By Emma Shercliff

08 December 2015 - 11:14

'You should read Lola Shoneyin for her humorous look at life in a polygamous family.'
'You should read Lola Shoneyin for her humorous look at life in a polygamous family.' Image ©

Habie Schwarz

Which writers are making waves on Nigeria's literary scene at the moment? Publisher and academic Emma Shercliff, who specialises in African literature, gives us her top five recommendations.

With the contemporary Nigerian literary landscape being so vibrant and productive, selecting only a handful of authors to profile is a challenge. Many of these writers are as yet unknown outside Nigeria, but some of those authors who we predict will make waves on the international literary stage in the next 12 months include Ayobami Adebayo, Diekoye Oyeyinka, Odafe Atogun, Jumoke Verissimo and Olumide Popoola.

The following five writers, all based in Nigeria, feature in a BBC Radio 4 documentary Writing a New Nigeria, and are some of the hottest talent on the continent right now.

Abubakar Adam Ibrahim

Abubakar Adam Ibrahim is a writer and journalist. The titular story from his short story collection The Whispering Trees (Parresia Publishers, 2012) was shortlisted for the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2013. He is a Gabriel Garcia Marquez Fellow (2013), a Civitella Ranieri Fellow (2015) and was listed by Hay Festival Africa39 as one of the most promising Sub-Saharan African writers under the age of 40. His debut novel Season of Crimson Blossoms was published in Nigeria in November 2015 (Parresia Publishers) and will be published in the UK in June 2016 by Cassava Republic Press.

What others say: ‘Elegantly, and with compassion for the powerless, Ibrahim gives us unique insight into contemporary Nigerian society.’ Zoe Wicomb, author and Chair of Judges, 2015 Caine Prize for African Writing.

In one line (from Season of Crimson Blossoms): 'When Reza slipped his hand under her wrapper, he discovered, much to his surprise, that the clump of ancient hair he had encountered the first time was gone'.

A. Igoni Barrett

A. Igoni Barrett was born in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, in 1979, and lives in Lagos. He was the recipient of a Chinua Achebe Center fellowship, a Norman Mailer Center fellowship, and a Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center residency. His short story collection, Love is Power or Something Like That, was published in 2013, and, in 2014, he was named on the Hay Festival Africa39 list of Sub-Saharan African writers under the age of 40. His first novel, Blackass, was published in 2015 in Nigeria (Farafina Books) and the UK (Chatto & Windus).

Why read him: For his satirical take on life in Lagos, and his analysis of identity and race.

What others say: ‘The most exciting writer producing right now. He has an incredible range, a unique voice and has the power to move’. Binyavanga Wainaina, author, journalist and founding editor of one of Africa’s leading literary networks, Kwani.

In one line (from Blackass): 'The bribe-sharing, the queue-jumping, the fact non-checking, and the customer-handling were as efficient as any system whose design was alimentary: in through the mouth and straight out the anus'.

Lola Shoneyin

Lola Shoneyin’s work includes three books of poems and two children’s books: Mayowa and the Masquerades (2010) and Iyaji, the Housegirl (2016). Her debut novel, The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives (Cassava Republic Press, 2010; Serpent's Tail, 2011) was long-listed for the 2011 Orange Prize for Fiction and won the PEN Oakland 2011 Josephine Miles Literary Award. After teaching in Nigeria and the UK for many years, Shoneyin now lives in Lagos. She is the director of the Ake Arts and Book Festival, and, in 2014, she was named on the Hay Festival Africa39 list of 39 Sub-Saharan African writers aged under 40 with potential and talent to define trends in African literature.

Why read her: For her humorous look at life in a polygamous family.

What others say: ‘Shoneyin's prose is by turns violent, evocative, witty, humane and gripping.’ Danuta Kean, journalist and publishing industry commentator.

In one line (from The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives): 'They say the elder who soils the floor with shit immediately forgets; but the stench remains in the memory of the person who has to scrape it up'.

Elnathan John

Elnathan John is one of Nigeria's most well-known writers and satirists. He has twice been shortlisted for the prestigious Caine Prize for African Writing. He is a 2015 Civitella Ranieri Fellow and lives in Abuja, Nigeria. His debut novel, Born on a Tuesday, was published by Cassava Republic Press in Nigeria in November 2015 and will be released in the UK (Cassava Republic) and the US (Grove Atlantic) in Spring 2016.

Why read him: For his disarmingly sensitive portrayal of life behind the headlines of religious and political extremism, told through the eyes of a young boy.

What others say: ‘A writer of prodigious talent.' Petina Gappah, author of ’ An Elegy for Easterly’ and winner of the Guardian First Book Award.

In one line (from Born on a Tuesday): 'I did not say when Sheikh Jamal asked how my mother was, that when I held her hand and told her I was leaving she didn't even look at me; that she preferred to look up at the sky or to the ground than give me her blessings or advise me to be good in Sokoto.'

Adoabi Tricia Nwaubani

Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani is a novelist, journalist, essayist and humourist. Her debut novel I Do Not Come to You by Chance (Cassava Republic Press, 2009; Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2010) won the 2010 Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Book (Africa), a 2010 Betty Trask First Book award, and was named by the Washington Post as one of the Best Books of the Year. Her essays have been featured in the New York Times, CNN, The Guardian and The New Yorker. She writes a regular column for the BBC Letter from Africa section.

Why read her: To be entertained by the ingenuity and creativity of the character 'Cash Daddy' and his 419 fraudsters, from the novel I Do Not Come to You by Chance.

What others say: ‘Nwaubani's subversive skill lies in telling us a familiar story from an unfamiliar angle’. Chris Cleave.

In one line (from I Do Not Come to You by Chance): 'At last, the Book of Remembrance had been opened and Fortune had called out my name'.

Listen to Writing a New Nigeria, a two-part documentary programme produced by BBC Radio 4 as part of UK/Nigeria 2015-16, a major season of arts work in Nigeria.

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