After the unusually long hot British summer, the nights are drawing in and the temperature is dropping down to single figures. What a great time to curl up on the sofa with a blanket and a good book. Right?
Some really fresh and inspiring voices from Africa and the diaspora are emerging onto the British and international literary scene.
Three writers who have been receiving some well-deserved attention and a clutch of prestigious awards are Diana Evans, Chibundu Onuzo and Michael Donkor.
I write from inside blackness, from inside black experience…..I don’t think you can write about black characters without writing about race, it’s so deeply engrained
- 26a (2005)
- The Wonder (2009)
- Ordinary People (2018)
Diana Evans, of Nigerian and British descent was born and raised in northwest London with her 5 sisters, one of whom was her twin. Sadly, it was the suicide of her twin sister at the age of 26 which prompted her to write her first novel, 26a. It is the strongly autobiographical story of identical Nigeria-British twins growing up in Neasden, London. Tragedy, fantasy, secrecy and humour are all there in this page turning debut novel. It won the Orange Award for New Writers and Betty Trask Award, Society of Authors.
The Wonder explores in lyrical prose the life of a dancer – before becoming a journalist and writer, Diana Evans was herself a dancer. The novel, a ‘dance mystery’ is currently being considered for TV dramatization.
In her most recent novel, Ordinary People, Diana Evans tracks the troubled relationship between Melissa and Michael, a couple in their thirteenth year of being together. In an interview with the Guardian, Diana Evans explains,
“I wanted to write a book about contemporary London,” she says. “Black people, thirtysomethings, couples. Part of what I’m trying to do is to make us visible, because we aren’t visible in imagery.”
The novel explores the impact of Barack Obama’s election as President of USA in 2008 and Michael Jackson’s death the following year on her characters’ lives.
After the publication of each novel, Diana Evans rewards herself by buying a chair for her home! That’s three so far!
- The Spider King’s Daughter (2012)
- Welcome to Lagos (2017)
No doubt about it, Chibundu Onuzo is a literary phenomenon and prodigy. By the ripe age of 26, she already had two published novels under her belt. In fact, she began her first novel when she was just 10 years old! At 19, she was the youngest ever writer to be signed by publishers Faber and Faber and in 2018 was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. Quite an achievement, right!
Born in Nigeria, Chibundu Onuzo was exposed to storytelling at a young age. Her father was an oral storyteller whereas her mother passed on her love of 19th century British literature to Chibundu.
She is currently studying for a PhD in history at Kings College London – somehow, she also manages to write novels, produce and perform in a spectacular musical autobiography and fit in publicity tours! What a superwoman!
The Spider King’s Daughter is a ‘forbidden love’ story. A tumultuous relationship develops between Abike, the pampered but often lonely daughter of a wealthy, corrupt Lagos businessman and an impoverished street hawker whose family have lost everything. Many strange and uncomfortable truths about the two families and about Nigerian society come to light in the course of the book.
The novel was the winner of a Betty Trask Award, shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize and the Commonwealth Book Prize
Welcome to Lagos is a very different kind of book and arose from a dream Chibundu had about two soldiers. In contrast to The Spider King’s Daughter which focuses on its two principal characters, Welcome to Lagos is an ambitious ensemble piece involving a whole cast of people from very different walks of life thrown together by chance with often surprising alliances and hilarious results.
Michael Donkor, a secondary school teacher turned novelist was born to Ghanaian parents and grew up in London. The Observer referred to him as a new face of fiction and named him as one of the best debut novelists of 2018.
Hold, a coming of age story and Michael Donkor’s first novel was inspired by the numerous silent housemaids he saw on childhood visits to his extended family in Ghana. Set in 2002 and moving between Ghana and South London, the story revolves around 17year old Belinda, a housemaid sent from Ghana to tend to Amma, a challenging London born teenager who lives with her Ghanaian family. In the novel, Donkor tackles female friendship and sexuality, generational and class differences and the taboos around homosexuality in the Ghanaian community. A riveting thought-provoking read.
So, you’re probably already rushing out to your local bookstore to buy one or other of these inspiring books to immerse yourself in on chilly days and evenings.
And what awesome gifts for friends and family on the Christmas present list!
Author: Yvonne Lloyd