With the tragic and irreplaceable loss of Nelson Mandela, the world now must take to his words and memories to keep his inspirational message of hope alive. Thankfully, his spirit lives on in Long Walk to Freedom, his sensational autobiography, and Conversations with Myself, a collection of his most private essays and letters. Mandela will forever be available for any one to access. His words will resonate on the page for long-time followers or perhaps someone not yet familiar with the great leader.
In the spirit of Nelson Mandela and his written legacy, the following is a list of five essential works by African authors:
1. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Perhaps the single most famous piece of African literature, Achebe’s first novel is a two-part story about Ibo tribesman Okonkwo. The story narrates African life prior to the arrival of colonial powers, and then the subsequent colonization of Nigeria by Britain.
2. Native Life in South Africa by Sol Plaatje
Sol Plaatje was a political activist and intellectual fighting for the freedom of native Africans during colonization by both the British and the Dutch. Plaatje was in many ways a forefather for Nelson Mandela, and Native Life in South Africa is one of the most important works in African literature. In it, Plaatje makes an emotional plea for enfranchisement and basic human rights for black Africans suffering at the hands of colonialism.
3. Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Adichie is considered an important figure in contemporary African literature, as she represents the next generation of authors following Achebe. Purple Hibiscus takes place in post-colonial Nigeria, and is the painful coming-of-age story of a young girl in a disintegrating family.
4. The Hairdresser of Harare by Tendai Huchu
This novel is a story about a hairdresser named Vimbai and her struggle to make a living and raise her son in modern day Harare, Zimbabwe. Described by many critics as “bittersweet,” the novel is both humorous and dark at the same time.
5. Petals of Blood by Ngugi wa Thiong’o
Petals of Blood looks at the interconnectedness between four murder suspects in the wake of the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya. The novel is a skeptical look at postcolonial Kenyan politics and the impossibility of escaping a colonial past.
– Taylor Diamond