Friday, February 19, 2016

Books by Black Authors to Look Forward to in 2016


It is no secret that “African-American women are the largest group of readers in the country,” states Dawn Davis, head of Simon & Schuster’s 37 Ink imprint. It is also no secret that the publishing world is very, very white, with books by black authors published at an abysmal low, never rising above 10 percent of the industry’s output. Indeed, a recent survey by Lee & Low publishers found that “just under 80 percent of publishing staff and review journal staff are white,” with “Black/African Americans [at] 3.5 percent.”

But even with such conditions, key figures such as Chris Jackson, Dawn Davis and others have shepherded books by black authors through their fellow gatekeepers and to the public. Other organizations, like Cave Canem, the Kimbilio Center for African American Fiction and the African Poetry Book Fund, support black literature by offering writing retreats, workshops and small-press publishing opportunities. Here are some of the wonderful titles by black authors that readers of all tastes can look forward to in 2016.

Novel Highlights

In fiction, Darryl Pinckney offers Black Deutschland, the story of a gay African-American man who escapes his troubles in Chicago to seek refuge in 1980s Germany. The Castle Cross the Magnet Carter, from playwright and TV writer Kia Corthron, is an ambitious, brilliantly executed tale of race and family across generations. There is also the latest installment of Rachel Howzell Hall’s Los Angeles-based Elouise Norton mystery thriller series, Trail of Echoes, which comes out in May.

Literary legend Terri McMillan publishes a new book in June titled I Almost Forgot About You, the story of Dr. Georgia Young, who one day decides that there’s more to life than what she has been doing—and decides to go find it. There is also The Underground Railroad, a novel from acclaimed author Colson Whitehead, which will be published in September. And in April, Diane McKinney-Whetstone is giving us Lazaretto, her fictional account of race, lies and murder that rock the close-knit community of the island-based Lazaretto quarantine hospital. In May, from Afro-Caribbean British writer Yvette Edwards, comes the riveting novel The Mother, which explores how one mother copes with the murder of her son—and the courtroom drama of the trial that follows.

Six strong fiction debuts from black American women are a high point of 2016. In June, Los Angeles-based writer Natashia Deon gives us Grace, a tale of the love between a mother and daughter set against American slavery and emancipation. Desiree Cooper’s Know the Mother, out in March, explores race and motherhood in a series of interconnected vignettes. Jamaican-American writer Nicole Y. Dennis-Benn crafts a tale of unforgettable Jamaican women fighting for selfhood and independence in Here Comes the Sun, due out in July.

Cole Lavalais pens a tale of love, redemption and self-discovery on the campus of a historically black college in Summer of the Cicadas due in the spring. In We Love You, Charlie Freeman, out next month, Kaitlyn Greenidge has created an absurdist social commentary on race in the form of an African-American family paid to adopt a chimpanzee as a member of their family and be observed by a scientific research institute during the process. And Fabienne Josaphat’s novel, Dancing in the Baron’s Shadow, is the riveting tale of a man trying to save his brother from unjust imprisonment during the brutal regime of Haitian dictator François Duvalier in 1965.

Memoirs, Biography, Essays and More

Nonfiction is equally strong. Memoirs from literary powerhouses Roxane Gay and Kiese Laymon, both meditating on blackness and the body, arrive in June. In Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, Gay discusses her relationship with food, body image and self-care, a memoir couched in her usual honesty, vulnerability and depth of observation that have endeared her to so many readers. Laymon’s memoir, titled Stank: A Fat Black Memoir, is replete with his trademark wit and astute analysis. Out now is All Jokes Aside, a memoir by Raymond Lambert and Chris Bournea, which explores the rise of the African-American comedy scene centered at Lambert’s club.

April brings Kill ’Em and Leave: Searching for the Real James Brown and American Soul, a nonfiction work from 2013 National Book Award winner James McBride. Here, McBride turns his considerable talents to biography and explores the life of James Brown—from his birth into a Southern sharecropping family to musical success—against a backdrop of racism in America. A collection of essays on race called—in homage to James Baldwin—The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race, edited by Jesmyn Ward, will be released in August. The South Side: A Portrait of Chicago and American Segregation, by Natalie Y. Moore, coming out in March, is a particularly timely and necessary work. New York Times Magazine contributor Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah is the author of the forthcoming The Explainers and the Explorers, an in-depth look at fearlessness and black art.

Voices From the Motherland 

African writers are well-represented this year. In March, Nigerian writer Chris Abani gives us his memoir, The Face: Cartography of the Void, as part of a new series from Restless Books. Also in March comes fellow Nigerian writer A. Igoni Barrett’s allegorical, Kafka-inspired novel Blackass, the story of a Nigerian man who wakes up one day to find that he has become a white man. Another Nigerian writer, Jowhor Ile, has released his highly anticipated debut novel, And After Many Days. And acclaimed Nigerian-British novelist Helen Oyeyemi brings us a collection of short stories—What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours—this March.

In The Maestro, the Magistrate & the Mathematician, Zimbabwean writer Tendai Huchu explores the lives of three Zimbabwean transplants to Great Britain. In Homegoing, out in June, Ghanaian-American writer Yaa Gyasi crafts a sprawling, epic tale of two 18th-century half-sisters: one safe in Ghana, the other sold into slavery in America. Sudanese writer Leila Aboulela’s The Kindness of Enemies is an exploration of contemporary Muslim identity.

In June, Moroccan writer Fouad Laroui brings us The Curious Case of Dassoukine’s Trousers, a linked-short-story collection that won the Prix Goncourt de la Nouvelle, France’s most prestigious literary award. Another acclaimed Moroccan writer, Tahar Ben Jelloun, gives us The Happy Marriage, the story of a marriage told from the differing perspectives of husband and wife. The Queue, by Egyptian writer Basma Abdel Aziz and translated by Elisabeth Jaquette, is a dystopian novel exploring the aftermath of political upheaval.

Words in Verse
On the poetry side, in April comes Jamaal May’s The Big Book of Exit Strategies, his second collection of poetry. Kevin Young has given us his collection Blue Laws: Selected and Uncollected Poems, 1995-2015. Ethiopian writer Mahtem Shiferraw’s Fuchsia, winner of the Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets, explores themes of identity and translation. This year, literary heavyweight Kwame Dawes will be releasing a new collection of poetry, The City of Bones; a new Spanish translation of his book Vuelo; and, in April, a compilation of his poetic correspondence with the poet John Kinsella, titled Speak From Here to There. Chris Abani and Dawes also edited Tatu, a collection of contemporary poetry by African poets due out in the spring, as part of their yearly New-Generation African Poets Series.

But these books are just the tip of the iceberg. And as the publishing industry becomes more diverse, we will hopefully have even more titles by black authors to choose from in the coming years.

Hope Wabuke is a Southern California-based writer and a contributing editor at The Root. Follow her on Twitter.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

'The Maestro, The Magistrate & The Mathematician' published in the USA

The cover for the North American edition, published by Ohio University Press
The cover for West Africa, published by Farafina in Nigeria
The cover for Germany, to be published by Peter Hammer Verlag
The cover for Zimbabwe, published by amaBooks, 
and for the United Kingdom, published by Parthian Books

The North American edition was published on February 15 as part
of the Ohio University Press Modern African Writing series

The German edition will be available from March 1

The UK edition is already available

In Zimbabwe, the book is available through many outlets in Harare and Bulawayo

Monday, February 15, 2016

'Textures' wins the 2016 National Arts Merit Award for Outstanding Fiction

John Eppel and Togara Muzanenhamo's poetry collaboration Textures has won the 2016 Zimbabwe National Arts Merit Award for Outstanding Fiction. The winners were announced at the awards on Saturday 13 February at 7Arts in Harare, and Togara was present to accept the award on behalf of the two writers. 

The other shortlisted books were:
Dzinonyandura coordinated by Rabson Shumba [263 Nhetembo] 
Ties that Bind by Phillip K. Chidavaenzi [New Heritage Press] 
The Book of Memory by Petina Gappah [Faber and Faber]

The list of winners in all categories can be found at

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Eppel and Muzanenhamo's 'Textures' reviewed in The European English Messenger

John Eppel and Togara Muzanenhamo 2014. Textures.
Bulawayo: 'amabooks, 91 + viii pages
ISBN 9 780797 494985 (soft cover).
John A Stotesbury
University of Eastern Finland, Joensuu, Finland
The European English Messenger, 24.2 (2015)

In material terms this small volume of poetry by two Zimbabwean poets, John Eppel and Togara Muzanenhamo, appears modest in its scope. Its title is unpretentious: simply “Textures”, which both Eppel and Muzanenhamo explain in the Introduction in terms of its etymological and metaphorical links with weaving. There are a fair number of poems, 43 in all, numerically speaking a majority of them by the elder poet, Eppel, in contrast to the sixteen by Muzanenhamo, although they vary in length, and several of Muzanenhamo’s are more expansive and perhaps more demanding than Eppel’s.

Inevitably, a number of too easy contrasts can be drawn up between the poets themselves. Eppel is a Zimbabwean whose South African roots were transplanted in early childhood into Bulawayo soil, a city – and its gardens – a location that has grown and sustained him for many decades, a place where he continues to teach literature in English to a schoolboy clientele whose ethnicity is now 90 per cent black. As other commentators have noted, Eppel’s rootedness in Bulawayo has given him access to a full range of references to the natural environment, in particular the abundant flowers and birds that frequently find their place in his poetry.

Muzanenhamo, for his part, is a full generation younger, and grew into young adulthood along with the emergence after 1980 of the liberated Zimbabwe. To some degree, in contrast to Eppel, his subsequent education has been acquired in the First World, and unlike Eppel’s, his writing has more readily achieved recognition both within Southern Africa and also further afield – although since the 1960s Eppel has undoubtedly produced a wider range of poetic and prose writing, much of the latter subtly satirical, that would deserve wider recognition from an international audience, including one that has sometimes resorted to over-simplistic categorizations.

The generational shift represented in this collaborative volume of poems through the voluntary yoking together of two such poets – one ostensibly bearing the memory of the world of white, colonial and post-colonial “privilege”, the other perhaps a voice of contemporary Zimbabwe, with its all-too-familiar litany of implicit fractures – has been nicely subverted by the layering, or interweaving, of their poetry into eight alternating sections, although none of them is headed, and there is no clear progression or comparison to be inferred from the selections of poems, other than the final “Epilogue” of Muzanenhamo’s fourth section.

The volume itself has been usefully introduced by a fellow Zimbabwean, Drew Shaw, who points out that both poets are “dedicated to excellence in form” and to a “meticulous attention to the craft of poetry” (ii); Shaw also points out the domestic, inward-looking quality of much of Eppel’s writing, in contrast to “the more international Muzanenhamo” (iii).

It might also be of value to consider the ways in which such a volume of poetry by two poets can be read: my own approach was initially to read each poem and each alternating poet consecutively, noting small details of composition and thematic focus, and considering the similarities and differences predicted by Dash. But a later reading of each poet’s work in its entirety, first Eppel’s and then Muzanenhamo’s, more strongly emphasized some of the craftsmen’s brush-strokes that make up their connections and differences.

Eppel’s writing is very much that of an older generation, and for a reader of similar age (as this reviewer is) there is the pleasure of recognizing Eppel’s subversion of over-quoted “classics”, such as the sonnet titled “Beauty is Truth, Truth Death” (“So: put down your pen and take a deep breath”) (9), and the melancholic recognition of the failure of so many hopes for a better postcolonial world, contained in the echo of Doris Lessing’s first novel: “grass has forgotten to sing” (“Giving up on the Rains in Curious Rhyme”) (10). In somewhat more mischievous vein, in “Dorothy Recollects [a pastiche]”, he has the physically degenerating Dorothy Wordsworth repeatedly distracting her brother away from his newly-acquired bride Mary Hutchinson on their wedding-day: “I gave him the wedding ring …/from my forefinger where I had worn it the whole of the night before” (48).

Eppel’s poetic vision is also shaped by an accumulated awareness of ageing and the failure of the individual voice; poem after poem rests on an awareness of this failure – “I put down my pen, give up on the rains” (10), and “I chose to solve it, not by talking/but … by walking” (“Solvitur Ambulando”) (3). From the very start of Eppel’s selection, relationships fail (“A Suburban Night in August”), and even when walking his dog he notes: “At the Upper Dam we’ll rest/where the dead bodies of platanna bloat,/and two discarded beer bottles float” (“Looking for You”) (11).

Muzanenhamo’s work draws on a range of reference that, whilst also meticulously crafted, expresses a bitterness and a tenderness that are more generalized than Eppel’s. “Gondershe”, for instance, depicts simultaneously the innocence and unwitting victimhood of a child soldier: “Having never fired a gun before, he held the rifle/as though the weapon were a dying child about to say something/only they could share”, a poem that ends with the inevitability of the child’s death: “Come the dawn there would be no escape./He would die. Even the sea would burn.”(13). The world is a place that victimizes the young. But some, in their innocence, resist: in “The Battle of Vågen, Bergen, Norway – August 3, 1665” a young Dutch soldier who has “never seen real war,/and had no will to die”, recalls “fucking/a shy local girl”, a youthful vision that motivates him to desert his national army despite “the shame of running, the fear/of loving” (36-37).

Muzanenhamo’s writing is, if anything, more conscious of suffering, physical corruption, and death than Eppel’s. His “Zvita” invites the reader to “Study the bone” of a corpse, “The waxed coat stiff with flies./… The back’s awkward/arch parting rigid legs, pushing the pelvis forward/to give birth to death’s black oozing grease” (63). A vision of something of the horror that seemingly inevitably accompanies the struggle for both love and freedom.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Latest Books by Two Zimbabwean Writers in a USA list of 'New Books by African Writers You Should Read'


February 2, 2016 


By Aaron Bady

There has never been a better time than right now to be a reader of African literature, especially in the United States (historically, an underdeveloped nation in this regard). Of course, we’re still playing catch-up; many of these books have already been published in South Africa, Nigeria, or the UK, or in their original language. But that just means that old classics are becoming suddenly available alongside emerging new voices. So if you’re looking for something to read, and you want it to have the word “African” attached to it, here are my top 25 suggestions for the first six months of the new year. All dates are for U.S. publications. Chain bookstores won’t carry most of these, so you might have to do something as laborious and difficult as click a link–or ask your local bookstore to place a special order–but the one thing you can’t do, any longer, is complain you have nothing to read. You have your orders; go forth and read.

Available now: The Kindness of Enemies by Leila Aboulela (Grove Atlantic)

The winner of the very first Caine Prize for African writing in 2000, Leila Aboulela is always briskly readable, but her intimate stories also have a depth and weight to them that stays with you long after you’ve put the book down. And though there is no shortage of secular writers writing about religion, Aboulela is the rare reverse, a novelist whose deep Muslim faith animates her explorations of Islamic identity in the secular world. Each chapter of The Kindness of Enemies begins in present-day Scotland—where a history professor must grapple with how to respond to a student of hers, she has been told, who has become “radicalized”—before moving back into the 1850s, where we get the story of her student’s ancestor, the Imam Shamil, whose 30-year campaign against the expanding Russian empire stands as one of the most successful military jihads in history. But as with all of Aboulela’s novels, her focus is essentially intimate, the story of small lives and loves; against the backdrop of war and empire, Aboulela’s eye is on human stories about lost faith and lost children, some of which are sometimes found again.

Available now: The Happy Marriage by Tahar Ben Jelloun (Translated by André Naffis-Sahely · Melville House)

Tahar Ben Jelloun is the sort of writer who gets mentioned every year as a possible contender for the Nobel, though he’s probably too good to ever get it. France claims him and he lives in Paris, but the focus of his novels has always been Morocco. From a very nice Paris Review interview, Jelloun describes why he writes in French:

At the lycée we studied the Arab classics; I became aware of the richness and subtlety of Arabic when I began to do translations. To me it was another good reason not to tinker with it. Also, as it is a sacred language, given by God in the shape of the Koran, it is intimidating—one feels very small in front of this language. The other day Adonis, a great Lebanese poet, told me that the Arabic language has not yet had a writer stronger than itself, capable of subduing it. One speaks of English as the language of Shakespeare, of Italian as that of Dante, but we don’t say Arabic is the language of al-Ghazali—it is always the language of the Koran. It is inhibitive; one would feel almost guilty manipulating it… Arabic is a sacred language, and Arab authors are in awe of it; they can’t use violence against it.

In The Happy Marriage, a painter tells the story how his marriage collapsed as he is recovering from a stroke that he blames his wife for provoking; when his wife reads his account of these events, she gives her own side of the story.

Available now: The Book of Memory by Petina Gappah (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Petina Gappah’s The Book of Memory is the only Nabokovian meditation on living in memory—from the perspective of an albino inmate of a Zimbabwean women’s prison—that you need to read this year. The long-awaited first novel by the author of An Elegy for Easterly, this book is a marvel, fluttering from high to low with a deceptive ease, and slipping in more words per page of untranslated Shona than any book this readable has any right to contain. But though An Elegy for Easterly was widely praised for its dissection of contemporary Zimbabwean politics and society, and despite all of its wonderfully granular detail and quotidian attentiveness to the life of a maximum security death row inmate in Zimbabwe—no doubt informed by Gappah’s years as a lawyer—The Book of Memory is ultimately much less interested in the particularities of Zimbabwe in the Mugabe era, or in the law, or even in race than in the story of how we float on the currents of time on the brightly colored wings of memory.

February 15: Rachel’s Blue by Zakes Mda (University of Chicago Press)

I always feel bad that I haven’t read more of Zakes Mda’s work, but every time I read one of his books, it feels like he’s published another novel or two. His dozens of plays and novels were written in the decades of South Africa’s long, slow, painful transition from Apartheid but range across its even longer and more painful history, from early colonialism to the present, excavating histories and memory that never made it to the official records of truth and reconciliation. An astute critic once described him as living in a different country than J.M. Coetzee, and I like the comparison: Coetzee’s South Africa is a white landscape of metaphysics and philosophy, while Mda’s novels are hyper-local Dickensian panoramas, painted in blood-red. His 2012 memoir, Sometimes There is a Void, describes how—after a long journey through a very eventful life—he now finds himself teaching creative writing in Athens, Ohio, and Rachel’s Blue is his first novel set completely in the United States.

February 15: The Maestro, the Magistrate & the Mathematician by Tendai Huchu (Ohio University Press)

February will be a good month for fiction from Zimbabwe: along with Petina Gappah’s long-awaited first novel, the second of Tendai Huchu’s two novels will finally be available in the US, and it will be well worth the wait. His first novel, The Hairdresser of Harare, was a black comedy of political manners, in the Zimbabwe of ZANU-PF and hyperinflation—and along with a sly treatment of sexuality that’s worth the price of admission alone—it put Huchu’s name on a lot of lists of writers to watch. In The Maestro, The Magistrate & The Mathematician, he has moved outward to the community of expatriate Zimbabweans living in Edinburgh but waiting for the time to be right to return, triumphantly, home. As he put it in an interview, “most of the novels I read about diasporas are about folks on a sort of upward trajectory and I kind of wanted to go in the opposite direction.” His cast is mostly very highly educated people, living and working in low-wage jobs while dreaming of home. He splits the story between three interlinked-but-detached perspectives—between the maestro, the magistrate, and the mathematician—but out of it produces a single “a book of illusions;” as he puts it, “though the narrators of all three novellas are reliable, they are still being lied to.”

February 16: And After Many Days by Jowhor Ile (Penguin Random House)

Everybody is very excited about this debut novel from a writer living in Port Harcourt, Nigeria—Taiye Selasi, Uzodinma Iweala, A. Igoni Barrett, and Binyavanga Wainaina have all praised it to the heavens, and if Penguin doesn’t send me a review copy soon, I’m going to be as grumpy and petulant about it as a toddler deprived of his milk. I’ve been waiting for this novel since 2013, when Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie happened to mention, in an interview, that “There’s a young man called Johwor Ile who is just finishing a novel, who I think is really spectacular. His novel, when it comes out, will be very good.” So I’m not going to read anything more about this novel until it’s in my hands, which damn well better be soon. (You hear me, Penguin?!)

February 28: Kaveena by Boubacar Boris Diop (Translated by Bhakti Shringarpure and Sara C. Hanaburgh · Indiana University Press)

Boubacar Boris Diop is one of the giants of Francophone African literature, and though he’s never been a very prolific writer, it’s taken some time for the Anglophone world to get around to translating him (thank you, Indiana University Press!); until last year, Murambi, The Book of Bones was his only novel in English; now, hard on the heels of the translation of The Knight and His Shadow, we’re finally getting his most recent novel, Kaveena: a portrait of a nation’s dissolution in coup d’etat, a novel narrated by the chief of an unnamed country’s secret police, trapped in a bunker with the rotting body of the dictator. I hope we get a translation of Doomi Golo, his novel in Wolof, soon; he translated it into French, himself, so I can’t see why we wouldn’t. By the way, if you are totally unfamiliar with literary Françafrique, his collection of essays Africa Beyond the Mirror is a good place to start for getting a sense of the politics and terrain; he’s always opinionated, always passionate, and always worth reading.

March 1: Blackass by A. Igoni Barrett (Graywolf)

Igoni Barrett’s 2013 Love Is Power, or Something Like That is one of the best short story collections I’ve ever read, and since Blackass was published last year in Nigeria and the UK (to rapturous reviews) I’ve been waiting in the US for Barrett’s first novel with a certain amount of piqued urgency. Get it published already! People like to compare Barrett’s books to modernist masterpieces—Love is Power was Lagos’ Dubliners; Blackass is Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” in Nigeria—but all of that is just a way of saying that this guy is really, really good. For example, “The Worst Thing That Happened.” And here’s a nice essay in which he describes how he came to be a writer; and here’s another one.

From Publishers Weekly’s review of Blackass:

On the morning of a long-awaited job interview, Furo Wariboko, a black Nigerian, wakes to find that he’s white. Rushing out of the house to avoid being seen, Furo ends up trekking across Lagos’s traffic-choked sprawl, sans phone, money, or an explanation for why he looks white and sounds Nigerian. But as he soon discovers, being an oyibo, or light-skinned person, comes with significant perks… For Americans unfamiliar with Nigeria, Lagos functions as another character in the book, a fascinating and chaotic megacity populated by people trying to move up in the world—some honestly, some less so. It’s no coincidence that Furo’s new job is selling self-help books. All this would be plenty, but Barrett, initially in the book as a bystander from whom Furo cadges a drink, becomes more central, as he too begins to undergo a transformation.

March 1: Fuchsia by Mahtem Shiferraw (Nebraska University Press)

Each year, the African Poetry Book Fund (directed by Chris Abani and Kwame Dawes) publishes the first collection by the poet who wins the Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poetry. The winners for the previous two years were Clifton Gachagua’s Madman at Kilifi and Ladan Osman’s The Kitchen-Dweller’s Testimony; they are both sublime, so I have high hopes for this year’s edition, Ethiopian-American poet Mahtem Shiferraw’s collection Fuchsia which “examines conceptions of the displaced, disassembled, and nomadic self.” If you can’t wait, you can get her chapbook now, Behind Walls & Glass, or you can read some of her poetry online: “Blood Disparities,” “She says they come at night…,” “E is for Eden,” “Something Sleeps in the Mud-Beds of the Nile,” “Small Tragedies,” “Synesthesia.” (I can’t wait).

March 1: The Face: Cartography of the Void by Chris Abani (Restless Books)

Part of a wonderfully eccentric series from Restless Books, Chris Abani’s exploration of his own face is a kind of mini-memoir, unpacking the histories, stories, and genealogies contained (and fetishized) inside this window to the soul. It’s a quick and easy read, a minor work by a major writer, though it will give you a good sense of why you should continue on and sample his poetry—Sanctificum, for example, is magnificent.

March 1: The Lights of Pointe-Noire by Alain Mabanckou (Translated by Helen Stevenson · New Press)

Recently elected a visiting professor at the Collège de France, it has only taken a decade of residence in the United States for Americans to figure out who Alain Mabanckou is—French being one of the most difficult and obscure African languages—but the word is finally starting to spread. His novels are swampy drunken carnivals of language and violence, and they’re as funny as they are dead serious; if he wasn’t getting so respectable and respected, I’d describe him as African literature’s enfant terrible. Following up from Tomorrow I’ll be Twenty, the first volume of his memoir, The Lights of Pointe Noire is an account of Mabanckou’s return to his hometown, after decades abroad. From the opening:

For a long time I let people think my mother was still alive. I’m going to make a big effort, now, to set the record straight, to try to distance myself from this lie, which has only served to postpone my mourning. My face still bears the scars of her loss. I’m good at covering them over with a coat of fake good humor, but suddenly they’ll show through, my laughter breaks off and she’s back in my thoughts again, the woman I never saw age, never saw die, who, in my most troubled dreams, turns her back on me, so I won’t see her tears. Wherever I find myself in the world, it takes just the cry of a cat alone at night, or the barking of dogs on heat, and I’ll turn my face to the stars…

March 8: What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi (Penguin Random House)

A short story collection from Helen Oyeyemi is an event. No one does the uncanny like she does, or the grisly spookiness of childhood. Get it; read it; tell your friends.

March 15: Baho! by Roland Rugero (Translated by Chris Schaefer · Phoneme Media)

Only a year or two old, Phoneme Media is already doing an amazing job of finding authors and works from parts of Africa we don’t normally get to hear from. Last year they brought out Inongo-vi-Makomè’s Natives—translated from his Equatorial Guinean Spanish—and this year they’re bringing out the first Burundian novel translated into English. The excerpts I’ve seen are promising, as is this description:

When Nyamugari, an adolescent mute, attempts to ask a young woman in rural Burundi for directions to an appropriate place to relieve himself, his gestures are mistaken as premeditation for rape. To the young woman’s community, his fleeing confirms his guilt, setting off a chain reaction of pursuit, mob justice, and Nyamugari’s attempts at explanation.

(Also watch for Obi’s Nightmare, a graphic novel about a dictator forced to live the horror of being one of his own subjects…).

March 15: Whitefly by Abdelilah Hamdouchi (Translated by Jonathan Smolin · AUCP).

Described as the first Arabic detective novel translated into English, it had me at “spiraling conspiracy of international sabotage on the beaches of Tangiers.” You can read an excerpt here.

April 1: 100 Days by Juliane Okot Bitek (University of Alberta Press)

For 100 days, Juliane Okot Bitek recorded the lingering nightmare of the Rwandan genocide in a poem—each poem recalling the senseless loss of life and of innocence. Okot Bitek draws on her own family’s experience of displacement under the regime of Idi Amin, pulling in fragments of the poetic traditions she encounters along the way: the Ugandan Acholi oral tradition of her father, the poet Okot p’Bitek; Anglican hymns; the rhythms and sounds of slave songs from the Americas; and the beat of spoken word and hip-hop.

April 1: Collected Poems by Gabriel Okara (Nebraska University Press)

Along with publishing a first book by an emerging new African poet each year, the Africa Book Fund has also committed to publishing a collected edition of “a major living African poet” each year, and this year it is Gabriel Okara, the only person who could ever be called both “the elder statesman of Nigerian literature and the first Modernist poet of Anglophone Africa.” Those who know, know who he is; who no know, go know.

April 12: Water: New Short Story Fiction from Africa: An Anthology from Short Story Day Africa (Edited by Karina Szczurek and Nick Mulgrew · New Internationalist)

This is the third year these good folks in South Africa have collected and published previously unpublished short fiction on a theme, and each year their vision gets broader (and they already have a fantastic track record of discovering hitherto unknown writers). In an interview I did with Rachel last year, she described SSDA’s evolution:

We’d always intended the project to develop organically, though how we thought that would happen turned out to be very different to the end result. I guess we didn’t expect the response to the project that it got. I think, when it started, writers on the continent were looking for somewhere to publish their work, work that didn’t necessarily have appeal to a Western publishing industry that pretty much wanted to tell the same stories the media was telling about Africa. Social media was just a couple of years old and it was either get published in the West, or you were pretty much voiceless. In the first year, we just published an extended circle of writers we knew and writers they knew on a website I’d thrown together. We were email based then. The second year we were inundated with requests from writers to send us their stories, and we started the Facebook page. By the third year, writers beyond Southern Africa were asking to be included, so we changed the name, made a new Facebook page and opened it up to any African writer.

April 15: Tales of the Metric System by Imraan Coovadia (Ohio University Press)

There are so many amazing writers coming out of South Africa, and Imraan Coovadia is one of the most daring; his Green-Eyed Thieves is a wicked and weird riff on the crime novel, and from what I’ve heard, Tales of the Metric System will be equally memorable. Since I haven’t read it, and since what I’ve read makes the novel sound very difficult to paraphrase, I’ll hand the mic over to Jeanne-Marie Jackson, who reviewed the novel in an essay for n+1, on “The Novel of Ideas”:

A number of critics have made stock comparisons between Coovadia and the English novelist David Mitchell and the Nigerian Adichie because Tales of the Metric System hops around a lot in time and space. But that’s getting it the wrong way round. The book isn’t about how the world network defines our new reality: it displays Coovadia’s lingering investment in mapping a single nation. He does this across ten different plots divided into sections headed by references variously to their period or setting (“School Time”, “Soviet Embassy”), to a significant object (“The Pass”, “Vuvuzela”), or to a central event (“Truth and Reconciliation”). These sections, each of which appears only once, are arranged in nonchronological order and cover timeframes from 1970, when the metric system was introduced in South Africa, to 1999, which saw the close of the postapartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission, to 2010, the year of the World Cup.

April 12: The Reactive by Masande Ntshanga (Two Dollar Radio Press)

This is a novel about AIDS and drugs: set in the period in which the South African government refused to acknowledge the AIDS crisis, it’s the story of a group of young men who sold anti-retroviral medication to those who couldn’t access the medication. As Ntshanga described in an interview with his publisher, Columbus, Ohio’s own Two Dollar Radio:

The ARV crisis of the early 2000’s was one of the more defining historical moments of my generation—followed, now, by the student protests of 2015—and personally, since the project was intended to also educate me about empathy through the process of writing it, it was important for me to find a socio-historical parallel for Lindanathi’s narrative; something that included other people and rooted him within his society. From memory, I remember that time feeling like a post-liberation interregnum, a deadlock that spread a feeling of general malaise as the country became reacquainted again with absolute state power—and its new national identity began to disintegrate.

April 19: New-Generation African Poets: A Chapbook Box Set: Tatu (Akashic Books)

Have I mentioned how much I appreciate what the folks at the Africa Poetry Book Series are doing? In addition to what I’ve already mentioned, they release a box-set of chapbooks each year—one more than last year, each year—which means they’ll have put out 24 chapbooks in only their first three years of existence (seven the first year, eight the second year, and this year, nine). Here’s to 60 more chapbooks in the next five years. In the meantime, buy the first three sets and be the coolest kid on your block.

This year, the chapbooks are:

In Praise of Our Absent Father by D.M. Aderibigbe
The Painter of Water by Gbenga Adesina
The Color of James Brown’s Scream by Kayombo Chingonyi
Asmarani by Safia Elhillo
Survival Kit by Chielozona Eze
Paper Dolls by Lydia Nyachiro Kasese
Dagoretti Corner by Ngwatilo Mawiyoo
The Leaving by Hope Wabuke

April 26: Ladivine by Marie NDiaye (Penguin Random House)

Marie NDiaye once told an interviewer that while she would have been glad to claim a dual heritage if she had one—if her Senegalese father hadn’t left her native France when she was very young—Africa was essentially a mystery to her. “African origins don’t mean very much,” she said, “except for the fact that I can’t hide it because of my surname and the color of my skin.” Yet this has never meant that she is not an African writer, but that the reasons for that inevitable, inescapable classification—by libraries, critics, scholars—was something best understood at the level of the mystery itself. And this is where her work lives, in the uncanny half-dreamed viscera of an officially colorblind France, a society where being haunted by green women or turning into a brown dog is as reasonable as having African ancestry.

May 3: Born On A Tuesday by Elnathan John (Grove Atlantic)

The rare Nigerian novel set in the (largely Islamic) north of the country, Born on a Tuesday is Elnathan John’s debut as a novelist… though he’s already had a storied career as journalist, blogger, tweeter, short story writer, and all-around infuriator (don’t ask him if he’s one of Chimamanda’s boys). Pa Ikhide’s review is a good place to start.

May 3: The Queue by Basma Abdel Aziz (Translated by Elisabeth Jaquette · Melville House)

I rely on M. Lynx Qualey to tell me what Arab literature in English to read, and she has told me to read this one. As another reader describes:

This Egyptian novel is set in an almost present-day Egypt, slightly more dystopian than reality. After a failed uprising, a sinister authority, the Gate, rises to power. The main character was shot during the uprising and is waiting for official permission to have a bullet removed; the novel is, intriguingly, structured using his medical records. My main fear about books from the Middle East is that they’ll be similar to The Kite Runner in tone, mood or style (because it’s a proven genre that sells in the Anglo world, not because all ME writing is actually like that, but this one is published by Melville House and is described as “evocative of George Orwell’s dystopias, of Kafkaesque surrealism, and of the dark satire of Sonallah Ibrahim’s ‘The Committee,” by the translator in a review at Madr Masr so it’s pretty certain to be way better than that.

May 10: The Curious Case of Dassoukine’s Trousers by Fouad Laroui (Deep Vellum)

Last year, Deep Vellum published Tram 83 and it’s been a runaway freight-train of a hit; this year, they’re publishing the English language debut of one of Morocco’s most prominent contemporary writers, with an introduction by Laila Lalami: “Laroui uses surrealism, laugh-out-loud humor, and profound compassion across a variety of literary styles to highlight the absurdity of the human condition, exploring the realities of life in a world where everything is foreign.”

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (Penguin Random House)

This book is going to be big. Ta-Nehisi Coates’s glowing praise takes up the entire back cover, and the publicity for this book is going to be mayhem.

From Coates’s blurb:

Gyasi’s characters are so fully realized, so elegantly carved—very often I found myself longing to hear more. Craft is essential given the task Gyasi sets for herself—drawing not just a lineage of two sisters, but two related peoples. Gyasi is deeply concerned with the sin of selling humans on Africans, not Europeans. But she does not scold. She does not excuse. And she does not romanticize. The black Americans she follows are not overly virtuous victims. Sin comes in all forms, from selling people to abandoning children. I think I needed to read a book like this to remember what is possible. I think I needed to remember what happens when you pair a gifted literary mind to an epic task. Homegoing is an inspiration.

Aaron Bady is a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Texas, teaching African literature. He is an editor at The New Inquiry.