Literary traditions of African and African American writers are diverse and varied, often drawing upon more oral storytelling traditions than writers from other parts of the world, giving novels and biographies by African writers a rich, truthful and genuinely powerful edge.
Although there are literally thousands of incredible books about Africa and by African writers, the four presented here are among the most powerful. They are books that are, in some way or another, about Africa and African life and have had a profound and lasting effect on the way the world views Africa.
These books have been chosen from among the countless possibilities because they broke through and affected the masses, changed the way people all over the world thought and are now timeless and invaluable.
Long Walk To Freedom, Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela spent no fewer than 18 years in the infamous Robben Island prison (he served 27 years in total). Imprisoned there by the apartheid government of South Africa, who dubbed him a terrorist for his role as leader of the subsequently outlawed ANC.
Long Walk To Freedom tells the story of his life living under apartheid and his time in prison, up until his eventual release on February 11, 1990. “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin,” Mandela wrote “or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
Long Walk to Freedom has become the definitive history of Mandela’s life and one of the most enduring and important reports of apartheid.
Of Africa, Wole Soyinka
Wole Soyinka was the first ever African writer to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. His work strongly criticized the Nigerian governments he witnessed take power during his life time, particularly the military dictatorships.
Soyinka studied in Nigeria and the UK, wrote powerful plays for the cutting-edge Royal Court Theatre in London and has taught at Oxford University, Harvard and Yale.
Buy “Of Africa” on Amazon.
The Color Purple, Alice Walker
The importance of American author Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel is that it gives a voice to a woman who in the prejudiced society of 1930s Southern America would have felt voiceless and helpless.
Using first person narration from the perspective of the oppressed and abused Celie, a generation of readers were forced into a new perspective – that of the ‘outsider’ in Southern American society, women like Celie who feel isolated from their families, their culture and their sense of self.
Celie’s jubilant reunion with her African family at the end of the novel brings home the vital importance of African culture to the millions of people pulled away from their loved ones.
“The Color Purple” on Amazon.
Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe
Things Fall Apart is one of the most widely read, and studied, novels of modern African literature. The novel tells the story of the fight between colonialism and traditional societies in Nigeria and it is heralded as one of the most thorough and important novels in any canon of post-colonial literature.
The novel has been translated into 50 languages and appears on literature, comparative literature, history and Africa studies university courses all over the world.