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Books

5 Contemporary African Authors 

5 Contemporary African Authors

Lauren Beukes is a South African author who is popularly known for her 2010 award winning novel ‘Zoo City’ which was described by the New York Times as ‘an energetic phantasmagorical noir’. She also won the Arthur C Clarke Award and the Kitschies Red Tentacle and was long-listed for the IMPAC Award. ‘Zoo City’ is set in an alternate version of Johannesburg where people who commit a crime are transformed into animals. The novel’s chief protagonist, Zinzi December, gets ‘animalled’ into a sloth after being involved in her brothers’ murder. Her crime and suspense novel, ‘The Shining Girls’ bagged the Exclusive Books’ ‘Reader’s Choice Book of the Year 2013’ and the Best Book 2013 University of Johannesburg Prize among other awards and nominations. The story is about a time-travelling serial killer and the survivor who turns the hunt around. Her recent novel, ‘Broken Monsters’ which is about a killer trying to remake the world in his image, has received great reviews from the New York Times and won best suspense novel in the ALA’s 2015 Reading List. Other works include ‘Moxyland’, ‘Maverick: Extraordinary Women from South Africa’s Past’ and other short stories published in various anthologies. Referring to the inspiration for her writing, Beukes says: “In South Africa, we have a great expression, “picking up stompies” (cigarette stubs) which means eavesdropping on snippets of a conversation and jumping to conclusions. I pick up a lot of stompies, from stuff I’ve read or seen or overheard or a news story or an advertising billboard or something half-glanced from the car windows – and I use that as a jumping off point.” She has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Cape Town, and has worked as a journalist, TV scriptwriter and columnist

Okwiri Oduor is an upcoming Kenyan author who made waves in the literature world after winning the 2014 Caine Prize for African Writing for her short story titled ‘My Father’S Head’. The story explores the narrator’s difficulty in dealing with the loss of her father and looks at the themes of memory, loss and loneliness. The narrator works in a home for the elderly and comes into contact with a priest, giving her the courage to recall her buried memories of her father. “I just felt like writing, putting my thoughts down in a story,” Oduor says about writing ‘My Father’s Head’. The former law student says she did not mean for it to go anywhere. Previous winners of the Caine Prize include Nigeria’s Tope Folarin in 2013 and Zimbabwe’s NoViolet Bulawayo in 2011. Her novella, ‘The Dream Chasers’ was highly commended in the Commonwealth Book Prize in 2012. She was a 2014 MacDowell Colony fellow and is working on her debut novel.

Uzodinma Iweala is a Nigerian medical doctor and author of the popular 2005 novel ‘Beasts of No Nation’ which was recently adapted into a film starring Idris Elba and breakout Ghanaian star Abraham Attah. The film was directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga. The novel tells the story of young boy, Agu, who is forced to join a group of soldiers fighting a war in an unnamed West African country. The book is hailed for its confrontational and immersive first-person narrative as well as for its depiction of the complexities experienced by child soldiers. The novel started out as a thesis for Uzodinma’s undergraduate English and American Literature and Language studies at Harvard. He was working under the tutelage of Caribbean novelist Jamaica Kincaid. He won the Hoopes Prize and the Dorothy Hicks Lee Prize for most outstanding thesis concerning African or African American literature among other awards. He also scooped the New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award in 2006 and was named as one of Granta Magazine’s top 20 best young American novelists. “If you’re going to take a certain subject matter, you really have to do your research and understand what’s going on,” Iweala says on storytelling. “This is not just, “oh let me sit down and make stuff up”,” he reiterates. In 2011, he graduated from Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons and is currently a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University.

Elizabeth Tshele, better known as NoViolet Bulawayo, is a Zimbabwean-born author. Born in Bulawayo, she is best known for her award-winning 2013 novel ‘We Need New Names.’ The book is based on a coming-of-age story about a young girl named Darling and her group of friends in Zimbabwe. The story follows the adventures that Darling and her friends embark on, whilst experiencing the realities of Zimbabwe. The book was shortlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize and the Guardian First Book Award, and, among others, was selected for inclusion on the New York Times Notable Books of 2013 list. Tshele was the first black African woman and the first Zimbabwean to be shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. She also won the Etisalat Prize for Literature and the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award among other accolades. “I was speaking for the need for us as a people to sort of re-imagine, rethink ourselves, rethink our way, think about where we were going,” Tshele says about the title of her book. “We needed new ways of seeing things, new ways of doing things, new leadership. It was basically a call for renewal.” NoViolet earned her MFA at Cornell University where she was a recipient of the Truman Capote Fellowship. She was a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, where she now teaches as a Jones Lecturer in Fiction.

Dinaw Mengestu is an Ethiopian author who is known for his novels ‘Children of the Revolution’ (2007), ‘How To Read The Air’ (2010), ‘The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears’ (2007) and his recent 2014 novel ‘All Our Names’. He also wrote a notable article on the war in Darfur for Rolling Stone and on the conflict in northern Uganda for Jane Magazine. The recurring theme in his novels is one of individuals immigrating to the USA to fashion new lives. ‘All Our Names’ is one such story which is based on two narrators who tell their story about leaving their homelands to start a new life in another part of the world. The characters, like so many young Africans, are intoxicated by the possibilities new beginnings and self-invention. ‘I told my parents I was going to be a doctor and then a lawyer, but I never believed it and never tried,’ Mengestu says about his journey on becoming a writer. ‘Once I began college, I was committed to writing, which I think is different from saying I wanted to become a writer. I knew I would always write; I just wasn’t always sure how I would go about doing so’. Mengestu was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 1978 and immigrated to the USA with his family when he was a child. The family settled in the state of Illinois. He received his B.A. in English from Georgetown University and graduated from Columbia University’s M.F.A. program in fiction. He is the recipient of a 5 Under 35 award from the National Book Foundation and a 20 Under 40 award from The New Yorker. His journalism and fiction have appeared in such publications as Harper’s Magazine and The Wall Street Journal. He is a recipient of a 2012 MacArthur Foundation genius grant.

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