and backgrounds. Read more about him here.