Women’s History Month is a celebration of women’s contributions to history, culture, and society and has been observed annually in the month of March since 1987. Women’s History Month is a dedicated month to reflect on the often-overlooked contributions of women.
The actual celebration of Women’s History Month grew out of a weeklong celebration of women’s contributions to culture, history, and society organized by the school district of Sonoma, California in 1978. Presentations were given at dozens of schools, hundreds of students participated in a “Real Woman” essay contest and a parade was held in downtown Santa Rosa.
African Women Writers Shattering the Glass Ceiling
While literary figures such as Chinua Achebe, Ben Okri, and Wole Soyinka are likely to be the chief focus of discussions of African writing, female authors have been at the forefront of fictional interrogations of identity formation and history. Africa has produced a number of female authors who were, and still are, able to assert themselves as writers, both on a national and international scale.
The past 10 years have seen an increase in publishing from African writers. From poetry collections to fantasy, romance, and even crime noir. And since March is a month dedicated to educating oneself on women’s empowerment and achievements, here are 9 books by trailblazing African women writers who have become a force in contemporary and world literature.
(UN)DOING RESISTANCE: Authoritarianism and Attacks on the Arts in Sudan’s 30 Years of Islamist Rule
By Ruba El Melik and Reem Abbas, Sudan
Read For: political art history, stories of artists
Synopsis: When the coup of 1989 established the Sudanese Islamist regime in power, an immediate infringement on the rights of citizens began. New laws dictated and dismantled public institutions and social organizations and of course; art establishments. With the shutdown of national theaters and cinemas, banning of books, and incarceration of artists, culture in Sudan came under attack for three decades until the uprising of 2018/2019. Spanning the years of the Islamist regime and leading into the current day, the book presents a vast overview of the collective memory of artists and their ideas in order to conceptualize a narrative that can shape a new art landscape for Sudan.
Tracing the politics of artists and art making over 30 years of authoritarian rule, (UN)DOING RESISTANCE stands testament to the triumph of artistic integrity in the face of dictatorship. The book is available in Sudan, East Africa and Worldwide through Andariya and partner distributors.
By Tsitsi Dangarembga, Zimbabwe
Read For: historical drama, rich narrative, diverse female portrayals
Synopsis: Although not contemporary, first published in 1988, no list of greatest fiction (African, woman or otherwise) can go without mention of possibly one the most seminal works of African literature. Nervous Conditions remains relevant with its daring yet compassionate exploration of gender, class and the effects of colonialism. The story follows Tambu, a young girl in colonial Rhodesia (present-day Zimbabwe), and her passion for education that’s constantly getting opposed by the men in her life. Although her chance finally arrives after her brother’s death and a sponsorship opportunity from the missionary school, Tambu still has to confront the same issues of gender and class but now with the complexity of a western context.
The first novel by a black Zimbabwean woman to ever be translated into English, Nervous Conditions holds eternal truths about the reality of African women under colonialism.
The Lazarus Effect
By H. J. Golakai, South Africa/Liberia
Read For: suspense, vibrant setting, intriguing mystery, difficult women
Synopsis: An exciting addition to African crime fiction, The Lazarus Effect follows investigative journalist Voinjama “Vee” Johnson of a Cape Town magazine, as she sprawls into a deep mystery after she spots a photo of a familiar-looking girl at a local hospital. Vee, who survived Liberia’s horrific civil war and battles PTSD as a result, asks for help from her oddball assistant Chloe Bishop to take on writing an article about missing children as a cover to investigate the secrets of the fractured Fourie and Paulsen families and what happened to the girl Jacqui Paulsen, who went missing two years prior.
The mystery that unfolds as a result makes for an engaging and page turning thriller you simply can’t put down.
Love in Colour: Mythical Tales from Around the World, Retold
By Bolu Babalola, Nigeria
Read For: mythology, multiple viewpoints, whirlwind romance
Synopsis: Bringing past and present, truths and myths, dreams and reality, Love in Colour is a collection of short stories spanning countries and cultures to prove the magic that exists within romance. A reimagining of well-known and lesser known folktales and myths, the stories expand on cultural superstition and legends to tackle romance from different angles such as gender disparity, cultural differences, the diaspora experience, and much more.
A book filled with humor and passion that’s sure to bring the spark back into your everyday.
The First Woman/A Girl is a Body of Water
by Jennifer Makumbi, Uganda
Read For: family saga, coming of age, historical fiction
Synopsis: A tale sweeping generations, The First Woman (published again under an alternative title A Girl is a Body of Water), is about Kirabo, a girl growing up in a small Ugandan village amongst a group of powerful women. For her own benefit, the women in her life, her grandmother, her aunts, her friends and cousins, all urge her desperately to conform. But Kirabo’s inquisitiveness and determination cannot be hampered. As she enters her teenage years, the absence of her mother creates anxieties that propel her on a journey of self-discovery. As we follow Kirabo on her path to becoming a young woman we also witness a country coming undone under the bloody dictatorship of Idi Amin.
A book brimming with longing and rebellion provides not only a historical epic but a rich portrait of Ugandan folklore and feminism.
Thirteen Months of Sunrise
By Rania Mamoun, Sudan
Read For: diverse characters, women’s struggle, hope in the face of opposition
Synopsis: In this debut collection of short stories, protagonists, mostly women, from different backgrounds are brought together to create a powerful portrayal of contemporary Sudan. In these stories, characters battle to survive under an unrelenting system to salvage friendships, dreams, passions, and what’s left of their humanity. Under such harsh conditions and divided times, the different realities intersect to create a common line connecting the many identities and politics of Sudan under one belief: compassion and community is the only way to survive.
Deeply personal yet universally empathetic, Thirteen Months of Sunrise is an exercise in the transcendent hope at the center of the human experience.
Beneath the Lion's Gaze
By Maaza Mengiste, Ethiopia
Read For: historical epic, family saga
Synopsis: Beginning with the political upheaval that overwhelmed Ethiopia in the 1970s, this is the story of a father, a family, and a country in crisis. The novel opens with a physician operating on a young boy who was shot during the last days of Emperor Selassie’s six-decade rule. Through interchanging chapters, the lives of all those involved, including Selassie, are woven together through violence, tragedy, and loss as the country grapples with forces bigger than itself. Using the micro-lens of the family and the sacrifices of one man, a historical event is rewritten as a deeply personal story of loss and sacrifice.
Through the story of one family, Beneath the Lion’s Gaze illuminates the vast wound at the heart of a nation.
My Sister, the Serial Killer
by Oyinkan Braithwaite, Nigeria
Read For: gothic thriller, suspense, dark humour
Synopsis: In this fast-paced thriller, overachieving nurse Korede has to live in the shadow of her more beautiful and carefree sister, Ayoola. Korede doesn’t only carry the burden of the honorable sister, but also the dark secret that Ayoola is a serial killer. Yup! While Ayoola gets rid of her boyfriends, Korede has to clean up after her. The dysfunction carries on, until one day Ayoola shows up to the hospital and turns the head of Korede’s secret love interest, Tade. Soon, complications from Ayoola’s previous victims arise, and the sisters relationship becomes more combative. Can Korede keep her sister, herself and Tade safe?
A Nigerian dark humored thriller, My Sister, the Serial Killer is a genre bending page turner with a heart-warming core.
House of Stone
By Novuyo Rosa Tshuma, Zimbabwe
Read For: satire, wit, mystery
Synopsis: A clever story of double lives and double fates. When the Mlambos’ teenage son Bukhosi goes missing, the family spirals into fear and despair. Zamani, the family’s sly and affective lodger, is proactive in finding him. But when hope becomes slim, the Mlambos hold on to Zamani for dear life. But he is not all that he seems. Feeding into their fears and vices, Zamani prays on the afflicted family through manipulation and gas-lighting to make them take him in as a replacement for their missing son. With technology, propaganda, and Zimbabwe’s turbulent past backdrop, House of Stone uses a simple premise to create a psychological profile of a country grappling with identity and belonging after a tragedy.
Across genres, the women on this list thrill, humor, and expand on the humanity and courageous spirit of women across the continent. With a mix of non-fiction like Andariya’s own (UN)DOING RESISTANCE or classics such as Nervous Conditions, these books are sure to become an immediate favorite of our readers. Celebrate this Women’s Month by picking up any one (or a couple) of these for a sure delight.
HAPPY WOMEN’S MONTH EVERYONE!