Poetry Africa 2019

We present to you the outstanding personalities, books and events for the past year in our annual JamesMurua.com Outstanding African Literary Awards 2019.

In 2016, we here at JamesMurua.com introduced the “Outstanding African Literary Awards” with a focus on the best in all categories we could imagine. We followed this up with a similar scheme in 2017 and then in 2018.

With 403 posts over the year, the most in our history, 69,000 visitors and over 150,000 page views it was a very active year for this blog. With so much content to choose from, this post attempts to summarise what happened in the past year in a light-hearted way. We now list for you our outstanding players for the year 2019. As usual, it is a snapshot of the year in African literature with us giving a subjective view of what we believe was the best. This list was done with help from others.


Binyavanga Wainaina
Binyavanga Wainaina

While we want to celebrate the best of 2019, we must recognise those who passed on and joined the literary ancestors in the past year. It was a sad year as we said goodbye to Swahili Poet Ahmad Nassir Juma Bhalo, Zimbabwe author and poet Charles Mungoshi, Nigerian writer and academic Pius Adesanmi, Cote D’Ivoire novelist, playwright, and poet Bernard Dadié, Libyan novelist Ahmed Fagih, Nigerian poet and novelist Gabriel Okara, Kenyan writer and activist Binyavanga Wainaina, US novelist, essayist, editor, and teacher Toni Morrison, South African Poet, and activist Sandile Dikeni, and Nigerian Scholar Tejumola Olaniyan. Also passing on as reported by our friends at Arablit.org are Moroccan poet and novelist Mohcine Akhrif, Algerian writer, poet and playwright Aziz Chouaki, and Egyptian critic Ibrahim Fathi.


Namwali Serpell’s “The Old Drift”
Namwali Serpell’s “The Old Drift”

2019 had a rich vein of form for African writing with many books in all genres imaginable with fiction, poetry to creative nonfiction, biographies and everything in between making their appearance. We cannot in one post list all of the books that came out during the year but some of these included Kinyanjui Kombani’s Of Pawns and Players, Elnathan John’s Be(com)ing Nigerian: A Guide, Mona Eltahawy’s The Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls, Donald Molosi’s Dear Upright African, Ladan Osman’s poetry collection Exiles of Eden, Chief Nyamweya’s graphic novel Art of Unlearning, Richard Ali’s The Anguish and Vigilance of Things, Umar Sidi’s The Poet of Dust, Ali Hilal Ali’s Mmeza Fupa, Chege Githiora’s Sheng: Rise of a Kenyan Swahili Vernacular, Ngugi Wa Thiong’o’s Kenda Muiyuru, Zukiswa Wanner’s Africa (A True Book: The Seven Continents), Namwali Serpell’s debut novel The Old Drift, Tjawangwa “TJ” Dema debut poetry collection The Careless Seamstress, Temi Oh’s Do You Dream Of Terra-Two, Acan Innocent Immaculate’s The Pearl Trotters in Black, Yellow, Red, Nuruddin Farah’s North of Dawn, Lily Mabura’s new novel Remembrance, Chika Unigwe’s Better Never Than Late, Abubakar Adam Ibrahim’s The Whispering Trees, Toni Kan’s Nights of the Creaking Bed, Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi’s Manchester Happened, Fred Khumalo’s short story collection Talk of the Town, Helon Habila’s novel Travellers, Jumoke Verissimo’s debut novel A Small Silence, Titilope Sonuga’s poetry collection This Is How We Disappear, Lauri Kubuitsile’s newest novel Deliver Us From Evil, Billy Kahora’s short story collection The Cape Cod Bicycle War And Other Stories, Lupita Nyong’o’s debut children’s book Sulwe, Hassan Ghedi Santur’s second novel The Youth of God, Sisonke Msimang’s The Resurrection of Winnie Mandela, Maaza Mengiste‘s second novel The Shadow King, Zippy Agatha Okoth’s Oops Zippy! From The Diary of a Divorced Kenyan Woman, Mubanga Kalimamukwento’s debut novel The Mourning Bird, Ngugi: Reflections on his Life of Writing a collection of essays on Ngugi Wa Thiong’o’s work, edited by Simon Gikandi and Ndirangu Wachanga, Esosa Kolawole’s Fib and the Axe of Fury, Logan February’s poetry collection In The Nude, Keletso Mopai’s short story collection If You Keep Digging, Alone and other Zambian Stories, a new anthology of short stories by Zambian writers, The Death of An Idea: Malawi Writing Today II, Marie NDiaye’s newest novel The Cheffe, Bassey Ikpi’s essay collection I’m Telling the Truth, but I’m Lying, Makhosazana Xaba’s Our Words, Our Worlds: Writing on Black South African Women Poets, 2000-2018, Tope Folarin’s debut novel A Particular Kind of Black Man, Patrice Nganang’s novel When the Plums Are Ripe, Fred Khumalo’s The Longest March, Goethe Institut’s Water Birds on the Lakeshore, Isha Sesay’s Beneath the Tamarind Tree: A Story of Courage, Family, and the Lost Schoolgirls of Boko Haram, Tade Thompson’s The Rosewater Insurrection and The Rosewater Redemption, Niq Mhlongo’s first edited anthology Black Tax: Burden or Ubuntu?, Irenosen Okojie’s short story collection Nudibranch, Gerry Sikazwe’s poetry collection Words That Matter, Siphiwo Mahala’s short story collection Red Apple Dreams, Andrew Maina’s Grace Onyango: The Butterfly That Touched The Clouds, Caine Prize for African Writing celebrates 20th anniversary anthology, Dr Walter Nyamori Masiga autobiography The Old Lion of Africa, and Joe Khamisi’s The Bribery Syndrome: How Multinational Corporations Collude with Dictators to Raid Africa’s Natural Resources.

Here are our picks for 2018/19;

  • Poetry

Southern Africa: Tjawangwa “TJ” Dema, The Careless Seamstress
West Africa: Titilope Sonuga, This Is How We Disappear.
East Africa: Ladan Osman, Exiles of Eden.
North Africa: Modern Sudanese Poetry: An Anthology (African Poetry Book)
A surprisingly good collection: Kola Tubosun, Edwardsville by Heart: Poetry Travelogue Memoir.

  • Nonfiction

Anthology:  Niq Mhlongo’s anthology Black Tax: Burden or Ubuntu?,
Bridecode Whistleblower book: Looters and Grabbers: 54 Years of Corruption and Plunder by the Elite, 1963-2017 .
Biography: Wairimu Nderitu, Mukami Kimathi: Mau Mau Freedom Fighter.

  • Fiction

North Africa: Laila Lalami, The Other Americans.
East Africa: Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor, The Dragonfly Sea
West Africa: Bernardine Evaristo, Girl, Woman, Other
Southern Africa: Namwali Serpell, The Old Drift
Diaspora: Colson Whitehead, The Nickel Boys,

Debut Novel: Remy Ngamije, Eternal Audience of One
Historical Fiction
: Maaza Mengiste, The Shadow King.
Young Adult: Tomi Adeyemi, Children of Virtue and Vengeance
LBGTQ related novel: Ayodele Olofintuade, Lakiriboto Chronicles
LBGTQ related anthology: As You Like It: The Gerald Kraak Anthology Volume II
Speculative Fiction:  Tade Thompson, The Rosewater Insurrection
Speculative Fiction (Young Adult): Temi Oh, Do You Dream Of Terra-Two
Short Story Collection:  Keletso Mopai, If You Keep Digging
Anthology: Margaret Busby, New Daughters of Africa
Anthology (Young Adult): Zukiswa Wanner, Renee Edwige Dro and Elias Mutani’s Water Birds on the Lakeshore.
Most hyped/ Most disappointing book: Oyinkan Braithwaite, My Sister the Serial Killer.


Pan African

Lobé Ndiaye
Lobé Ndiaye


Prix Du Maroc Du Livre 2019
Prix Du Maroc Du Livre 2019


Bernadine Evaristo
Bernardine Evaristo

Social Media

More aggressive use of Twitter
North Africa: Mona Eltahawy
West Africa: Akwaeke Emezi
East Africa: Shailja Patel
Southern Africa: Novuyo Rosa Tshuma.

Bookstagrammer: This Bookish Girl.
YouTube: A Bookish Pair
Podcast: Bulaq on contemporary writing from and about the Middle East and North Africa.
Best New Podcast: Books & Rhymes


Ken Walibora’s “Siku Njema”
Ken Walibora’s “Siku Njema”

Like we promised last year, we have committed more resources to tracking translations that have been happening in African writing. Translations are important as this is how writers can access new markets as readers can now access their art.

This year we tracked only two texts translated between African and European languages in Ken Walibora’s popular Kiswahili novel Siku Njema in English and Bontle Senne’s Shadow Chasers translated from English to isiZulu. The other books we tracked were written in English and then translated into other European languages like Italian, French, German, Portuguese, Danish, Catalan and the like.  There was one book which was translated from English to Tamil.

A list of books which was translated from English to other languages includes Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s Matigari into Portuguese; Koleka Putuma’s poetry collection Collective Amnesia into Spanish, German, and Danish; Ayobami Adebayo’s Stay With Me into French; Ayesha Harruna Attah’s The Hundred Wells of Salaga into French, Dutch and German; Akwaeke Emezi’s Freshwater into Italian; Chibundu Onuzo’s The Spider King Daughter into Italian; Diekoye Oyeyinka’s Stillborn into French; Yewande Omotoso’s The Woman Next Door into Italian and Catalan; Oyinkan Braithwaite’s My Sister, The Serial Killer into Portuguese; Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing into German; Lesley Nneka Arimah’s What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky into Portuguese; Chinelo Okparanta’s Happiness Like Water into Italian; Sarah Ladipo Manyika’s Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun in French; Abubakar Adam Ibrahim’s Season of Crimson Blossoms into German and Tamil; Ben Okri’s The Freedom Artist into Italian; and Chibundu Onuzo’s The Spider King Daughter into Italian.

We weren’t the only ones doing this work of tracking translations. You can also follow some of the best in translation news from Arabic to other languages from our friends at Arablit.org.


Ake Festival 2019

East Africa: (Anglophone and Somali) Hargeysa International Book Fair 2019, Hargeisa, Somaliland and (Anglophone, Portuguese) Macondo Literary Festival, Nairobi, Kenya.
West Africa: (Anglophone) Ake Festival 2019, Lagos, Nigeria and (Francophone) Foire internationale du livre et du matériel didactique de Dakar (FILDAK) 2019.
North Africa: International Book Fair of Algiers (Salon International Du Livre d’Alger), Algiers, Algeria.
Southern Africa: Abantu Festival 2019, Soweto, South Africa.

New Literary Festival: Feminart Arts and Book Festival 2019, Lilongwe, Malawi.
Poetry Festival: Poetry Africa, Durban. South Africa.
Local language: Swahili Festival 2019, Mombasa, Kenya.
African themed festival in the diaspora:  Crossing Borders Literature Festival 2019, Cologne, Germany
Overall Literary Festival of the year: Ake Festival 2019, Lagos, Nigeria.