African women authors

Africa’s culture is rich and diverse and one of the best ways to learn more about it is to read books by African authors which are set on the continent. Written by African women authors, the books on this list use fiction to paint a vivid picture of Africa’s culture whether in the 18th century or more recently. You’ll also gain a deeper understanding of post-colonial Africa, the treatment of women and class differences.


Aya Of Yop City

Marguerite Abouet

Set in the Ivory Coast in the early 1970s, Aya of Yop City is the first of six in a series of graphic novels about 19-year-old Aya. This coming-of-age story follows Aya and her two friends as they spend their last summer as children. They deal with meddling relatives and neighbours, get into and out of trouble, all while trying to ensure they don’t find themselves in the local tabloid.  While the book is humorous, it also touches on topics like the treatment of women and class differences.

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Nervous Conditions

Tsitsi Dangarembga

Considered a modern classic in African literature and the winner of the 1989 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, Nervous Conditions is a semi-autobiographical novel set in the latter half of the 1960s in rural Zimbabwe. Tambu is a 13-year-old girl who wants to study but is instead made to stay at home. After her brother dies, her uncle pays for her to go to missionary school away from home. This is the story of her evolution into an independent young woman. Through this book, Dangarembga raises issues of identity, women’s rights, class, race and cultural displacement in a post-colonial society. This book made Dangarembga a powerful voice among African women authors.

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The Translator

Leila Aboulela

Sudanese author Leila Aboulela’s debut novel The Translator is the story of Sammar, a young Muslim Sudanese widow living in Scotland and working as an Arabic translator. She develops a romantic relationship with a non-Muslim, Scottish, Middle Eastern scholar. Split between Khartoum and Aberdeen, the novel focusses on religion, cross-cultural love, and faith. Profoundly moving and exquisitely written, this is the tale of one woman’s courage to stay true to her beliefs and the sacrifices she makes along the way.

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Ghana Must Go

Taiye Selasi

The Sai family is at the centre of this novel, which takes us from Accra to Lagos, and from New York to London. A victim of injustice, renowned surgeon Kweku Sai abandons his family living in the U.S. and moves back to Ghana, causing the family to split. When Kweku Sai dies, his estranged children and their families gather at his wife’s home in Ghana. They each navigate the pain caused by this estrangement as tragedy gives them a chance to heal and find a way forward for their family.

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Yaa Gyasi

In 18th Century Ghana, two half-sisters are born in different villages. While Effia ends up a slave-trader’s wife, her half-sister Esi is sold into slavery by Effia’s husband. While one part of the novel follows Effia and her descendants in Ghana, the other follows Esi and children, who grew up as slaves in America. Spanning three centuries, three continents and seven generations, this is a novel of epic proportions.

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Welcome To Lagos

Chibundu Onuzo

Five people take a bus to Lagos in search of a better life. Thrown together by circumstance and by a shared need to escape their present, they become unlikely allies as they find themselves embroiled in a political scandal and are forced to make a life-changing decision. Welcome To Lagos paints a vivid picture of corruption and politics in Lagos and the chaos and complications of living in it.

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We Need New Names

NoViolet Bulawayo

10-year-old Darling was a typical child growing up in Zimbabwe till her home is destroyed by paramilitary police and her father leaves for a dangerous job abroad. Searching for an escape, Darling travels to America to live with her aunt only to find that she has limited options as an immigrant. Winner of several awards, We Need New Names tells a story of displacement and the struggles of immigrants in the West, and cemented Bulawayo’s reputation as one of the best African women authors.

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Secret Son

Laila Lalami

19-year-old Youssef El-Mekki has grown up in a one-room home in Casablanca but is always dreaming of escaping. When the father he believes to be dead comes back into his life, Youssef is finally able to live the luxurious life he had always hoped for. Until a sudden reversal of fortune sends him back to the streets he grew up on. Lalami’s debut novel is the story of one young man’s struggle for identity amidst a dynamic society undergoing economic, political and cultural changes.

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Lauren Beukes

Beukes’ debut novel follows four narrators who live in a futuristic dystopian Cape Town where corporations are more powerful than governments and loyalty to corporations is more important than patriotism. The Internet is a pervasive force in this society with punishment involving cutting people off from social media, and online gaming. The four immature, self-absorbed protagonists make for unlikely rebels who come together to try to change the world. This novel is chilling and will make you wonder if the future depicted is already here.

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Purple Hibiscus

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Shortlisted for the 2004 Orange Prize and longlisted for the Man Booker Prize in the same year, Purple Hibiscus is the story of 15-year-old Kambili, who lives on her family estate. Her life is strictly regulated by her repressive and religious father. When her father becomes involved in a military crisis while  Nigeria is falling apart during a military coup, Kambili and her brother are sent to live with their aunt. Her aunt’s house is different from what she is used to- it is full of laughter. She learns of a life beyond the confines of her father’s authority and, at the same time, uncovers a terrible secret. With complex characters and brilliant prose, this book heralded Adichie’s arrival as one of the most popular African women authors.

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Devanshi has been reading ever since she can remember. What started off as an obsession with Enid Blyton, slowly morphed into a love for mystery and fantasy. Even her choice of career as a lawyer was heavily influenced by the works of Erle Stanley Gardner and John Grisham. After quitting law, and while backpacking around India, she read books on entrepreneurship, taught herself web design and delved into social media marketing. She doesn’t go anywhere without a book.

She is the founding editor of The Curious Reader. Read her articles here.