Africa39

What happened to the “most promising writers” of Africa39? – Part 2

On April 8, 2014, the Africa39 list was announced as part of celebrations for UNESCO World Book Capital 2014 in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. What have they been up to since they were announced?

Africa39 was a collaborative project initiated by the Hay Festival in partnership with Rainbow Book Club celebrating Port Harcourt: UNESCO World Book Capital 2014. The project had Binyavanga Wainaina doing the research that presented over 100 texts that were cut down to thirty-nine by a panel that included Elechi Amadi, Tess Onwueme, and Margaret Busby.

The writers selected were seen as the ones under the age of 40 who had the potential and the talent to define the trends that will mark the future development of literature in Africa. What happened to everyone who featured on the list half a decade ago?

Seeing as 39 writers is a helluva lot of people to post up we broke our piece into two. We gave you the first part of our list yesterday; here are the rest of the writers.

  • Recaredo Silevo Boturu (Equatorial Guinea) – We found some of his work on the La Shamba website.
  • Shafinaaz Hassim (South Africa) – the Johannesburg based sociologist had already written quite a bit before appearing on this list with Daughters are Diamonds (2007), Memoirs For Kimya (2009), Belly of Fire (2011), and SoPhia (2012). From the announcement year, she has produced Soul Seeds for Shade and Solitude (2014), Nisa Qamar and the Master of Jinniaville (2016), and Nisa Qamar and the Rainbow Healers’ Society (2018).
  • Glaydah Namukasa (Uganda) – Namukasa had already written Voice of a Dream (2006) and The Deadly Ambition (2006). We have it on good authority that the writer who features on the New Daughters of Africa has finished a manuscript and may be shopping for a publisher.
  • Ndinda Kioko (Kenya) – Kioko’s potential was quite evident as after featuring on the Africa39 list she bagged herself the Miles Morland Scholarship in 2014. Her work has featured in several journals getting awards for her writing like the Logsdon Fiction Award and the Wasafiri New Writing Prize fiction award.
  • Okwiri Oduor (Kenya) – Okwiri’s work was already rated by the time of the Africa39 announcement. Her novella The Dream Chasers was highly commended in the Commonwealth Book Prize 2012 and her short story My Father’s Head had won the Short Story Day Africa Prize in 2013. After the announcement of the prize, the same story would win the Caine Prize for African Writing 2014. There was the buzz of a novel with the name Things We Lost under Wylie but nothing seems on its way just yet. We live in hope.
  • Ukamaka Olisakwe (Nigeria) – Olisakwe’s debut novel Eyes of a Goddess, published in 2012, would be listed among the This Is Africa’s “Best 100 Books 2010–2014.” The writer who attended the famous Iowa Writing Residency in 2016 has had her work in the New York Times, the BBC, Jalada, Saraba, Sentinel Nigeria and Short Story Day Africa. She has also written TV shows. She influences the future by mentoring the next generation of writers at Writivism.
  • Ondjaki (Luanda, Angola/Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) – Ondjaki is the pen name for Angolan writer Ndalu de Almeida who writes poetry, children’s books, short stories, novels, drama and film scripts. Some of the more popular titles by the Rio de Janeiro based author who writes in Portuguese leading to the 2014 announcement were Transparent City (2012). In recent times he has focused more on poetry and children’s books.
  • Chibundu Onuzo (Nigeria) – her first novel The Spider King’s Daughter came out to critical acclaim in 2012. It would go on to win a Betty Trask Award, be shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize and the Commonwealth Book Prize, and longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize and the Etisalat Prize for Literature. After the Africa39 list, she would give us Welcome To Lagos (2016) which we here at JamesMurua.com really loved. She also featured in the New Daughters of Africa.
  • Nii Ayikwei Parkes (Ghana/UK) – Parkes writes poetry and prose. His debut novel Tail of the Blue Bird was a revelation when it came out as it seemed to straddle crime and mysticism and several genres within there. We loved it. He is also a publisher with Flipped Eye Publishing where he brought several collections to the fore like Dance the Guns to Silence: 100 Poems for Ken Saro-Wiwa. He continues inspiring us all at literary festivals like when he gave this keynote address at the Bare Lit Festival last year. His newest book The City Will Love You is coming soon; if you support it.
  • Taiye Selasi (Ghana/Nigeria/UK/Italy) – The writer with multiple identities arrived at the Africa39 list with her book Ghana Must Go. Since then, she has blazed a trail with a series of activities like judging The Masterpiece a reality show featuring writers. She also wrote Love Your Curls: A poetic tribute to curly hair inspired by real women (2015).
  • Namwali Serpell (Zambia/US) – The US based Zambian would go on to win the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2015. This year her debut novel The Old Drift made its appearance on our book shelves. It would have been a serious contender for the Etisalat Prize for African Writing if it was still around. I miss that prize.
  • Lola Shoneyin (Nigeria) – Shoneyin is famous for her debut novel The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives about a man who has three wives and many children and has a problem getting a child with his newest university educated wife. While she has not given us another novel since, she has gone big in influencing African writing. Ake Festival, the literary festival she set up in 2013, continues to be the most coveted in West Africa and one of the top two on the continent as far as we are concerned. She is also the mover for the Kaba Festival. She also set up Ouida Books a publishing house that has writers like Ayobami Adebayo, Nnedi Okorafor, Odafe Atogun, Chike Frankie Edozien, and Dami Ajayi on its books.
  • Novuyo Rosa Tshuma (Zimbabwe/South Africa) – The Zimbabwe writer was included in the list when she had already published the novella Shadows. Since then she has given us the juggernaut that is House of Stone (2018) which is currently being nominated for every award you can imagine. She has already won the Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards and is currently in the running for the Orwell Prize, the Rathbones Folio Prize, and the Dylan Thomas Prize.
  • Chika Unigwe (Nigeria/Belgium/US) – The Nigerian made the list on the back of novels like The Phoenix (2007), On Black Sisters’ Street (2009) which won the Nigerian Prize for Literature in 2012, and The Black Messiah (2013). In September 2016, Unigwe’s novel Night Dancer (published in 2012) was shortlisted for the NLNG Nigeria Prize for Literature. We are all looking forward to Better Never Than Late, a collection of short stories with new publishing imprint Cassava Shorts.
  • Zukiswa Wanner (South Africa) – The South African currently based in Kenya came to the list having written The Madams (2006), Behind Every Successful Man (2008), and Men of the South (2010). On the year of the Africa39 announcement she unveiled London Cape Town Joburg which won the K Sello Duiker Prize at the South African Literary Awards in 2015. She would produce a literary and travel memoir Hardly Working in 2018 as well as books for children like Africa (A True Book: The Seven Continents). She also set up the Paivapo Publishing outfit where she reissued her work and has started working with writers like Maimouna Jallow, and Mukoma Wa Ngugi.  The coordinator for Goethe Institut’s AfroYoungAdult is also the creator and curator of the Artistic Encounters series.
  • Mary Watson (South Africa/Ireland) – The South African who won the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2006 had written Moss (2004) and The Cutting Room (2013) before being selected for the Africa39 list. Since those heady days, Mary Watson has given us The Wren Hunt (2018) which was shortlisted for the Irish Book Awards / Young Adult Book of the Year 2018.
  • Mohamed Yunus Rafiq (Tanzania) – The only Tanzanian in the list, Rafiq came to the list with the poetry collection Landscapes of the Heart. Not much can be found of what he has been up to literary wise since 2014. Anyone have any ideas?

We shall be revising this list in 5 years inshallah.

Check out the first in this series here.

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